SQL Server 2012 Licensing To Result in Price Hikes

SQL Server 2012 is expected to become generally available on April 1, but licensing price details for the product are just beginning to take shape.

Final pricing calculations will depend on Microsoft's "Product List" and "Product Use Rights" documents for SQL Server 2012, which are expected to be released next month, according to Directions on Microsoft research chair Rob Horwitz. However, Microsoft recently released a new document, "SQL Server 2012 Licensing Quick Reference Guide" (PDF), that provides a more nuanced picture about how to assess the coming licensing costs. Microsoft switched the licensing basis from counting processors to counting cores with SQL Server 2012 (see "Microsoft Reveals SQL Server 2012 Licensing Model").

However, even though Microsoft has attempted to simplify the licensing with this release, calculating the costs will be an undertaking for organizations.

Microsoft moved to the cores pricing model largely to match its competition and customer demands, according to Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.

"Cores are something that Microsoft elected to not focus on previously," Miller explained in a March 22 "Licensing SQL Server" presentation. "But a lot of rest of the software ecosystem has focused on it -- and, in fact, companies have been a lot more aggressive with Microsoft about trying to compensate for cores. And so this is Microsoft fixing a bit of a licensing hole."

He explained that the goal of IT departments in adding more cores is to increase performance without having to increase the clock speed to account for thermal issues within a processor.

Products and Pricing
The licensing and pricing models vary based on the edition purchased. SQL Server 2012 has three editions or "product SKUs." The Enterprise edition is licensed on a cores basis only. The Business Intelligence edition is licensed on a server plus Client Access License (CAL) basis only. Lastly, the Standard edition is available either on a cores basis or it can be purchased according to the server plus CAL model.

According to Directions on Microsoft, the Enterprise edition licensing for SQL Server 2012 is priced at $6,874 per core. Business Intelligence edition licensing is priced at $8,592 per server plus $209 CALs per each user or device. The costs for Standard edition licensing are $1,793 per core, or $898 per server plus $209 CALs per each user or device. Those price estimates are described as being at the "open, no-level" state, which represents the highest prices that customers can pay, according to Miller.

Compared with SQL Server 2008 R2 pricing, organizations that have machines with more than four cores per processor can expect steeper pricing with the Enterprise edition of SQL Server 2012. The difference amounts to pricing increases in the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the cores licensed (see chart).

SQL Server core pricing
[Click on image for larger view.]
SQL Server core pricing. (Source: Directions on Microsoft Webinar, March 22, 2012.)

Regardless of the number of cores in the machine, Microsoft's basic unit for licensing is set at four cores per processor. The licensing is sold in two-core packs. IT pros count the cores and multiply it by a "core factor" found in Microsoft's SQL Server 2012 "Core Factor Table" (PDF). Next, that number gets divided in two because the licensing is sold in two-core packs. The resulting figure is the number of licenses that need to be purchased from Microsoft or its partners.

Licensing Deadlines
Timing is important in addressing the licensing costs. For those organizations transitioning from the per-processor model and using Open or Select licensing, they won't be able to renew or buy new processor licenses with Software Assurance (SA) after March 31, 2012. Moreover, Select or Open licensees using the Enterprise edition won't be able to buy new server licenses after June 30, 2012. They will have to convert to core licensing.

The timing is different for organizations with Enterprise Agreement (EA) or Enrollment for Application Platform (EAP) contracts. They can buy per-processor licensing with SA for years before their agreements end. However, at the end of that term, these licensees also will have to convert to core licensing with SA. These contracts typically have three-year terms, so the EA and EAP options will end in 2015, Horwitz noted.

For those organizations renewing at the end of their SA term, the renewal will get based on cores. Directions on Microsoft recommends that organizations consider implementing a hardware upgrade with the latest core-dense processors before their SA term ends. SA allows organizations to move the processor licensing across different machines, but watch out for Microsoft's "core equivalency" restriction, Horwitz warned.

"One curveball in the new rules is something called 'core equivalency,'" he said. "This becomes relevant when you subsequently want to reassign the processor licenses to a different physical server in this scenario -- especially reassigning the licenses to a brand-new server with lots and lots of cores."

Microsoft essentially locks you into the cores-per-processor ratio that was in place the day before your SA coverage ended. Horwitz said that restriction should provide an incentive for organizations to time their hardware upgrades to happen before the end of their SA terms.

For those purchasing CALs licensing, the SQL Server licensing costs will go up 27 percent, starting on April 1, according to Directions on Microsoft. Organizations using Select or Open licensing will get hit with the costs immediately. The effect will be delayed for organizations with EA or EAP contracts, but they will be hit by the potential cost increases when their term renewals come due.

One notable aspect of the new SQL Server 2012 licensing is that the server licensing costs for Standard edition licensees will remain unchanged when compared with the previous SQL Server 2008 R2 server licensing for that edition. Moreover, Standard edition licensees will have the ability to reassign licenses with SA within a server farm every 90 days, which is a new perk. Other editions have this perk, too. Microsoft is generally permitting "license mobility" across all SQL Server 2012 editions with SA, which means that an organization's server license could be transferred to a hosting provider, if wanted.

For more resources on SQL Server 2012 licensing, see this Microsoft overview page. A new version of the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit is now available that purportedly helps with assessing compliance and the ability to move to SQL Server 2012.

Directions on Microsoft also offers "boot camp" classes that go through the complexities of Microsoft's licensing.

See Also:

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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