Is Microsoft Double-Dipping on SQL Server Licensing?

Updated: Opinion: Those who have peeled back the covers on Microsoft's recently released pricing and packaging details have found some nasty surprises, particularly with Client Access Licenses.

When you take a look at Microsofts newly unveiled pricing and packaging details for SQL Server 2005, it seems at first blush that Microsoft is seriously courting low-end users, what with the introduction of a stripped-down, lower-cost but still enterprise-level version of SQL Server—its new Workgroup edition.

But when you peel off the cover and get a look at the details, there are some nasty surprises squirming around. First and foremost is the fact that, for the first time, Microsoft is introducing CAL (Client Access Licenses) differentiation, wherein the server you choose matters.

In the past, you could buy an SQL Server CAL and use it to access either Standard or Enterprise edition. Now, Microsoft is going for an alternative CAL structure: You not only need to buy a more expensive server license between Workgroup and Standard editions, you also need to buy a more expensive CAL as you move up the edition ladder.

This is potentially punitive for Workgroup edition users: If they want to move up, theyll need to replace all of their CALs and buy a new server license, as opposed to just doing one or the other.

According to Paul DeGroot from Directions on Microsoft, Microsoft SQL Server Product Manager Tom Rizzo has said that this is actually a good thing, since Workgroup users save about $30 per CAL over what theyd have to pay for Standard edition, which is the former entry point to an enterprise SQL Server database. So, arguably, Microsoft is saving smaller businesses some money.

But DeGroot pointed out to me in a recent conversation that for those people who are in it for the long run and want to upgrade to Standard Edition, theyll have to replace all of their CALs and buy a new server license to boot.

/zimages/5/28571.gifSpeaking of SQL Server 2005, where the heck is Beta 3? Read more here.

What about the Software Assurance plan? True, it would mean youd merely pay the difference between what you would have paid for Workgroup edition and what you paid for Standard edition. But DeGroot argues that paying Software Assurance is a penalty in itself.

"Its quite a gamble with SQL Server," he told me. "You get three years of upgrade rights. It seems quite unlikely there will be a major refresh of SQL Server for the next three years. [As it is,] it took them five years to get this one out."

Another "obnoxious" thing, DeGroot said, is that to get the Software Assurance technical support benefits, you have to buy Software Assurance on the CALs as well.

Next Page: Beware if you think youll upgrade from Workgroup.