In my July 19 commentary, I discussed Microsoft's Software Assurance (SA) program and how it might impact your ability to upgrade SQL Server (see the URL below). Because the October 1 transition date to SA is looming and Microsoft has made a few changes to the program since I originally reported on it, let's revisit this important issue.

SA is a new licensing program that Microsoft will roll out on October 1. I'm not a Microsoft licensing-policy expert, so I won't attempt to explain all the ins and outs of SA. But here's the program's short-term impact, as I see it, for SQL Server customers.

SA's immediate effect on your organization will depend on how you currently purchase and license SQL Server. Companies that bought SQL Server as a standalone product (i.e., not as part of BackOffice Server) and aren't enrolled in a Microsoft volume-licensing agreement (e.g., an Enterprise Agreement) will feel the biggest effect. If your company matches this description, as of October 1, it won't be able to purchase a product-version upgrade or competitive upgrade license. Before October 1, you can buy a license to upgrade your existing SQL Server 7.0 boxes to SQL Server 2000. But beginning October 1, you must buy an entirely new SQL Server 2000 license. Note that the upgrade license can cost up to 50 percent less than the price of a new license. If you fall into this group and have any plans to upgrade SQL Server 7.0 to SQL Server 2000 during the next 2 years, act fast and evaluate your options. Your options include buying an Upgrade Advantage license before October 1 (which will grandfather you into the SA program) and buying a product-upgrade license before October 1. Or you can do nothing and pay full price for the next version of SQL Server when the time is right.

Do you own SQL Server as part of a BackOffice Server license, or is your SQL Server licensed under some type of volume program such as an Enterprise Agreement? You still won't be able to purchase a simple product-upgrade license after the calendar turns to October. But you can convert your existing BackOffice Server license or existing volume license to the SA program any time between now and February 28. Converting your license might be a better option than simply buying a version upgrade license. But if you think the version upgrade license makes sense for you, you're running out of time; you'll lose that option starting October 1. Whichever camp you fall into, be aware that Microsoft will discontinue both product-upgrade and BackOffice Server licenses starting October 1.

Navigating the licensing quagmire is a confusing task. You need to evaluate your licensing options based on your organization's specific needs. You might even want to explore your options with your local Microsoft sales representative or the company you purchased your software from.

The following Web sites provide some background information about Microsoft licensing and SA in particular:

  • Pricing and Licensing¬†BackOffice Server 2000
  • Introducing SA and Enterprise Agreement 6.0 Subscription

    On a different note, last week I discussed some great places to find free online help from your peers. I mentioned the Microsoft newsgroups but neglected to point out that this resource is also accessible from a Web browser. Point your newsreader to msnews.microsoft.com or your Web browser to Microsoft's Web site.