Server licensing: why doesn't Microsoft make it easier?

SQL Server

Jon Honeyball wonders how many Microsoft customers are confident they're buying they right licence

When it comes to server licensing, I consistently hear two very different views.

One says “well, we phone up our licensing agents and they just send us a big bill”, while the other says “we looked at the documentation, couldn’t make sense of it, decided on a particular solution and bought that, and hope we’re doing it right”.

Neither approach is particularly satisfactory, so you’d think Microsoft would explain and clarify the various issues surrounding licensing. And it does, up to a point.

SQL example

Take SQL Server as an example. It’s actually a good example, because not only do a lot of people use it raw as a database engine, but it lives underneath a lot of Microsoft technologies too.

In fact, it’s quite difficult to find a server-side product that Microsoft ships today that doesn’t employ some flavour of SQL Server.

It’s difficult to claim that tiddly fish is just a shrunken version of the supertanker edition, but Microsoft decided to call all of them SQL Server

At the high end SQL Server scales up to huge databases running on monster servers, while at the other end it scales down to desktops, laptops and even Windows Mobile – it’s difficult to claim that tiddly fish is just a shrunken version of the supertanker edition, but Microsoft decided to call all of them SQL Server.

The document “SQL Server 2008 R2 Quick Licensing Guide” is a PDF file available for download that runs to eight pages. Another document, “SQL Server 2008 Licensing Guide”, runs to a more reassuring 60 pages spread over ten chapters.

Both are fabulously complex and contain mentally entangling sentences like “Microsoft offers a Per Processor licensing model to help alleviate complexity”, which might fool you into believing that the world is indeed flat.

Virtual problems

If you thought things were complicated running SQL Server on a physical server, they become brain scrambling when you run SQL Server on virtual machines.

At this point you fall into the world of “OSEs” (Operating System Environments), how many cores you have, whether Hyper-Threading is turned on, whether you’re using the multiplexing software model and so on.

There’s more complication still when you deal with multiple sites, datacenters, and the whole upgrade route is enough to make your head spin.

I can understand why Microsoft does this: it wishes to provide a functional product at each price point while maximising its revenues – and clearly, if it sold the Datacenter edition for £100 it would be losing money, while customers wanting low-end functionality won’t pay thousands of pounds per processor. Nevertheless, it’s far too complicated, and fewer, simpler price points would suffice.

Microsoft probably would respond that they’re cheaper and less complicated than those of Oracle, which may be true but isn’t much reassurance to us customers.

It would be interesting to know how many readers are confident that they’re buying the right licence, and whether or not they had to call on third-party assistance.