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Microsoft SQL Server - Licensing Guide

Microsoft SQL Server is a relational database management system. It’s primary function is to store and retrieve data as requested by other applications. 

Here in this guide you can answer some of the commonly asked questions to help you better understand Microsoft SQL Server.

How is SQL Server 2017 licensed?

Two main editions of Microsoft’s SQL Server are: Enterprise, and Standard. There are two ways to license SQL Server, and that is, Core-Based and Server+CAL. 

With SQL Server 2008 R2 and earlier, the software versions were licensed using the models Per Processor and Server+CAL, but after SQL Server 2012 the measure of computing power shifted from physical processors to cores, giving us the Core-Based licensing model.

What this means moving forward is Enterprise can only be purchased by cores, while Standard is available Per Core and in Server+CAL.

How does license mobility work within a server farm?

License Mobility is a Software Assurance benefit

License Mobility through Software Assurance allows the reassignment of SQL Server to third-party servers and is available for licenses under both Per Core and Server+CAL license models.

SQL Server licenses with active Software Assurance can move to a different server within the server farm whenever needed, with no limit. However, if it’s to a third-party server farm, or to a non-private cloud, it’s once every 90 days. 

SQL Server licenses without active Software Assurance cannot move to a different third-party server farm or non-private cloud at any time, but can be moved to a different server within a server farm once every 90 days.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

What benefits will I receive with Software Assurance (SA) to my SQL Server licenses?

Here is an overview of Software Assurance benefits:

  • Unlimited virtualization 
  • Failover Servers
  • Power BI Report Server
  • Machine Learning Server for Hadoop
  • License Mobility within a server farm
  • License Mobility through SA
  • Disaster Recovery Rights
  • SQL Server appliance updates

Server Cloud Enrollment (SCE) customers may also qualify for premium benefits, including Unlimited Problem Resolution Support, in addition to the benefits listed above.

Can I run SQL Server on a Virtual Machine?

Each virtual machine that is licensed through the Server+CAL and Standard core must be individually licensed. 

Organizations that have SQL Standard with Per Core licensing are required to have a minimum of four cores licensed per virtual machine.

Organizations that have SQL Enterprise with Per Core licensing have the option to license all physical cores to get unlimited virtual machine rights with SQL. In order to get the unlimited virtual machine rights, the organization must have active Software Assurance attached. Otherwise, if no Software Assurance is active, then the organization may run SQL in virtual machines equal to the number of physical cores licensed.

Do I need SQL Server CALs if my users don't need direct access to the database?

Yes, to be in compliance with Microsoft you will need to purchase a user CAL for every user that will access the SQL database, whether it is directly, or indirectly.

What is a production environment?

Developers use this term to describe the operation setting in which software or other products are in. Production environment is a released and working environment, as opposed to a testing environment, which flaws and bugs are still being worked out.


SQL can be a lot to understand and the information provided here is just a general idea of how SQL works. In order for you to understand your rights and obligations specifically, you should refer to your agreement under Microsoft’s Volume Licensing programs

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