In my July 3 SQL Server Magazine UPDATE commentary "SQL Server Inside Editions," I talked about the different editions of SQL Server and mentioned how the names of SQL Server’s editions change with each new version. I suggested that it wasn’t always obvious what purpose each edition was intended to be used for. But one edition that has been around since multiple editions were first introduced is Enterprise Edition. There’s not usually much confusion as to what the purpose of this edition is because the name implies that the software is to run the gamut of your operations. Enterprise Edition is the top of the line.

What isn’t always obvious is which features are provided in Enterprise Edition and how you should decide which edition is right for you. I will admit that most of the testing I do for my research and writing projects is done using Developer Edition, which has the same feature set as Enterprise Edition. Sometimes, when I describe the wonders and benefits of some exciting feature, I don’t stop to think about the fact that not everyone will have access to that feature. (Of course, Microsoft does most of its testing on Enterprise Edition, too!)

When I look at the list of the engine features that are only available in SQL Server 2008 Enterprise Edition at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc645993.aspx, or in SQL Server 2005 at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms143761.aspx, it seems that it’s most of the exciting new functionality. In SQL Server 2008 that includes data compression, backup compression, and the Resource Governor. In SQL Server 2005 that includes partitioning, online index operations, and database snapshots. These are the features that I see most often in the marketing materials and discussed in conference sessions dealing with the SQL Server engine.

So does this mean that if you’re using Standard Edition there’s little impetus to upgrade? You’ll have to answer that question for yourself, but you should know that specific new features aren’t the only reason to upgrade. Every new SQL Server version includes internal enhancements to make the product faster, more scalable, and more robust. Plus, there are other new features that are available in all the editions that just might make your life easier.

It is frustrating that some of the most interesting new features are available only if you pay the extra money. I personally find it frustrating as a consultant to recommend to new clients that they consider a particular feature, only to discover they’re using Standard Edition. But if you’re using Standard Edition now, are you restricted to using Standard Edition forever?

Because Developer Edition has all the features of Enterprise Edition and is readily available, you always have the option of trying out Enterprise Edition’s features on a test server to determine how much benefit your applications and data will actually realize. You just might find that the new features don’t help your particular environment at all or that the improvements are so enormous that the increased performance will be well worth the cost of switching to Enterprise Edition. Or, you could look at the decision from another perspective.  Most, if not many, of the features included in Enterprise Edition are intended just for enterprise-wide systems. You can think of Enterprise Edition's special features as enhancements that were added to benefit enterprise servers. If you have enough data and users to benefit from the Enterprise Edition features, you probably also have the money to pay for it.

If you’re running an enterprise OLTP and/or data warehousing application that’s large enough to need the data and backup compression features, or that has so many users and applications with different resource requirements that you expect Resource Governor will simplify your life enormously, you’re probably already using Enterprise Edition.  Or perhaps you should be.

So what’s the difference between Enterprise Edition and Standard Edition? According to Microsoft, SQL Server 2008 Enterprise Edition is a comprehensive data platform that meets the high demands of enterprise OLTP and data warehousing applications, whereas SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition is a complete data management and business intelligence (BI) platform that provides best-in-class ease of use and manageability for running departmental applications. You can read about the differences between SQL Server 2008 Enterprise Edition and SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition at http://www.microsoft.com/sqlserver/2008/en/us/compare-std-ent.aspx.  Be sure to click the link at the bottom of the page to see the detailed feature comparison.