If you don't know about Microsoft's Software Assurance (SA) program, now's the time to start learning. This fall, SA is coming to a SQL Server near you.

You've probably read about Microsoft's plans to move software purchases to a subscription model; SA is that model. Most SA-related articles I've read explain SA in light of its effect on Microsoft Office. I haven't read much, if anything, in the press about SA's immediate impact on server products such as SQL Server. But as I've spoken to people at Microsoft and learned more about SA on my own, I've discovered that it could have a huge bearing on the way you buy SQL Server. Here is some significant information about SA to help you evaluate which licensing options are right for you.

SA will affect SQL Server licensing in two key areas:

  • Microsoft will discontinue upgrade pricing for SQL Server (and all other Microsoft products) after September 28, including competitive upgrades and upgrades from existing products.
  • Microsoft will discontinue SKUs for Microsoft BackOffice Server 2000 after September 28. Current licenses will remain in effect, but after this date, you won't be able to purchase new BackOffice licenses.

If you run SQL Server 7.0 (or earlier releases), upgrading on September 28 will be much less expensive than upgrading on October 1—as much as 50 percent less. Why? You can purchase a product upgrade on September 28, but when October 1 rolls around, that SKU will no longer exist and you'll have to buy the full SQL Server 2000 license. Before October 1, you can also purchase a program called Upgrade Advantage, which Microsoft will grandfather into SA. Do you plan to upgrade to SQL Server 2000 by the end of the year or perhaps early next year? Rethink the timing of your purchase. Buying your licenses before October 1 might make more sense, even if you don't actually roll out the software until several months later.

If you have all the SQL Server 2000 licenses you need for the foreseeable future, you don't need to take any action before October 1. However, you still might want to purchase SA between October 1 and February 28. Starting March 1, you can purchase SA only at the time you buy the license; in other words, SA won't be available as a separate purchase.

I'm not a licensing expert. To be honest, I've always found licensing issues confusing. Today, if a client asked me, "What's the most cost-effective way to upgrade? Should I buy Software Assurance?" I wouldn't be able to give a comprehensive answer. I need to learn more about how this license change will affect the SQL Server market, and so do you.

The following URLs provide some background information about Microsoft licensing and SA in particular. Happy reading.

Microsoft Simplifies, Enhances Volume Licensing Programs
Microsoft Licensing 101
Microsoft Offers Subscription License Option and Simpler Upgrade Program For Enterprise Customers Worldwide
BackOffice Server 2000 Pricing and Licensing
Introducing Software Assurance and Enterprise Agreement 6.0 Subscription