How to use Software Assurance and good data to save money in new SQL Server 2012 licences

Last month Microsoft introduced new licencing terms for the latest edition of its relational database server, SQL Server 2012, which saw the per-processor licencing option replaced with per-core licencing. As with any licencing changes from a...


Last month Microsoft introduced new licencing terms for the latest edition of its relational database server, SQL Server 2012, which saw the per-processor licencing option replaced with per-core licencing. As with any licencing changes from a vendor the size of Microsoft, these caused a fair bit of debate among the IT crowd (although perhaps less so than the more recently announced price rise caused by aligning its UK licencing pricing to the Euro). 

The changes will see its fair share of winners and losers, however those organisations with Software Assurance (SA) should be aware of the upgrade options available at renewal time.

Microsoft reportedly introduced the changes to SQL’s licences to better align the pricing with how modern servers operate, particularly with the advent of virtualisation and the rise of multi-core processor architectures. Licencing by processor naturally had the biggest impact on Microsoft, since licencing by processor simply doesn’t make sense when the power of a single processor is rising exponentially by a rising number of cores.

SQL Server 2012 comes in just three different versions, much simpler than the seven versions previously available for SQL Server 2008 R2. The editions are Enterprise, Standard and a new ‘Business Intelligence’ edition geared towards self-service business intelligence (BI). 

The three new editions are licenced in one of two ways - either by computing power (core, which replaces processor) or by the number of users/devices (Server + Client Access Licence). Standard edition can be licenced either by core or server and CAL, Business Intelligence by Server and CAL only, and Enterprise by core only. 

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The Enterprise edition must be licenced by core, however those running the Standard edition by processor will also have to migrate to a core licence. Only those taking the Business Intelligence edition for the first time or those who are using Standard on a Server + CAL basis will be unaffected. The question therefore is, how will the changes affect those organisations who are currently using  the Enterprise and Standard processor editions? 

According to a recent study by Directions on Microsoft, approximately half (51 percent) of SQL users are currently on the per-processor licence, so one would assume they will be switching to the per-core model. Directions on Microsoft claims that “many” of these companies will pay more under a per-core model, describing the financial impact on many companies as “likely to be material.” 

The vagueness of the claim unfortunately is a reflection of the reality - that due to the incredibly complicated nature of software licences and the range of configuration options available, it is very difficult to really say how many organisations will be affected.

The most viable option for organisations looking to mitigate the effects of the transition is to utilise the flexible upgrade options made available by Microsoft themselves via Software Assurance (SA). Volume licence agreements which include SA, such as Enterprise Agreements and EAPs allow organisations to pay for their software over a period of time, usually a fixed term of three years, with ‘free’ upgrades to the latest edition of the software included during the term of the agreement. 

Customers with SA for SQL Standard will be granted a minimum if 4x core licences for each single processor licence (up to a maximum of 25 processors) at SA renewal time. However if an organisation can prove they have more than 4x cores per licence, they are entitled to more cores for each processor licence they upgrade. For example, if an organisation has 2x SQL Server Enterprise 2008 R2 processor licences which they ‘exchange’ these licences for SQL Server Enterprise 2012 core licences, they would normally get 8x core licences during the exchange. 

But if they can prove to Microsoft that they are actually utilising 8x cores per processor instead of 4, they will be entitled to 16x SQL Enterprise core licenses in total (2x8). So this means that with the right information and supporting documentation, they can licence all of the cores currently in use at a lower cost than it would be to purchase brand new core licences for any over and above the standard licence grant. 

The switch to per-core licencing is an expected move from Microsoft, however, with the right information to hand you can ensure you don’t lose out. Organisations should remember that SA does not just offer good protection against price changes over a set period of time, but also offers additional flexibility for transitioning to new versions at renewal time. Most organisations with a sizeable software budget would do well to remember this additional perk during their next software refresh.

Posted by Sean Robinson, License Dashboard

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