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When to consider SQL Server Enterprise Edition

Is SQL Server Enterprise Edition the right choice for you? Expert Robert Sheldon explains the advantages to consider when making your selection.

In the first two articles of this series, we examined the Express and Standard editions of SQL Server 2012. The two editions share several features, but there are also many differences, from pricing to performance to functionality. SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition is no different. It stands at the front of the SQL Server line, providing the most robust and extensive database management product Microsoft has to offer.

As you would expect, Enterprise Edition contains everything included in Standard Edition, plus more features -- a lot more features. For example, as in Standard Edition, Enterprise supports databases of up to 524 petabytes. However, Enterprise takes scalability and performance a step further by supporting the maximum amount of RAM and number of core processors that the host system offers. Plus, the Enterprise Edition includes such scalability features as table and index partitioning, data compression and partition table parallelism. Availability is also superior in Enterprise Edition. You can create database snapshots, AlwaysOn availability groups, multisubnet clusters and mirrored backups.

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Another area in which Enterprise surpasses the Standard Edition is security. Like Standard Edition, Enterprise provides basic auditing, contained databases and user-defined roles. But Enterprise also supports fine-grain auditing, transparent database encryption and extensible key management. Additionally, Enterprise supports peer-to-peer transactional replication, parallel indexed operations and the automatic use of indexed views.

Business intelligence (BI) is also superior in the Enterprise Edition. It includes advanced adapters for Integration Services, such as high-performance destination components for Oracle and Teradata, as well as source and destination components for SAP BW. Enterprise Edition also comes with Master Data Services and PowerPivot for SharePoint. Master Data Services provides a central data hub to help ensure data consistency and manageability across your organization. PowerPivot for SharePoint offers advanced data analysis in the SharePoint environment.

Additionally, Enterprise Edition supports the tabular BI Semantic Model in Analysis Services and includes numerous data-mining features such as cross-validation, parallel model processing, sequence prediction and support for plug-in algorithms. Also, be aware that SQL Server offers Business Intelligence Edition, which supports many of these features as well.

Clearly, when it comes to availability, scalability, reliability and BI, Enterprise outshines all the other editions of SQL Server. But you will pay for these features. Unlike Standard Edition, Enterprise offers only the core-based licensing option, and it comes at a much higher price than Standard. With Enterprise, each core costs nearly $6,900. Multiply that by 16 cores and you're looking at close to $110,000 -- more than just pocket change for most organizations -- and, as with the Standard Edition, these prices don't take into account channel and volume licensing.

Whichever SQL Server edition you choose, make sure you know what you're getting. Again, check out the Microsoft Developer Network article that breaks down the features in each version of SQL Server. When making a choice, be sure you're thinking about your immediate needs as well as your future ones. You can certainly start with a more basic version and upgrade as needed, but upgrades themselves take time and resources, not to mention the cost of the product. They also don't always go as smoothly as one would hope. So, consider your alternatives carefully and then decide which SQL Server edition is the best for you: Express, Standard or Enterprise. There's something for everybody out there -- you just need to know what you want and where to get it.

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