This content is part of the Essential Guide: Guide to SQL Server virtualization best practices
News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

Microsoft changes virtualization licensing for SQL Server 2008 R2

The company has put the kibosh on unlimited virtualization rights with SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition.

IT organizations that virtualize Microsoft SQL Server may have to rethink their strategy with the upcoming SQL Server 2008 R2, which dramatically increases the price of running virtualized instances of the database in some configurations.

Broadly speaking, SQL Server 2008 R2 follows in the footsteps of Windows Server 2008 R2 and introduces a new Datacenter Edition to go along with the old Standard and Enterprise packaging.

But whereas Enterprise Edition used to offer unlimited virtualization rights if all of the processors in the system were licensed, Enterprise Edition for R2 only supports up to four operating system instances (however, each OS instance can run unlimited database instances). To gain unlimited virtualization rights, customers will need to purchase the new Datacenter Edition, which costs twice as much as Enterprise Edition: $54,990 per processor (without Software Assurance), compared to $27,495.

Scott Cochran, network engineer at a large life insurance company in Baltimore, Md., said his company’s plans to virtualize SQL Server Enterprise Edition were probably “off the table.”

“We were having a hard time getting management to sign off on two processors at the old pricing,” Cochran said.

The plan had been to purchase a single “beefy server” running VMware and move six existing SQL Server instances onto it, plus a couple more instances in the coming months.

In general, Cochran thinks that ending unlimited virtualization rights in Enterprise Edition will put a damper on virtualizing SQL Server in midsized companies and will encourage the bad practice of running multiple SQL Server instances within a single operating system, which licensing still allows.

“I don’t think it’s going to impact large enterprises, because it’s still cheaper than Oracle,” he said. But instead of virtualizing SQL Server, SMBs are going to buy a regular physical server and run multiple instances of SQL Server in a single operating system environment. Without the isolation benefit provided by virtualization, “it’s just not going to work,” said Cochran.

“[Microsoft's] new licensing is absolutely a factor today. It will still be beneficial to virtualize, but companies will have to ask more questions about which license is best for them.”

Steve Kaplan, vice president of data center virtualization at INX

The new licensing throws a wrench in the plans of organizations with aggressive virtualization roadmaps, said Steve Kaplan, vice president of data center virtualization at INX, an integrator based in Houston, Tex. Kaplan has developed a TCO calculator for SQL Server virtualization.

“If you look at systems running vSphere on [Cisco] UCS with Palo adapters, you can absolutely get more than four instances per CPU,” Kaplan said. “The new licensing is absolutely a factor today. It will still be beneficial to virtualize, but companies will have to ask more questions about which license is best for them.”

Independent of the new virtualization restrictions, SQL Server 2008 R2 prices have gone up. Compared with previous suggested retail prices of $24,999 and $5,999 for the old SQL Server 2008 Enterprise and Standard Edition, the new $27,495 and $7,171 prices represent increases of almost 10% and 20%, respectively.

Microsoft made the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) bits for SQL Server 2008 R2 available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers on Monday and will release it globally on May 13.

Microsoft debates impact

Microsoft, meanwhile, maintains that the licensing changes don’t impact very many shops yet.

“We think that this will affect a very few customers,” Jason Kap, Microsoft general manager worldwide licensing and pricing programs, said via email. “We don’t believe anyone who is virtualizing is doing more than four VMs per processor.”

Indeed, most IT shops virtualizing SQL Server tend to take advantage of Microsoft virtual processor licensing, in which they can license SQL Server based on the number of virtual CPUs consumed by the operating system. In contrast, to take advantage of Database Edition licensing, all the processors in the system must be licensed, not just be a subset.

The licensing change will have a bigger impact in the coming years, said Brent Ozar, a SQL Server DBA expert at Quest Software Inc.

“You may not be running SQL Server widely in virtualization environments yet, but ask yourself how many SQL Server 2000 and 2005 instances you’re running today,” Ozar wrote in a blog post. “SQL Server doesn’t just go away – the instances you install today will still be in production for years to come. They might not be virtualized today, but they’re gonna be virtual years from now.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director at [email protected], or follow @aebarrett on twitter.

Dig Deeper on Microsoft SQL Server Consolidation and Virtualization