How To License SQL Server 2016 – The Comprehensive Guide

SQL server is a relational database management system (RDBMS) developed by Microsoft. It is a feature-rich database system designed to compete against Oracle and MySQL. Microsoft offers SQL server in several editions, each with their different set of options and features. Database Administrators prefer the Enterprise Edition because of its features; while organizations tend to prefer Standard Edition due to the lower costs.

These editions come with their own licensing and pricing options.

  • Standard: Developed for small and medium size organizations. Offers basic database, reporting, and analytics capabilities.
  • Enterprise: Designed for large corporations with complex data sets and requirement. Has all functionalities/features. Contains all the basic features of Standard Edition plus tools for analyzing business and financial data, mission-critical applications, and data warehousing features
  • Workgroup: Targeted towards small organizations.
  • Express: Free for distribution.


Licensing Models

Licensing has always been one of the more puzzling aspects of any new product. SQL server is no exception. Selecting the proper licensing model can prove to be a daunting task; with so many different types of licensing to choose from, one can easily get confused. Microsoft basically offers two types of paid licenses for SQL server. The client access licenses (CAL) are offered for Standard edition. It is usually used when the number of clients are pre-determined.

Core-based licensing is offered for the Enterprise as well as the Standard Edition. Majority of users opt for core based licensing since CAL rarely fits every database model and is one more thing to manage. Core based licensing requires customers to purchase licenses for all the cores in the system for a physical server.

Core licensing

Core Licensing is an option for the SQL Server 2016 Standard edition and is a requirement for the SQL Server 2016 Enterprise edition. With the release of SQL Server 2016, Microsoft shifted from per Processor licensing to Per Core licensing. Such licensing can be availed for both physical and virtual servers. Core based licensing is appropriate when you are unable to count the users/devices using the program. A minimum of four core licenses are required for each physical processor on the server.  If you are using SQL server on a physical server, enough copies of the licenses are needed to cover all the cores in the system you plan to use.  Hyper threading is not considered – only the physical cores are counted. There is no need for CAL alongside with Core licensing. Microsoft offers these licenses in packs of two. Here is more information on the SQL Server Core vs Cal licensing model.

When to use core-based licensing?

  • Preferably used when deploying to the Internet or Extranet.
  • When counting, users is impossible/impractical.
  • Mandatory use with Enterprise
  • When Comprehensive performance from demanding database is required.

When to use CAL?

  • Deploying standard edition
  • Deploying SQL Server BI
  • Utilizing numerous SQL Servers within the organization