SQL Server Processor Licensing – When does it make sense?

Cookie cutter solutions never work when it comes to Microsoft licensing.

Cookie cutter solutions never work when it comes to Microsoft licensing.

Finding the right fit for your organization, when it comes to Microsoft licensing, can be very daunting. A lack of quality information around the rules and requirements of licensing can have a negative effect on your overall IT Budget. This post will help you isolate the risks and benefits around SQL licensing in hopes of helping you choose the right path.

There really isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to licensing. Each organization is different and has unique requirements. It’s essential to understand the fundamental differences in the licensing models offered in the SQL family of products. Today we’ll be discussing SQL Standard, Enterprise and the two premium editions (Datacenter/Parallel Data Warehouse).

There are essentially two main schools of thought when licensing SQL. The first is known as a Server/CAL (Client Access License) model and the second is the per Processor model. The following table outlines the options available.




Parallel Data Warehouse

Per Processor




Server/CAL SQL Licensing

The Server/CAL model is comprised of two parts, the “Server” component and the “CAL” component. The Server component is the SQL Server license itself (Standard/Enterprise), the CAL is the Client Access License. When licensing under this model, you are required to purchase a CAL for each user or device that directly or indirectly accesses the SQL data. Microsoft calls this Multiplexing. This method can be advantageous if you have several SQL deployments because each CAL grants the user/device to access any SQL Server in the environment.

Processor SQL Licensing

This method requires you to license each physical processor (socket) in the server. The concept of a socket is important. Irrespective of the number of cores that a processor may have, Microsoft instead focuses on the processor itself and not the cores. As a general rule and in hopes of simplifying the concept, focusing on the CPU/Socket helps remove any possible ambiguity. Therefore, if you have a two socket server and both sockets are populated (with 6 cores each), you are only required to purchase two SQL Processor licenses.

Which licensing method should I choose?

Choosing between the processor model and the Server/CAL model really comes down to numbers; and in a nutshell if it’s more cost effective to go with the Processor model over purchasing the Server/CAL model, then that’s the best option. It sounds simpler than it is and the facts are that it depends on your particular deployment and the number of CALs you’re going to need. If your environment is made up of a large number of users/devices (and therefore a large number of CALs) and they all access one SQL Server, then the processor license will make sense. However, if you have 5 Servers (with 2 CPUs/Sockets each) in the environment that are running SQL, and you have about 400 CALs then the Server/CAL model will make fiscal sense.

Here’s the comparison: 5 SQL Server Enterprise licenses + 400 CALs VS. 10 Enterprise Processor licenses.

If you know how much a SQL Processor license costs, then you’ll quickly be able to assess this comparison.

Remember, every organization is different and has specific needs. We run into these scenarios daily and there are cases where a hybrid solution can also make sense (part of the environment is SQL Processor based with another part SQL Server/CAL based). Don’t settle for the cookie-cutter answer and keep in mind that the world of licensing isn’t a “one size fits all” arrangement. If you’d like some further guidance on which option is right for your particular deployment, give your Softchoice Representative a call and we’ll help you determine what’s right for you.