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SQL University: Architecture for Small Businesses

Welcome back to SQL University! This week we’re going to be discussing architecture. In previous weeks we’ve discussed architecture at a high level (Capacity Planning Week) but this week we’re going to get a little more focused. SQL Server is used by businesses of all sizes from local grocery stores to large-scale sites like MySpace (Case Study) or GoDaddy (Case Study). So why are we focusing on architecture for small businesses? The reason is that if you’re expecting for your grow and expand, making the right architectural choices up front can help reduce the headaches that come with potentially rapid growth.

Software and Licensing

Before you start you developing on SQL Server you’ve got to get the SQL Server software! There are several editions and options you can go with. Depending on your company’s IT budget, you’ll need to make certain allowances and choices in regards to what edition of SQL Server you’ll go with. There are several editions of SQL Server that I’ll categorize as “entry-level” listed from the most basic to the more advanced (read-also: more features):

Edition Name Free (Y/N)
Express Edition Y
Compact Edition Y
Web Edition N
Workgroup Edition N
Standard Edition N
SQL Azure N

In Wednesday’s class we’ll dive deeper into what the differences between each edition are their pros and cons are. For the purposes of today’s discussion we’re simply listing them out so you know that there are several options available to you. What we’ll discuss today is how you go about getting said software to help you get started. The first couple of editions listed, Compact and Express, are available as free downloads directly from the Microsoft website. The other editions are paid editions that have several options of getting them. To see a quick price check/comparison, use the ‘Which Edition?’ section on SQL Server licensing page.

Microsoft has a special program created specifically to help getting small businesses setup with software called BizSpark. What is BizSpark? In their own words:

Microsoft® BizSpark™ is a global program that helps software startups succeed by giving them access to Microsoft software development tools, connecting them with key industry players, including investors, and providing marketing visibility to help entrepreneurs starting a business.

Once you get signed up for BizSpark you’ll get access to Microsoft’s developer software subscription service, MSDN. Development software you’ll have access includes Office suite, Windows operating systems (Server and Desktop), Visual Studio, SharePoint Server, BizTalk, Exchange Server, access to Azure (Windows and SQL Server) and yes, SQL Server itself as well. This program is great small companies getting ramped up and you can review all the details over at their FAQ page.

The next important part is licensing. The MSDN subscription gives you license keys but eventually you’ll need to budget for software licenses for your business. You can get a rough estimate of licensing needs by using Microsoft License Advisor tool on the Microsoft Volume Licensing website. Don’t be started by the numbers you see/get. Those are retail prices and are usually negotiable for businesses and such. For the most accurate help in licensing I highly suggest you contact your local Microsoft office as they’ll have someone available to you to help navigate licensing agreements that help best fit your particular needs.

SQL Server Licensing

In regards to SQL Server licensing there are a couple of ways you can purchase licenses:

  • CAL (Client/Access License)
  • Per Processor

The simpler (but more expensive) choice is using the per processor model. Purchasing a license per physical processor allows you to have unlimited connections for both users and devices to your server either inside or outside your firewall. This option is available for Datacenter (required), Enterprise, Standard, Workgroup, Web (required) and PDW (required) editions. Your other option, and the one most likely to make sense for a small business, is the Client Access License (CAL). CALs require that you buy a license for each device and/or user accessing or using the functionality of SQL Server or any of its components. This option is more beneficial if you are able to count the number of devices/users connecting to your SQL Server and that the number of users/devices is low enough that its more cost efficient than the per processor option. You can read more on these details from the SQL Server Licensing Quick Reference Guide (PDF).

To The Cloud!

Does your head hurt yet? I don’t blame you and you’re definitely not alone, these things can get complicated and annoying real fast. As you can see, simply choosing licensing and software can get convoluted and confusing, and we haven’t even installed anything yet! Enter: The Cloud. Last semester Buck Woody (Blog | Twitter)  introduced us to Cloud Computing and what benefits it could bring. Depending on your particular needs, SQL Azure (the cloud offering for SQL Server from Microsoft) may be exactly what you need if you want the power and ease of SQL Server without the administrative headaches and overhead. SQL Azure will be covered more in-depth later on this semester but for the time being go check out the SQL Azure website for more details. Also some more recommended reading, check out Andy Leonard’s (Blog | Twitter) post today about The Sky is Falling to get another viewpoint on the Cloud offering.

In our next lesson, we’ll go more in-depth in to the different editions of SQL Server and what each one brings in terms of benefits. As a small business you want to make sure you make the right choices for your needs, but also want to make the best cost-effective decisions for the long haul. In addition to software, we will be discussing hardware and infrastructure choices as well later this week. Your assignment for this class is the following:

  • Read the various resource links used in this post
  • Respond to this question either here in comments or write up your own blog post and link it here: “Do you have or work for a small/medium size business? If so, what are your current licensing strategies? If you don’t, share with the class how your company (if you know) does it.”
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2 Responses to SQL University: Architecture for Small Businesses

  1. Pingback: SQL University: SQL Server Editions for Small Businesses | The SQL UPDATE Statement

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