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Microsoft SQL Server 2016 Licensing

Last Updated: Aug 15, 2017 09:38PM BST

SQL Server 2016


SQL Server 2016 is the server application which is the Relational Database. It is required as a data storage infrastructure product for some other server applications, and is at the heart of Microsoft’s BI Solution. It can be installed in a physical or virtual operating system, and depending on the edition, it is licensed with a Server and CAL model or a Core License model.

SQL Server is available in the following forms:

Principal: Standard (Basic Database, reporting and analytics capabilities) and Enterprise (Mission Critical applications, enterprise-scale data warehousing, mobile BI, advanced analytics)

Specialised: Wed (highly scalable data platform for public websites) and Parallel Data Warehouse (Highest performance data warehouse scenarios through Analytics Platform appliance)

Breadth: Developer (developing and testing) and Express (Entry Level/Learning)

The different strengths of SQL Server are licensed in the following ways:


Standard – the Server and CAL model or Core licensing

Enterprise – Core licensing only

Web – Core licensing, but it is only available through SPLA (Services Provider Licensing Agreement)

PDW (Parallel Data Warehouse) – this is only available on special analytics platform hardware appliances, and is only available from certain OEM hardware manufacturers. It requires Enterprise edition core licenses.

Developer – this has the same features as the Enterprise edition, but is only available for use in a test and development environment. It is not allowed to be used on servers that are used to run your business with live data. It is free to anyone that is a member of the Dev Essentials Program, which is also free to join.

Express – this is a free, cut down version of SQL, with limitations on memory, database size and computer capacity that it can use. This version is aimed at people who are new to SQL Server and want to learn how it works/ how to use it.

Server/CAL licensing for SQL Server 2016


SQL Server 2016 CAL’s can be used against any version of SQL Server, regardless of platform or edition. The CAL’s are available as User or Device CAL’s, and you can mix and match these licenses; however, if you do want to go down this route SAN Processes will need to be put in place to make sure that you are always compliant. CAL’s are required even for indirect access to SQL Server, and they are also available for external users.

With regards to licensing in virtual environments with the Server/CAL model, the rules are the same regardless as to whether it is a physical or virtual server; you license the individual virtual machines.


Core licensing for SQL Server 2016


Core licensing is available for SQL Server Standard and Enterprise. In order to work out how many Core licenses you need in order to be compliant, you count the number of cores in the server and then purchase that number of core licenses, as long as a minimum of 4 licenses are acquired per processor. Core licenses are sold in multiples of 2, and no CAL’s are required with Core licensing for internal or external users.


With regards to licensing in a Virtual Environment using Core licensing, you license the virtual cores used by the virtual machines, and like before, there has to be a minimum of 4 core licenses.


Enterprise Core Virtualisation Rights:


If you license completely at the physical level, you are then entitled to run a certain number of Virtual Machines. You are entitled to run 1 virtual machine for each license you have assigned to the server; and you can also stack the licenses.


In order to get Unlimited Virtualisation (applies to Enterprise Core licenses only), you must license all the physical cores with Enterprise Edition Core licenses with SA.


SQL Server 2016 Enterprise Edition licensed with the Server/CAL Model:


If you purchased SQL Server 2008 R2 with SA and you have maintained the SA, you can still license with the Server/CAL model.


Business Intelligence Edition (2014) was licensed by the Server/CAL model, and if it still has active SA, you can also still license using the Server/CAL model.


Technical limitations of licensing SQL Server Enterprise with the Server/CAL model:


There are two versions of the Enterprise Edition software, and customers must run the software version for which they are licensed for – either the Core model or the Server/CAL model.


There are no limitations with the Core licensing, but with the Server/CAL edition there are some limitations. For example, you are limited to running in the physical environment on servers with 20 cores or less, so if you have more cores, you will not be able to utilise them.


Virtualisation licensing for the Server/CAL edition:


With regards to virtualisation for the Server/CAL edition, you are only allowed 4 VM’s per server license, and a maximum of 20 cores are allowed across ALL of the VM’s.


License Mobility across Server Farms:


The licenses are assigned to the physical host, not the VM’s on the physical host, and the licenses give the rights to run Virtual Machines on that server. The only downside is that you are only allowed to move Physical Host every 90 days, but this is not very flexible.


However, if you buy SA with the licenses you get license mobility so the VM’s can move between the physical hosts without having to license every single server. SA also gives license mobility through SA. This also allows license mobility to a 3rd party server such as Azure.


Licensing Active and Passive Secondary SQL Server 2016 Databases:


An Active SQL Server is a server that is giving live information to people and devices that are connected to the server. A Passive Server is one that is still running SQL Server, but it is not serving any data to people or devices.


Both are kept up to date, so should a server fail, the workload can then be transferred to the Passive Server so that then becomes the Active Server. In order to do this, you must license the Active Server completely at a physical level with SA, then the Passive Server is covered by these licenses and no additional licenses are required. This is only if the Passive Server is 100% not serving any information.


If both of the servers are Active, you have to license both the servers and SA is not needed.


Licensing SQL Components:


When a SQL Server runs with all of its components in one server, you need to license in the usual way. However, if you have SQL Components in different servers, it has to still be licensed separately. So, if you have the Database running in one server, Analysis Services in a second one, and Reporting Services in a third one, then all three servers must be licensed.


Software Assurance Upgrade Rights:



Please note that SQL Server 2016 Enterprise Server licenses are not available for new customers to purchase.


Downgrade and Down-Edition Rights:



Step-up Licenses:


The Step-ups that are available are from Standard Core licensing to Enterprise Core licensing, and the lower edition licenses must be covered with SA.


Please note that you cannot step-up between licensing models.
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