Although at times it might seem like technology is complex or difficult to figure out, technology doesn’t hold a candle compared with the complexities of licensing. Microsoft licensing schemes have always been difficult to figure out, but with the advent of multiprocessors, multicore CPUs, and virtualization, licensing has turned a tangled licensing web into a veritable morass. With SQL Server 2012, Microsoft doesn’t really do anything to help simplify the licensing dilemma. However, it does throw a couple of curveballs into the arena by changing SQL Server editions for SQL Server 2012, as well as adding a new processor core licensing option.

New SQL Server Editions

Certainly one of the biggest changes that’s coming with SQL Server 2012 is a new set of editions. SQL Server 2012 will be available in three paid editions: Enterprise Edition, Business Intelligence Edition, and Standard Edition. Notably, the more expensive Datacenter Edition, as well as the Workgroup and Web editions, have been dropped. For the SQL Server 2012 release, the Enterprise Edition is the high-end, all-inclusive product. It’ll support all of the cores that the host OS supports and provides a complete feature set, including support for AlwaysOn and business intelligence (BI) features such as PowerPivot and Power View. The Enterprise Edition also includes advanced security features such as advanced auditing and transparent database encryption.

The Business Intelligence Edition is an all-new product offering. It’s limited to using 16 cores for the database engine, but it can use the OS’s maximum number of cores for BI functionality. The Business Intelligence Edition includes all Standard Edition features and most Enterprise Edition features. However, it lacks support for advanced auditing, transparent database encryption, columnstore indexes, and data warehouse partitioning and compression. Note that the Business Intelligence Edition includes limited support for AlwaysOn high availability by supporting two-node AlwaysOn failover clusters.

The Standard Edition supports up to 16 cores. It provides the relational database capabilities you would expect, as well as basic BI and reporting features. Its notable omissions include PowerPivot, Power View, Master Data Services, advanced auditing, transparent data encryption, columnstore indexes, and other data warehousing features. SQL Server 2012 Standard Edition also includes support for two-node AlwaysOn failover clusters. Microsoft will also continue to offer the free SQL Server 2012 Express Edition, which includes the new LocalDB feature for lightweight deployments.

Licensing Based on Cores

Aside from the revamped line of product editions, the biggest licensing change for SQL Server 2012 is Microsoft's shift from counting sockets to core-based licensing. I guess with the advent of today’s 8- and 12-core processors, Microsoft felt you were getting too good of a deal with socket-based licensing. Actually, this change makes sense because the multicore trend is going nowhere but up. SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition is licensed only per core, and it costs $6,874 per core. The Business Intelligence Edition is licensed only per server, and it goes for $8,592 per server. (Note that you also license CALs per user.) The Standard Edition can be licensed either per core or per server, with a cost of $1,793 per core or $898 per server. The CAL has been increased to $209 per CAL.

Licensing virtual SQL Server instances definitely throws a new twist into the game. With the core model, you pay for the virtual cores allocated to the virtual machine (VM), with a minimum of 4 core licenses per VM. The minimum of 4 cores seems expensive to me. With the server licensing model, you buy licenses per VM and CALs for the users -- just like you did previously. Servers licensed with the Enterprise Edition and Software Assurance (SA) can have an unlimited number of database VMs on the server.

As you consider upgrading to SQL Server 2012, be sure to count your cores. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and concerns regarding SQL Server 2012’s licensing. Drop me a line at letters@sqlmag.com. For more information about the SQL Server 2012 editions and the new licensing model see, “SQL Server 2012 Licensing Overview”.