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What follows is a ‘beginner’s guide’ to SQL 2016 licensing. SQL is one of the more complex volume licensing structures and as such the guide may not touch on all the aspects you need to consider. I am focussing here on the basic requirements when purchasing Standard or Enterprise.

SQL is licensed either ‘Server + CAL’ or ‘per core’. When licensed ‘Server + CAL’ you will need to purchase a license per server and then a CAL for every device/user connecting to the server. Licensing ‘per core’ does away with the need to purchase CALs, allowing for unlimited connections. This option usually comes into play when it is more cost effective, say 40+ devices connecting or if the SQL instance is web facing (innumerable devices/users). These options will be explained further below.

The very first decision you need to make is whether you plan/need to run Enterprise or Standard. See the following comparison guide:
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/sql-server/sql-server-2016-editions
Your answer here may restrict the licensing options available to you, so it is key you know which edition you want before moving forward.

If you require the Standard edition – you should next ask yourself the question ‘How many devices or users are going to connect to the server?’ Special care should be taken to understand Microsoft’s definition of ‘Multiplexing’ – which boils down to this rule of thumb – ‘If you unplugged the server in question, how many devices/users would be affected?’ It does not matter how they are connecting, as such. When purchasing ‘Server + CAL’ you need only purchase one SQL license per server. However, if the device/user count is greater than 40 (rule of thumb) then it is worth exploring the ‘per core’ option, as it may be more cost effective. You would need to purchase enough licenses to cover the total physical core count, or the assigned v-core count if running in a VOSE. Note that every license covers 2 cores, and there is a 4-core minimum in play whether you are running ‘on the tin’ or in a VOSE. Micromail can offer comparative pricing in most cases, please contact me (sean@micromail.ie) to discuss.

If you require Enterprise you will be licensing ‘per core’ by default. Your only choice here is whether you plan to run ‘on the tin’, or in VOSE. When you license all the physical cores with Software Assurance you can spin up an unlimited amount of SQL VOSE. If you wish, you can simply choose to run on individual VOSE, where you purchase enough licenses to cover the assigned v-cores in each case.

Software Assurance is optional depending on the Agreement type you are purchasing under, and runs for a certain term, again depending on the Agreement type in play. While active it gives the customer access to any new versions on release as well as a set of additional features, such as License Mobility and Failover.

Please contact me if you have any questions.

Regards,
Seán Deasy
sean@micromail.ie

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