SQL Server Licensing - Non-Production Environment

Have you wondered how SQL Server licensing work on non-production environment? Microsoft offers several options to help managing and lowering the SQL Server licensing cost for non-production.

In an application development life cycle (also known as SDLC), a software goes through multiple stages including designing, development, testing and acceptance before deployed to production. It is often that there are combination of sandbox, development, testing and production environment for each of application development process stages. As companies are evaluating SQL Server licensing cost due to some of the licensing model changes in SQL Server 2012 (Current release, SQL Server 2016), it is also a good time to review and understand SQL Server licensing model and its options for non-production environment.

Let me say this first. I am not licensing expert. Please refer to your licensing advisor or representative for any licensing question.

SQL Server licensing could be complicated and some times confusing for some people. You can find out more details about the licensing at SQL Server 2012 licensing guide (Current release, SQL Server 2016 licensing guide). With new core based licensing model since SQL Server 2012 (Current release, SQL Server 2016), maximum virtualization, upgrades, software assurance and other licensing concerns, it is very important to know how the new licensing affect your environment. Get detail information from Microsoft resources or consult your licensing representative for any question if you planning to install or upgrade to SQL Server 2012 (Current release, SQL Server 2016).

SQL Server licensing cost for production varies and depends on if it is acquired through retail boxed software or the type of agreement and plans if acquired through Microsoft Volume Licensing. Microsoft offers different program for different organization type and size. For retail, you can try getting quote from Microsoft Store. For volume licensing, you could use online Microsoft License Advisor to get a quick quote.

Take an example, SQL Server 2012 Standard Edition for 4 Cores licensing (minimum) without software assurance with Open license program is $7,172. Note that retailed box or other volume licensing programs may have other pricing and discount.

To help lowering the licensing cost in non-production environment, here are a few options offered by Microsoft to license SQL Server 2012 (Change for SQL Server 2016, see below).

SQL Server Evaluation Edition
Microsoft offers free trial version of SQL Server 2012 (As well as SQL Server 2016) for evaluation purposes. The evaluation version is a full functional version along with all enterprise edition features with the evaluation period for 180 days.

This option is great especially for database administrator who want to test and evaluate the new version. It may not be ideal for developer to use it for their software development purpose as the database becomes inaccessible after it expires.

To download the SQL Server 2016 free evaluation version. Visit this page. Or you can try the SQL Server 2016 Developer edition (Free as well! see below).

SQL Server Developer Edition
Developer edition consists of all enterprise edition features and capabilities. This edition is licensed under 'per user' developer tools model. One developer license is required for each person to access the software. Each licensed user could install multiple copies in different machines for non-production purposes provided all users access to the software are licensed under this model.

This option is great for development, testing or demo purposes as there is no expiration of the software and the cost of this edition is very cheap compare to the standard/enterprise edition. Quick search of the developer edition show the software cost about $45 - $60 (Amazon link)

Update: Microsoft announced that the SQL Server 2016 Developer edition is free! Visit this Microsoft page for more information and download the software as well.

MSDN Subscription
Microsoft also offers licensing for non-production environment through MSDN subscription (Microsoft Developer Network). MSDN subscriptions allows software developer and administrator to access new and earlier version of Microsoft products including SQL Server. This option utilize 'per user' licensing model. It allows subscriber to access new and previous version of software, and install and use the software in different machines provided that all users access to the software have appropriate license. That's mean developer or administrator could choose to download the appropriate edition (e.g. standard edition) to test its limited features, which could not be done in evaluation or developer edition as it provides full enterprise edition features.

The MSDN subscription also gives monthly credit for each subscriber to use any Windows Azure services for development and testing, as well as discounted rate for certain Azure services (more info here).

MSDN Subscription could be purchased directly with Microsoft, reseller or through Microsoft Volume Licensing program (Download the reference guide).

Here are some MSDN subscription pricing if purchased from Microsoft directly (at the time of this post).

Update: Microsoft simplified the licensing and the latest licensing pricing as of August 31, 2016.

Visual Studio Enterprise with MSDN - $5,999, renew $2,569
Visual Studio Professional with MSDN - $1,199, Renew $799

In general, production environment is where end users and application use other than user acceptance test. Any environment that fit in any of the scenario below is also considered as production,

- Environment that connect to production database
- Environment use for backup or disaster recovery purposes for production environment
- Environment that is used for production for at least some times (e.g. rotate into production during peak time)

Non-production environment is usually used for software designing, development and testing. The licensing options listed above show different ways to license user in these environment. As described, every user is required to be licensed appropriately in order to install and use the software. However, there are scenarios where unlicensed users can use the software. One of them is acceptance testing. During the user acceptance test (UAT), end users (usually limited to a few members) review and conduct test on software to determine if requirement and specification are met. The end users who don't have MSDN subscription may access the software for this purpose. More detail can be found in Visual Studio and MSDN Licensing White Paper.

Hope this post help in your research of SQL Server 2012  (Current release, SQL Server 2016) licensing in non-production environment as well as resources for additional details from the links provided.

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