Microsoft SQL Licensing Guide

Making sure that your Microsoft SQL servers are properly licensed can be a major headache for most companies and operation managers. This guide will give you a brief overview of the different options available in regards to Microsoft SQL licensing for servers before you approach a Microsoft partner. Let’s start off by getting acquainted with the two licensing models that Microsoft offers.

The SQL Licensing Models


Under the Per Core licensing model, each server that runs SQL server software in a physical operating system environment (OSE) must have a core license for every core in the processor. The same logic is applied to the virtual cores in a virtual environment.

Server + CAL based

Under the Server+CAL licensing model (CAL standing for Client Access License), each OSE, running a SQL Server software or any of its components must have a SQL Server license assigned to the physical server hosting the OSE. Furthermore each device and/or user accessing the SQL server or any of its components need a CAL.

Choosing a SQL licensing model: Per Core or Server + CAL?

Deciding on a licensing model can be a difficult task as both options have their own set of benefits. Core-based licensing is usually the only choice when SQL servers are being accessed externally (outside the company network). That’s because the Server + CAL model would require your organization to purchase a user/device CAL for every external user/device accessing the SQL server. This is essentially an almost impossible task to keep track of.

Moreover, core-based licensing is usually better for large companies as it is easier to manage. Imagine a large global organization with users and devices across the world. They might have a hard time tracking the number of CALs needed for their SQL servers. Plus, keep in mind that the number of employees and SQL servers usually don’t grow in a linear fashion. Therefore core-based licensing is generally cheaper for large organizations.

In comparison, the Server + CAL model might feel a bit complex, but it’s easy to manage for smaller organizations. Furthermore, Server + CAL licensing usally ends up being substantially cheaper for smaller organizations.

That’s a lot to keep in mind when taking a decision, but don’t worry, I’ve got just what you need! Just follow the decision tree below and see where you end up, simple as that!

What Microsoft SQL licensing model to choose

Note that there are exceptions and that complex licensing scenarios may arise. For more detailed information about the licensing models, read more over at Microsoft’s SQL Server Licensing Guide (2017) or contact an official Microsoft partner.

But here’s the best part:

The power of vScope and the bundled content can make licensing tasks easier than ever before! For those with the core-based model, figuring out the number of cores that are running MS SQL software can be a hard task, especially for newcomers! But with an automatic inventorying tool, such as vScope, that’s not something you need to worry about.

With vScope you just need to open up the “MS SQL Core Documentation for Machines” report that’s included in every vScope installation. Not only will it show you all the machines with MS SQL software, but you can instantly see their CPU cores. You can find reports in vScope by either searching the Omnisearch or in your vScope Library.


July 5, 2019

Soroush Pourhadi

Soroush Pourhadi

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