Joey on SQL Server

SQL Server 2019 Licensing: How Much Does It Cost and What's Included?

Microsoft has clarified the more confusing elements of SQL Server licensing and extended major benefits to customers. The catch is that Software Assurance is required to take advantage of them.

Microsoft only just officially released SQL Server 2019 at its Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla., but it announced some key changes to licensing a little bit earlier.

Don't worry -- they're all positive changes. But administrators should know about them all the same.

I'm Just Here for the Pricing
Microsoft has not changed the price of SQL Server since SQL Server 2012 went to a core-based licensing model. Here's the retail pricing for SQL Server 2019:

  • SQL Server Enterprise Edition: $7,128 per core
  • SQL Server Standard Edition: $1,859 per core
  • SQL Server Standard Edition Server Licensing: $931 plus $209 per named user client access license (CAL)

Microsoft allows you to run any nonproduction workloads under Developer Edition, which is free, as long as your workloads aren't running production. This includes testing, training and user acceptance training.

Since most workloads no longer run on physical machines, virtual machine (VM) pricing matters. It's effectively the same -- a virtual CPU is treated the same as a physical CPU -- with one major caveat. If you license all the cores on a given physical host for Enterprise Edition and pay for Software Assurance, you can run as many VMs of SQL Server Enterprise Edition as you can fit on that host.

Software Assurance: A Necessary Cost
Microsoft vaguely defines Software Assurance (or SA) as "a comprehensive Volume Licensing program that includes an extensive set of technologies, services, rights, and benefits to help you and your organization get the most of your investments."

What, in plain English, does that get you for SQL Server? It gives you the ability to have your licenses move between machines. Think about a virtual environment where VMs move between physical hosts. SQL Server has always included a "free" passive secondary replica (more on this later). Starting with SQL Server 2014, this required SA. The most well-known benefit is the ability to upgrade to the next release of SQL Server.

These benefits do come with a cost. SA accounts for 25 percent of your licensing cost per year. Back when SQL Server would go five years before version refreshes, many organizations dropped SA. However, with Microsoft's current frequent release cycle, it is almost foolish not to buy it. Between the upgrades and what I discuss in the next section on high availability and disaster recovery benefits, you'll understand why.

High Availability and Disaster Recovery
As mentioned earlier, SA always entitled you to a single passive replica. There were some caveats, the biggest being that the secondary had to be in the same compute environment as the primary.

You might think this meant the same datacenter. However, you could span datacenters and geographies. What it did mean was that you could not have your primary replica in your own datacenter and your secondary in Azure without having to fully license the secondary. I always thought this was a bad business decision from Microsoft. After all, what better way is there to get customers into your cloud than offering them a cheap and easy disaster recovery solution?

As of Ignite 2019, that all changed. That restriction went away and along came new benefits. With each purchase of SQL Server with SA, you are entitled to:

  • One local synchronous replica for high availability.
  • One remote asynchronous replica for disaster recovery.
  • You can also run backups (full and transaction log) and database consistency checks (DBCC CHECKDB) on either or both of these secondary databases.

Microsoft does require these databases to be in nonreadable format mode, which is configurable through the AlwaysOn Availability Groups feature set.

Effectively, Microsoft has doubled the availability benefit that comes with SA and removed the computing environment restriction. If you want one to two nodes in Amazon Web Services (AWS) and one disaster recovery node in Azure, Microsoft is happy to have you do that.

To answer another common question, you do not have to run SQL Server 2019 to take advantage of these benefits. They are valid for any license of any supported version of SQL Server (which currently is any version starting from SQL Server 2012).

Better Security Comes to Standard Edition
Since SQL Server 2016 Service Pack 1, Microsoft has been adding numerous programmability and security features to the Standard Edition of the product. There had been one exception: Transparent Data Encryption, which encrypts SQL Server data files and backups at rest so that a database or transaction log file cannot be copied to another server and opened without a certificate. (Microsoft did add backup encryption to all editions of SQL Server in 2014.)

The other security feature added to the Standard Edition was key management for managing encryption keys. Additionally, the PolyBase feature, which is greatly enhanced in SQL Server 2019, is supported on the Standard Edition.

Big Data Clusters: What's the Story There?
There have been a lot of questions around Big Data Clusters (BDC) licensing. This has also become pretty user-friendly. Remember, the only way to deploy BDC is in Kubernetes containers. This means that licensing is effectively the same as the VM licensing I mentioned above.

The way BDC will be licensed is that the master instance needs to be licensed just like a regular SQL Server.  Each core of Enterprise Edition will entitle you to eight free cores to run your data and compute nodes. Each core of Standard Edition provides one free core. Additional BDC cores for the compute and data nodes are $200 per year.

Summary
Microsoft has just clarified some of the more confusing elements of SQL Server licensing and opened up some major benefits to customers. The big catch is that you need to purchase SA to take advantage of these benefits.

If you are already in Azure and you are renting your licenses as part of your VM cost, you should know that you are entitled to these same benefits in that licensing model. The pain point is with anyone who still has legacy licenses on-premises where they have let SA expire, or have never had it.

Finally, it's nice to see Microsoft being consistent in its security model across all editions of the product.

About the Author

Joseph D'Antoni is an Architect and SQL Server MVP with over a decade of experience working in both Fortune 500 and smaller firms. He is currently Principal Consultant for Denny Cherry and Associates Consulting. He holds a BS in Computer Information Systems from Louisiana Tech University and an MBA from North Carolina State University. Joey is the co-president of the Philadelphia SQL Server Users Group . He is a frequent speaker at PASS Summit, TechEd, Code Camps, and SQLSaturday events.

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