How is Microsoft SQL Server Licensed?

How is Microsoft SQL Server Licensed?

At best, Microsoft SQL Server licenses are complex. At worst, they’re intimidating and difficult to understand. There are several editions that are commercially available and knowing which one best fits your processor often requires you to parse through Microsoft’s lengthy licensing guide.

With the recent announcement of the 2019 edition, it’s anticipated that the licensing process will become a bit more streamlined, but for current editions, there are some important things to keep in mind.

What is Microsoft SQL Server?

Put simply, Microsoft SQL Server is a relational database management system (RDMS) that’s used to support business intelligence, the processing of transactions, and analytics apps primarily in corporate IT environments. It’s built on top of SQL, which is a standardized programming language used by IT professionals to manage databases and query their data. Microsoft has also added proprietary extensions onto the basic framework of the language.

One of the most common applications of the Microsoft SQL Server is, of course, its capacity for storing and managing information. This is an excellent feature for businesses that handle sensitive customer information, such as credit card numbers or identifying details, as it offers enhanced security features to keep databases safe. It also facilitates quick and painless file sharing and increases data processing speeds.

What versions are available?

The latest available version of Microsoft SQL Server is the 2017 edition which was released in October of last year. Older versions still exist, but as Microsoft continues to develop their SQL Server, they’ve begun discontinuing support for the outdated builds, especially as they prepare for the launch of the 2019 version.

Within the 2017 version, there are numerous price tiers. They include the Express edition which is a free entry-level database that’s best used as a learning tool for their Enterprise edition, which is for only the most demanding business intelligence and database management needs. Determining which pricing structure applies to your SQL Server license will depend on you or your business’s needs.


When it comes to Microsoft SQL server licensing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Previous editions of Microsoft’s licensing handbook clock in around 50 pages and reading through all that dense material is daunting, to say the least. While Microsoft’s site breaks down the general licensing requirements on their pricing page, this information can be a little misleading, especially if you’re looking for licensing for the Enterprise or Standard Per Core editions.

Both editions are licensed on a per core basis in packs of two. This means you need to determine the number of cores in each processor (not forgetting the four core minimum that most versions have), count the total number of cores, and divide that by two to determine how many licenses you’ll need. So if you’re running a server with two six-core processors, you’ll need to account for 12 total cores. This means you’ll need a grand total of six Microsoft SQL Server licenses to account for the cores.

There’s also their Server + CAL editions which require additional licenses for every user or client accessing the server. Luckily, their Developer and Express editions don’t have the stringent licensing policies, which make them much easier to obtain if you’re simply looking to create smaller data-driven applications on a server.

Making a decision

Ultimately, when seeking to obtain a Microsoft SQL Server license, you’ll want to consider your exact needs. If you’re a large-scale corporate outfit that manages massive amounts of data, you’ll need a license that can accommodate those needs. If you’re looking to do some entry-level learning, however, the express edition will be enough.

There are plenty of resources online to learn more about how SQL works and the benefits of utilizing Microsoft SQL Server to help you manage your data with ease.

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