SQL University: SQL Server Editions for Small Businesses

In our last session we talked a little bit about the different options you have in regards to SQL Server in your environment. We talked about HOW to get the software but now we’re going to talk about what the different editions are and what they offer you. For a quick comparison between editions you can use the Edition Comparison page at the Microsoft site. As a small business you’re looking to get the best bang for your buck. You also want to make sure that whatever decision you go with, you can easily scale up so your infrastructure can grow as your business does. Thankfully, SQL Server’s growth scale is pretty easy. We’re going to cover editions from the lowest level up.

Express Edition

This edition of SQL Server is free, which is great especially if you’re looking to get your feet wet developing on the platform and don’t have/not willing to put down the cash for a license just yet. Express edition is great if you’re looking to build small-scale applications or small desktop applications. Great thing about this edition is its also portable so as an ISV (Independent Software Vendor) you can actually create an application using Express Edition and bundle it with your own software.

The drawbacks for these lower editions come in the restrictions. For Express Edition you are restricted to 1 CPU, 1 GB memory utilized and the databases have a 10 GB size restriction. If you do decide to go with this and you find that it is too restricting for your needs, you can easily upgrade your instance to the next level up which is Standard Edition.

Compact Edition

Compact Edition is also a free edition of SQL Server however you won’t ever be running anything (read also: infrastructure) from your business off this. Why did I include this then? Well, there are small businesses out there that develop software for clients that are mobile or occasionally connected employees (think travelling salespersons). Compact Edition gives you the ability to create software and embed a database inside the application. This edition gives you the ability to use SQL Server on a small-scale and distribute with your applications for free.

Workgroup Edition

Workgroup edition is much less restrictive than Express edition, however this is edition you have to pay for. At this level you start getting more protective features such as Log Shipping, something that Express doesn’t offer. Also your restrictions go way up here as this edition supports up to 4 CPUs, 64 GB of memory and the database size limitation goes up to 524 PB! Also on the administrative side, you get the ability to use the SQL Agent which allows you to automate jobs on a schedule. This also allows you to create maintenance plans, use Database Mail and use Performance data collector (2008 R2 feature).

If you look at the pricing for this edition it is pretty close in price to Standard Edition, which makes me wonder why they even bother offering this as an option since they’re clearly trying to steer you towards Standard! This may not necessarily be a bad thing as Standard Edition is going to have everything you’ll need to get started but it just makes things kind of confusing for everyone when you offer so many options to begin with.

Web Edition

This is geared more towards the shops that will be using SQL Server on a public-facing website. This is important distinction to make as the licensing terms between this and some of the other higher-level editions (i.e. Standard, Enterprise) are different. For instance if you’re using SQL Server Standard edition internally and only 10 people/devices will be connecting to it, you can purchase individual CALs (Client-Access Licenses) at a much lower cost than a per processor license. A per processor license allows for unlimited connections to the target server. The Web edition’s license is only available on a per processor basis but its per processor cost is much lower than that of a Standard Edition but still offers pretty much the same feature-set as that of Standard. These types of distinctions are important to make as you want to make sure your company is properly aligned license-wise for your uses. Again, you can check out the Licensing page to get a quick look at each edition’s list prices for comparison.

Standard Edition

This is more than likely where most companies end up starting off at as far as choosing SQL Server for infrastructure use. Standard Edition offers a pretty comprehensive list of features, which you can check out here on the Features Supported page. Standard Edition is going to give you not only the full power of SQL Server but also the protection you need as a business in that it offers protective features such as database mirroring, log shipping, backup compression (the other editions do backups but don’t do compression, if you’re looking to save on disk space this is nice option to have), replication, automation, much more.

As a small business there are a few things you need to make sure you’re doing to protect yourself, namely backups (if you don’t do anything else, please PLEASE setup backups!!!) and general maintenance. Not sure what you need to do for either of those? Make sure you check out the Administration and High Availability/Disaster Recovery posts at SQL University to help give you some direction.

SQL Azure

SQL Azure is the new kid on the block and brings a whole new dimension to how you can use SQL Server in your enterprise. So far all of the editions we’ve discussed require you to not only purchase the software, but you’ll need hardware to set it up on! With SQL Azure those headaches are removed as Microsoft hosts your database instances for you in their data centers so you get the power of SQL Server plus the peace of mind that your databases and applications (they offer Windows Azure as well) is backed by an extremely robust and scalable infrastructure. In addition, they’ve started rolling out other nice features like Reporting Services and Data Sync. Data Sync is really cool as it allows you to sync your cloud databases with those already in your local environment. Please note both of these features have not been rolled out to production in Azure yet.

The other nice thing about Azure is that the pricing model is much different from what we’ve discussed so far. With Azure you pay for usage/data consumption rather than worry about processor licenses and all of that stuff. You can check out their FAQ page to answer a lot of questions you may have about this exciting new emerging offering. You can also check out their cool Pricing Calculator to help you figure out what your costs would look like.

As cool as Azure is, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows folks. Unfortunately there are feature limitations in Azure that may make this a deal-breaker for your company. You can see the full list of Feature Limitations here. Now before you read the list and freak about Backup/Restore and Replication not being supported hear me out: Azure is already doing both of those things for you in the back-end, hence you don’t need to handle it yourself. Buck Woody (Blog | Twitter) will be covering Azure more in-depth this semester or can check out this blog for everything you need to know.

Conclusion and Homework

Bottom line is there are many options available to you as a business to use SQL Server, the big question is what works right for you. Also bear in mind that you don’t have to just have one edition, you can mix and match to your heart’s content. Have a web application but you need to host it on-site? Get a web edition license and put it on a web server in your office. Need that same website to scale and not have to worry about infrastructure? Move it up to Azure. Have multiple applications that require SQL Server but each application has certain patching restrictions? Buy a standard edition license and create named instances all on one piece of hardware.

Your homework for this assignment is listed below. To complete this assignment post your response here or write up your own response blog post and link your post in the comment section below.

  • Figure out a licensing scheme for this fictitious startup company that has the following requirements -
  • Public-facing website that will handle light to moderate traffic at first. Must be able to scale in case demand ramps up rapidly.
  • This company develops software so would like to have a development, QA and production environment if possible.
  • Sales division has people that have mobile devices with partial copy of sales database on them. They need to be able to sync data up when they come back in to the office from the field. If possible, sync while on the go.
  • Need to be able to automate routine maintenance such as backups for all critical databases in-house.
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