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Microsoft SQL Server 2012: Choosing the Correct Edition

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Microsoft’s 2012 release of the SQL Server 2012 enterprise database management platform marks a major evolution in this popular product. The new release includes major feature enhancements to SQL Server’s business intelligence, auditing and disaster recovery functionality, among other upgrades.

SQL Server 2012 Editions

With the release of SQL Server 2012, Microsoft is taking steps to simplify the platform’s licensing options by retiring the Datacenter Edition, Workgroup Edition and Small Business Edition previously available for SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2.
  • SQL Server 2012 Express Edition replaces the Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE) as the free version of SQL Server for application development and lightweight use. It remains free and retains the limitations of MSDE with respect to client connections and performance. It’s a great tool for developing and testing applications and extremely small implementations, but that’s about as far as you can run with it.
  • The workhorse SQL Server 2012 Standard Edition remains the staple of the product line for serious database applications. It can handle up to 16 cores with an unlimited amount of RAM. The major change in licensing from SQL Server 2008 to SQL Server 2012 is that a per core option is now available for the Standard Edition. This means that you have two choices: purchase per core licenses at $1,793 or purchase a server license at $898 and client access licenses at $209 per client.
  • The new SQL Server 2012 Business Intelligence Edition is designed specifically to support business intelligence applications. It is available only under a server/CAL licensing model with server licenses costing $8,592 and client access licenses costing $209 per client.
  • SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition is designed for mission critical data center operations and large data warehouses. This edition is being transitioned to a per-core only licensing model. No new server/CAL licenses for this edition will be sold after June 2012. The only licensing option available is $6,874 per core with a maximum of 20 cores.
  • Developers needing the full features of SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition for use in a non-production environment may find SQL Server 2012 Developer Edition the right tool for the job. This product has the exact same functionality as Enterprise Edition and only differs in the license. (Oh, and by the way, it’s much cheaper at only $50 per license!) Microsoft also offers a direct upgrade path to convert Developer servers to production licensing
  • SQL Server 2012 Web is a specialized version of SQL Server for use in web hosting environments. This edition is available only to Services Provider License Agreement customers. Contact your Microsoft sales rep for further information if you think you may qualify.
  • SQL Server 2012 Compact is a free version of SQL Server for use in embedded environments, such as mobile devices and other Windows systems.

SQL Server Licensing: Per Core or Per Server?

If you’re planning to use the standard edition of Microsoft SQL Server 2012 in your environment, you have a major choice to make: should you opt for the per server licensing or the per core licensing? Either way, this is likely to cause a significant increase in your licensing fees. Here’s the rundown.
  • The per core licensing option switches from the earlier model of charging per processor. Many organizations took advantage of this by purchasing multicore processors and a single license. The license price of $1,793 per core (with a four core minimum) is designed to be the same cost incurred for a four-core processor under SQL Server 2008 R2 ($7.171). If you’re running four or fewer cores, you’ll see no increase under this model. On the other hand, if you’re running more than four cores per processor, you’ll see a price increase.
  • The server/CAL licensing option requires a $898 licensing fee per SQL Server. This is the same as SQL Server 2008 R2. However, you’ll also need to purchase client access licenses (CALs) for each client accessing the database. This is where Microsoft socks you with a major increase. The fee has now increased 27% to $209 per CAL.
As you can probably tell, you'll need to sit down with a spreadsheet and run some numbers before making your final SQL Server 2012 licensing decisions. The options you choose may have a significant impact on your overall database license costs and should be considered carefully.

That sums up the licensing options available for SQL Server 2012. As you’ve discovered, Microsoft offers a wide variety of licenses and choosing the correct one for your environment can save you thousands of dollars.
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