What exactly is the point of purchasing technical support on a CAL, though? Its just a license, not an intrinsic part of your functioning database. "Its not a big [feature add], not something you add to software," DeGroot said. "Chances youll need technical support [on a license] are nil. CALs never fail." The cost for Software Assurance can add up pretty quickly. Now, if Workgroup edition is all youll need for a multiyear period, its a good buy. Its a capable edition, and it may be quite satisfactory for many companies that dont require Analysis Services and Integration Services or any of the other advanced features of SQL Server. But if businesses have an inkling that theyll need to upgrade to Standard, they must figure out what it will cost them to move up. As it is, to upgrade will require purchasing the Workgroup edition and adding Software Assurance on top of thata more pricey option than just buying Standard edition with Software Assurance.IBM and Microsoft are aggressively pushing their database offerings toward a cohesive information management framework, with special emphasis on integration, simplified failover and lowered cost. Read more here. Those who opt for CALs are typically smaller businesses, so this makes the lack of CAL transportability even more vexing. Imagine the problem if youre an IT manager for an SMB (small or midsized business): You have most of your business running on Standard edition CALs, but then you roll out applications to users in remote offices who are running Workgroup edition CALs for smaller, department-level purposes. You cant tell those remote users to access the human resources database that you use in headquarters, since they likely dont have the right CALs, DeGroot pointed out. "It strikes me as creating a new kind of headache for companies that use CALs," he said. Furthermore, whos to say Microsoft wont differentiate CALs between Standard edition and Enterprise edition at some later point? At this rate, with Oracle gaining traction on its lower-priced Standard Edition One and with Microsoft jacking up server prices and fiddling with CALs in this manner, the logic of which proprietary, non-open-source enterprise database is the best buy is getting topsy-turvy. Not like it was ever all that straightforward, true, but we expect different from Microsoft. I asked Microsoft to comment on the situation, and they clarified. According to a spokeswoman, there are two CAL options for SQL Server 2000 and SQL Server 2005. The regular SQL Server CAL can work on any of the products including Enterprise, Standard and Workgroup editions. The Workgroup CAL works only with Workgroup edition, but there will be a step up available with SQL Server 2005 if they ever decided they wanted to move off of Workgroup. "The customer base for SQL Server is diverse; whats appropriate for small to medium-sized companies may not apply to large enterprises; therefore we added additional flexibility with the introduction of the Workgroup CAL to ensure small to medium-sized companies would have a cost-effective way to use SQL Server," she said. Flexibility is always a good thing, but I still think DeGroot is right when he voices fear that small to medium-sized businesses will get stuck paying through the nose if they decide that they really are going to expand and will require more than what Workgroup offers. In the end, as always, it boils down to caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware. And let the buyer make darn sure that if he or she opts for the limited Workgroup CALs, theyre planning to stay there for a good, long time. For more info on how SQL Server is licensed, check out Microsofts licensing site. Editors Note: This story was updated to include feedback from Microsoft. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest database news, reviews and analysis.