Database software needs vary from business to business, and, as a result, Microsoft SQL Server licensing is complex. Here are five fundamentals to keep on top of to prevent your SQL Server licensing costs from spiralling out of control.

Device client access licences (CALs) and user CALs — know the difference

Here’s the key thing to know about SQL Server licences: you can choose to pay for licences based on how many devices connect to a SQL Server to access data, or on how many individual users will be tapping into the power of SQL Server.

A device CAL allows an unlimited number of users to access the server, so is great for large organisations with thousands of users tapping the server regularly. A user CAL covers every named user who works with a SQL Server. This option is more suited to smaller organisations and where users need to roam across a company-wide network and multiple devices.

The type of CAL you need depends on your specific IT environment and usage needs. Microsoft also operates core-based licensing. This means every physical computer processor on the server running SQL Server needs its own licence. You're also unlikely to just be licensing SQL Server. Other Microsoft server products, such as Windows Server and Exchange Server, require their own licences.

Then there are the different types of SQL Server editions, from Enterprise and Standard to Express and Developer, all of which have different usage requirements and pricing. Establishing your licensing needs early on and getting advice from Microsoft or a trusted third-party supplier is crucial to a smooth SQL Server implementation.

Do regular and timely updates

Like all major Microsoft products, SQL Server gets a major overhaul every few years, with regular updates to upgrade functionality, fix bugs, and patch any security vulnerabilities.

Upgrading to the latest gold-plated version of Microsoft SQL Server can require a lot of careful planning and configuration to ensure there is no disruption to service.

As such, some companies tend to stay on an older version of SQL Server that is tried and tested. Eventually, that approach can cause its own problems. Microsoft phases out support and updates for older versions of the software. For instance, Microsoft ended support for SQL Server 2005 in 2016.

Operating a SQL Server without active support and upgrades puts you at risk of disruptive outages and security breaches. Accounting for timely SQL Server upgrades is an integral part of database management, but can be time-consuming for IT staff to handle alone.

Understand your virtualisation needs

Microsoft requires licences for the physical hardware that SQL Server runs on. But what if you're running virtual machines in hosted environments or cloud platforms? You’ll still need licences for the virtual core those machines operate on.

Microsoft has recognised this, and offers licences for SQL Server editions that cover you for all of your virtualisation needs. Again, you’ll need to carefully look at your licensing requirements.

While many organisations are taking advantage of the ability to run SQL Server on virtual machines, some are adopting Azure SQL Database, Microsoft’s platform as a service (PaaS) offering, which hosts SQL Server on its Azure platform as a managed service. The options are more flexible than ever, but require careful consideration when weighing up your needs and budget.

Prepare for the worst

SQL Server can be integral to the day-to-day operation of your business, so it is important to ensure you can achieve maximum uptime and eliminate the risk of data loss. Microsoft accommodates those needs with its Software Assurance maintenance program.

These plans allow for failover servers for high availability and disaster recovery, both with on-premises infrastructure and in the Azure cloud. If that server is only used for failover support, it's considered passive and is covered in your existing SQL Server licence.

Effective disaster recovery is the antidote when there’s an infrastructure failure or your data is compromised. Understanding the provisions available to you, and the licensing implications, is vitally important.

How Datacom can help

We know Microsoft SQL Server inside out. We can advise you on your database environment, help you migrate your existing database infrastructure to the cloud, and assist you in navigating the complex world of database licensing.

We offer a simple managed service and provide ongoing support and maintenance of your databases and licensing so you can focus on your core business.

Get in touch to find out how your business can utilise Microsoft SQL Server with Datacom’s database management solution.

Kevin is Microsoft-certified with more than 16 years' experience working exclusively with SQL Server across a range of different industries. He specialises in providing SQL consultancy, environment reviews, architectural designs, implementations, and on-premise/Azure migrations for Datacom's clients.

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