Licensing, ITAM, SAM, Academy (LISA) from The ITAM Review

SQL Server Licensing: Can it all be so simple?

February 6, 2020BY Rich ( 0 ) Comment

It struck me the other day that SQL Server licensing is, in many ways, the Wu-Tang Clan of the Microsoft product family.

It’s one thing, a whole, a single entity – but it’s actually a collective of many separate parts. Some seem quite similar while others seem are totally different. They’re usually in harmony but that feeling that something is about to kick off is never far away – and trying to keep it all under control at the same time? That’s Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ right there!

The Wu-Tang similarities don’t end there either. As Wu-Tang made their first full appearance on the hip-hop scene in 1993, SQL Server made its debut on Windows NT with the release of SQL Server 4.2 Much like Shaolin’s finest, SQL Server licensing has undergone several changes since its debut with server releases over the years and many key changes to licensing. Let’s take a quick look at some of the milestones:

SQL Server 2012

  • Moved from licensing “Per Processor” to “Per Core” and Core Factor table.
  • License Mobility now a Software Assurance benefit, available to both Standard & Enterprise editions.
  • Unlimited virtualisation now requires SQL Enterprise with SA.

SQL Server 2014

    • Running Passive servers becomes an SA benefit
    • Business Intelligence edition launched

SQL Server 2016

  • Removal of Core Factor Table
  • Business Intelligence edition removed

SQL Server 2017

SQL Server 2019

SQL Server licensing changes timeline

Other changes


SQL Server Enterprise no longer available to buy under the Server + CAL model. While this model still exists, it is only for certain legacy situations and is subject to additional limitations.


Microsoft introduce Azure Hybrid Rights for SQL Server – enabling on-premises licenses of SQL Server with Software Assurance to be used to reduce the price of certain SQL Azure services.


SQL Server is used in almost all organisations so understanding it, and then keeping up to date with changes, is critical to successful IT asset management. It’s an expensive product so it’s easier to spend more than you really need to, either through over-licensing and/or being found non-compliant during a license review/audit.

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