SQL Server Standard Edition: Why it's worth the cost

Should your IT shop consider a move to SQL Server Standard Edition? Expert Robert Sheldon explains the pros and cons you should know.

In the first article of this series, we covered the Express Edition of SQL Server 2012, a good place to start, due to its favorable price tag. But the Express Edition is not for everyone. If you're seeking a more robust database management system, you'll need to step up from the free product to one that can handle more data and users, and that provides a lot more functionality than you'll find in Express.

The Standard Edition is Microsoft's entry-level database system into its commercial SQL Server product line. The edition can use up to 64 GB of memory and 16 processor cores. It can also support databases of up to 524 Petabytes. What all this means is that the Standard Edition can outperform Express to a significant degree.

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The Standard Edition also offers high availability options not found in Express, such as log shipping, backup compression, failover clustering and database mirroring, although support for the last two is not as robust as in the Enterprise Edition. However, the Standard Edition also provides the full complement of replication features, compared with the Express Edition, which can act only as a subscriber.

The Standard Edition also includes a number of tools not in Express, such as Distributed Replay, SQL Profiler, SQL Server Agent and Microsoft System Center Operations, all important tools to the daily maintenance and operation of SQL Server. Within the Standard Edition, you'll also find support for such features as policy automation, multi-instance management, automatic indexed view management, standard performance reports and performance data collection.

One area that might be particularly important to you in selecting a database system is business intelligence (BI). Although the Express Edition might give you some support for a small-scale BI operation, you'll need at least the Standard Edition for any serious warehousing; analytics; and data extract, transform and load operations. The Standard Edition comes with SQL Server Data Tools, which let you develop projects related to Integration Services, Reporting Services and Analysis Services, all of which are also included in this edition. You get everything from the Integration Services runtime to multidimensional data models to a variety of reporting options and configurations. Clearly, if you're thinking BI, the Standard Edition wins hands down over Express.

Of course, you have to pay for all these extras. But what it will cost you depends on the licensing model you follow. The Standard Edition offers two types of licenses: core-based and Server + client access license (CAL). If you go with a core-based license, you'll be paying nearly $1,800 per core. At 16 cores, you're looking at more than $28,000. And if you decide upon the Server + CAL model, you'll pay nearly $900 for the server part and greater than $200 for each CAL. So the price for that will vary, depending on the number of client computers that are connected to your SQL Server. Note that these prices do not take into account channel and volume licensing. Either price structure could represent a hefty sum, especially when compared with Express. Carefully examine all the features that the Standard Edition offers, and be sure you're getting what you need and not paying for what you don't. The Microsoft Developer Network provides a handy resource  that breaks down the features offered in each edition. You get a lot more with Standard than you do Express, but not nearly as much as you get in the Enterprise Edition. For that reason, the next article in this series will focus on what Enterprise has to offer and why you should carefully consider all your options before deciding upon a SQL Server edition.

This was first published in January 2013

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