SQL Server 2012–Licensing Update

On November 3rd 2011, Microsoft announced both the release and licensing changes aligned to SQL Server 2012.

Microsoft re-aligned the functionality of the SQL 2012 across three main editions, namely Enterprise, Business Intelligence and Standard Edition. Furthermore, It also aligned the licensing across those three editions.

  • Enterprise – Mission critical applications and data warehousing
  • Business Intelligence – Premium corporate and self-service Business Intelligence (BI)
  • Standard – Basic database capabilities, reporting and analytics.

As part of that realignment of functionality, Microsoft will consolidate and therefore remove the following:

  • Datacenter – features will now be available in Enterprise Edition
  • Workgroup – features will be available in Standard Edition.
  • Standard for Small Business – features will be available in Standard Edition.image

Web Edition – Available via Services Provider License Agreement (SLPA)

In addition, non-commercial releases of SQL will continue:-

  • Developer, Express and Compact Editions will also continue to be distributed without licensing or pricing changes.

Licensing Per Core

In response to evolution of the number of cores per physical processor and the future expected consolidation of the number of processors within optimised virtual server environments; Microsoft re-aligned the licensing model for SQL 2012 to remove ‘Per Processor’ as a commercial charging mechanism for their enterprise database software.image

In licensing by a per core licensing model, Microsoft have found a better way to align pricing to hardware capacity. In addition, cores provide a precise and flexible measure of capacity across both physical and virtual environment. This is intended to support both high mobility and hybrid environments.

Enterprise and Standard Editions will be available under core-based licensing. However, Microsoft will not extend the core model to the new Business Intelligence (BI) Edition.

Enterprise Edition will include the full capabilities of SQL Server 2012, so a customer who wants to license a Business Intelligence (BI) Server on a per core basis can do so by buying Enterprise Edition.

Enterprise Edition on a Per Core licensing model will be the preferred way to license advanced SQL Server BI capabilities when users are uncountable (For instance, external facing workloads) or when there is a very large number of users.

The New Core Licensing Model

Microsoft have built two licensing metrics for licensing SQL on a ‘Per Core’ model. This is intended to respond to both high mobility and highly virtualised server environments.

Licensing by Physical Hardware

The licensing requirement for licensing ‘Per Core’ will be to count the physical number of cores on the hardware. Microsoft have ensured there is a minimum requirement, with a minimum of 4 Core licenses per physical processor.

This licensing metric is only available to SQL Enterprise Edition.

Further, Microsoft have encouraged adoption of Software Assurance (SA) by allowing deployment of SQL instances in an unlimited number of VMs.

This can support customers who have a highly virtualized VMware Environment by ensuring the underlying physical hardware is licensed with SQL. Microsoft have continued to encourage the adoption of maintenance (Software Assurance) over stand-alone licenses by extending advantageous software use rights into SA.

If an organisation does not extend software use rights via procurement of SA, unlimited instances of SQL can be deployed in a limited number of VMs corresponding to the number of assigned core licenses to the physical hardware.

  • Customers who have licensed all the physical cores on the server and want to run SQL Server 2012 software
    in more VMs than are permitted, can assign additional core licenses to the licensed server.
  • Each additional core license allows deployment of SQL Server Licensing by Individual VMs

Licensing by Individual VMs

This is the alternative per core licensing metric, extended across both Standard and Enterprise Edition.

The licensing requirement for licensing Per Virtual Core will be to count the number of virtual cores per VM ( The number of threads of physical cores assigned to VM)

Additional licenses are required when:- A

  • A single hardware thread is supporting multiple virtual cores. (A core license is required for each v-core.) or;
  • Multiple hardware threads are supporting a single virtual core. (A core license allows a single v-core to be supported by a single hardware thread.)

[Ref: SQL Server 2012, Licensing Reference Guide, June Revision, Page 11]

Microsoft have stated a minimum requirement of 4 virtual Core licenses per VM.

As a further extension to the software use rights embodied within maintenance (and not the license) SQL Server licensed with Active Software Assurance (SA) will provide flexibility of License Mobility across both on-premise and cloud deployment scenarios (see below).

Cost Implications

Microsoft have modelled the price of a Core license at circa ¼ the cost of SQL Server 2008 R2 Processor License. Accordingly, Microsoft state that there would be limited impact on a physical processor with 1-4 cores. Notably, the impact going forward would be that as compute capacity increases so will the licensing requirement.


Please be aware that the net price impact to an individual customers will depend on both correctly licensing the existing SQL footprint and understanding current and planned capacity and functionality requirements. Working with only an excellent Microsoft Partner will support an optimum procurement model for your organisation.


Server and CAL Model

Server + CAL model, available with Business Intelligence (BI) and Standard Editions, is appropriate for business intelligence workloads and scenarios in which users can be counted accurately.

Server + CAL model would support a Business Intelligence (BI) solution as It would align to the number of devices using Office and SharePoint. This would have a defined number of accessing devices.


To access a licensed SQL Server, the SQL Server CAL should be the same version or newer.  For instance, a deployment of SQL Server 2008 R2 Server will need a SQL 2008 R2 CAL or SQL 2012 CAL.

Each SQL Server 2012 CAL can provide access to any SQL Server database, regardless of Platform or Edition. This includes all licensed SQL Servers, including the new Business Intelligence Edition as well as Standard Edition Servers and legacy Enterprise Edition Servers.

Notably, Microsoft previously announced that SQL Server 2012 CAL price will increase by about 27%. This was prior to the recent announced User CAL Price Increase.

License Mobility

License Mobility within the datacenter is supported by extended software use rights within Software Assurance (SA). This licensing model will support both private and public clouds.

VM license mobility will be a benefit of Active Software Assurance (SA).

  • All SQL Server licenses with active Software Assurance (SA) can be reassigned to another server within the server farm as often as needed.
  • However, Microsoft have imposed limitations to organisations with dispersed datacenters, so please check the time-zone definition. Further, the limitation is extended to deployment of SQL in a “non private” cloud infrastructure.
  • The 90 day minimum time limit for licence re-assignment is applicable to organisations that do not procure SQL with active Software Assurance (SA)

Without SA, licenses can be moved from one server to another only once every 90 days.

This is important distinction for customer who are using VMware v-Motion and are intending to virtualise SQL in their global datacenters. 

License Migrations – Server + CAL

Microsoft has stated that new server licenses for Enterprise Edition will only be available for purchase through 30th June 2012.

Customers on an ‘Active’ Enterprise Agreement (EA) with an Enrolment for Desktop /Enrolment for Application Platform (EAP) Enrolment  can continue to  buy server licenses until renewal of the Agreement after June 30, 2012.

SQL Server Enterprise Licenses purchased with Active Software Assurance (SA) will upgrade to SQL Server 2012 at no additional cost within the term of their Agreement.

Microsoft customers who have licensed SQL on the Server+CAL model, with Active Software Assurance (SA) will receive SQL 2012 under New Version Rights at no additional cost.

Microsoft have stated that the migration will be subject to a 20 core per server license maximum.  This applies to both net new requirement for SQL Server or existing footprint with Active Software Assurance (SA). In the event SQL Server Enterprise Edition on the Server + CAL model is running on a Server with greater than 20 physical cores, It is recommended that you work with your Microsoft Partner who will contact the  Licensing Sales Specialist within your local Microsoft subsidiary.

Moving forward, If your organisation has procured Enterprise Edition server licenses without Software Assurance can maintain existing SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition Server licenses as legacy licensing for existing workloads.

it is strongly recommended to work with a Microsoft Licensing Expert with strong in-house SAM capabilities if you have a pending contract renewal for SQL Server.

License Migrations – Per Processor to Core Model

Customers with processor licenses under Active Software Assurance (SA) can upgrade to SQL Server 2012 at no additional cost*

At the end of the Software Assurance (SA) term, processor licenses will be exchanged for core licenses and customers can renew their Software Assurance (SA) on core licenses. This will maintain New Version Rights and License Mobility for Software Assurance to move Volume Licensing (VL) licensed applications to shared hardware clouds.

It is recommended that you review your SQL environment at the end of the Software Assurance (SA) Term. This will provide the basis for the core licenses you will own, and will confirm the requirements for renewal of Software Assurance (SA) going forward.

Microsoft will provide access to the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit as one way to help track and document deployments. This tool can help you plan the transition from processor-based licenses to core-based licenses by counting both processors and cores across deployments. Microsoft are actively encouraging SQL customers to work with a Microsoft Licensing Expert to determine an optimal transition plan. This will include both review of existing physical and virtual deployments and mapping onto existing and planned SQL requirements going forward

Should the recommended inventory be performed, this should be recorded to demonstrate core license needs. Customers that do not maintain a record will receive a core equivalence for only the minimum number of core licenses – Important from a proof of licence perspective for future audits.

It is strongly recommended to work with a Microsoft Licensing Expert with strong in-house SAM capabilities if you have a pending contract renewal for SQL Server.

SQL Enterprise and Standard processor licenses under SA will be exchanged for a minimum of 4 core licenses per processor or for the actual number of cores in use.

  • SQL Server Datacenter processor licenses will be exchanged for a minimum of 8 Enterprise Edition core licenses per processor or for the actual number of cores in use.


Customers with an Active Enterprise Agreement (EA) or Active Enterprise Agreement Subscription (EAS) with a desktop Enrolment or an Active Enrolment for Application Platform (EAP) will be able to continue to purchase Enterprise Edition server and processor licenses until the end of the Agreement Term.

Customers with an Active Enterprise Agreement (EA) or Active Enterprise Agreement Subscription (EAS) with a desktop Enrolment or an Active Enrolment for Application Platform (EAP) can also add Core licenses mid-term and can engage via the Microsoft Reseller or Microsoft Account Team.

Please be aware that renewal of Software Assurance (SA)  will continue to attach pro-rated Deployment Planning Services and Technical Assistance in addition to advantageous extended software use rights and New Version Rights.

Again, It is recommend to work with Microsoft Licensing Expert to make sure these benefits are pro-actively managed and used to the benefit of your organisation. This should be quantified in terms of ‘real value’ to on-going contract(s) embedded within a defined process and SLA within your Added-Value Resellers management schema.

Final Thoughts

The most flexible approach is to license the complete physical hardware and ensure complete flexibility for running SQL in VMs in a high availability V-motion environment.

This does require a clear understanding of the overall cost implications before diving in, as the updated core licensing model could require increased investment as the number of cores if the hardware infrastructure exceed 4 cores.

While Microsoft aligned the cost of core licenses (sold in packs of 2) to align to 4 core processors (the minimum amount of licenses that can be bought); It is acknowledged that many customers have an existing investment in at least 6 cores.

Microsoft have provided appropriate license grants for existing customers who have procured SQL with maintenance (software assurance) who had multi-core servers licensed under the pre-existing “Per Processor” licensing metric. This has been provided  as a grant to ensure existing SQL footprint do not become retrospectively non-compliant. However, this does potentially increase the cost at renewal and should be reviewed.  

As discussed, Microsoft encourage the procurement of product licensing on relational contracts with maintenance (Software Assurance) and have moved beneficial software use rights away from the stand-alone perpetual licence. Accordingly, SQL virtualization strongly encourages the procurement of SQL with Software Assurance (SA) and this will enable an organisation to deploy SQL in a high mobility vMotion environment.

While not normally recommended, an organisation could potentially approach configuration of SQL to limit mobility within the virtual environment. This would require adherence to specific DRS Affinity rules to tie virtual machines to specific ESX hosts so that they cannot move from the assigned server except in the event of a host failure.

Please be aware that if there is a host failure a DB Admin would have to immediately adjust assigned rules to pin the VM the new host for a period of 90 days in order to stay in compliance (see 90 day rule above). As always, please refer closely to the authoritative documentation and your relevant procurement contracts before proceeding.  

CPU DRS Affinity rules for a virtual machine (VM) applies not only to all of the virtual CPUs associated with the VM, but also to all other threads associated with the VM; In some cases, such as intensive visual workloads, significant communication might occur between the virtual CPUs and other VM threads.

Accordingly, with correct controls in place, performance might degrade if the VM DRS Affinity rules setting prevent these additional threads from being scheduled concurrently with the VMs’ virtual CPUs

(For example, a Single Processor VM with affinity set to a single CPU)

As an example, VMware recommend that users include at least one additional physical CPU in the setting in order to allow at least one of the VMs’ threads to be scheduled at the same time as its virtual CPUs

(For example, a Single Processor VM with affinity to at least two CPUs)

For information purposes only, this could suffice as a potential approach to limit procurement of Software Assurance (SA) and still be able to virtualize SQL VMs (although this would really limit the main benefits of the virtualization of SQL in the first place).

As always, this website does not constitute specific advice on adherence to licensing rules, and as always It is recommended to work closely with a Licensing Expert to confirm the correct, optimised approach.

It is recommended that an organisation consider the full product licensing implications for their underlying hardware profile and any intended vMotion set-up if intending to virtualise SQL.

I am happy to arrange a meeting and set out a plan to optimise your product licensing and procurement contracts for your specific server infrastructure.

The Search for an Optimal Product Licensing Model for SQL

The overall TCO is dependent on the specific current and planned server strategy for each individual organisation.

The most comprehensive approach is licensing the physical hardware to support high virtualization across a VMware/Hyper-V Environment (Available for SQL Enterprise Edition)

  • This provides scalability and security in terms of compliance.
  • Maximum virtualization rights can be leveraged by licensing the entire physical hardware with Enterprise Edition under the “Per Core” licensing model with Software Assurance (SA)

imageThe “optimum” licensing model is always dependent on the specifics of the organisation and ultimately that specific “Tipping Point” for that customers’ environment, including but not limited to, access to the most cost-effective Volume Agreement.

It is therefore important not to make decisions about procurement ‘in silo’ without a wider review of the existing environment and vendor contract agreement framework. There will be server licensing considerations both pre and post consolidation and it should acknowledge the impact of v-Motion running across the estate.

The advantages of a holistic approach should not be disregarded. While the cost may be higher than your initial estimated costs for the project, but over a longer period it could deliver cost savings through leveraging economies of scale through procurement on the most appropriate Volume Agreement(s) and secure against unanticipated costs from non-compliance following a vendor review (Microsoft) or independent organisation (BSA or FAST) or Vendor Price Increases.


Please be aware that I now work at a Large Account Reseller and will now be providing my licensing expertise through their Licensing Services. So please do get in contact with me directly if you would like to have a bespoke review for your organisation.

My team can assist you to purchase the correct licenses, at the best price, through the right program. 

Please email me directly to arrange a meeting (or call) and we can have an open conversation around your plans going forward and any concerns you may have.


– Tony Mackelworth


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2 thoughts on “SQL Server 2012–Licensing Update

  1. Pingback: Top Microsoft Licensing Searches of 2013 | Microsoft License Review

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