With the release of SQL Server 2008 R2, Microsoft is offering new product editions and more features; the company is also making changes to virtualization licensing that could be troubling for some IT departments that rely on the unlimited virtualization rights currently inherent in SQL Server 2008 Enterprise. Here’s a look at the new editions and the licensing changes in SQL Server 2008 R2. (The focus of this column is the core product line, which now consists of the Datacenter, Enterprise, and Standard editions.)

SQL/Windows edition alignment

Most significantly, Microsoft has added a Datacenter edition to the SQL Server 2008 R2 line. With a maximum logical processor count of 256 and maximum RAM limited only by the limits of the underlying OS (2 TB for Windows Enterprise and Data Center), the Datacenter edition provides a clear upgrade path for organizations that are constrained by the much lower limits in the product’s Enterprise edition, which tops out at 8 CPUs and 2 TB of RAM. The Datacenter’s primary benefit centers around processing capabilities rather than RAM. In Microsoft’s literature, the Datacenter’s memory limit is “OS Maximum” which, for Windows Server 2008 R2 Data Center, is 2 TB, exactly the limit of SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise edition, so there’s not a lot of RAM benefit to be had. That said, the jump in supported CPU alone makes Datacenter a major move.

Microsoft is expected to release the Parallel Data Warehouse edition later this year. The Parallel Data Warehouse edition is a scalable appliance intended to support high-level data warehousing needs for large organizations.

A virtual difficulty

With the release of the new Datacenter edition in SQL Server 2008 R2, Microsoft is ending the unlimited virtualization rights that were associated with the per-processor licensed Enterprise edition of the product in favor of a four VM limit for that edition, a la Windows Server 2008 R2’s Enterprise/Data Center virtualization licensing model. For organizations that have deployed SQL Server Enterprise systems based on unlimited virtualization rights, a move to SQL Server 2008 R2 Datacenter might be necessary; Datacenter is the only edition of SQL Server 2008 R2 that sports unlimited virtualization rights. However, SQL Server 2008 R2 Datacenter’s per-processor licensing cost is double that of the Enterprise edition — $57,498 (Datacenter, list) vs. $28,749 (Enterprise) — which could be a pretty tough pill to swallow for some organizations.

The saving grace is that this licensing change only applies to organizations that do not subscribe to Software Assurance. For those organizations, existing virtualization rights will be extended to SQL Server 2008 R2.


From a features standpoint, there aren’t many differences between SQL Server 2008 R2 Datacenter and SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise, with the exception of some resource limits. Here are highlights of some of the differences between the editions. (Read this TechNet article for a complete feature-by-feature comparison of SQL Server 2008 R2’s editions.)


A major difference between SQL Server 2008 R2’s product editions is support for various availability techniques. Server clusters are one fairly common way by which availability is achieved. For the Datacenter and Enterprise editions of SQL Server 2008 R2, when running on Windows Server 2008, up to 16 failover nodes are supported.  With the Standard edition, two nodes are supported.

The SQL Server 2008 R2 release adds the backup compression feature to the Standard edition; this means that backup compression is supported in all three editions now. Some features are still only available in the Datacenter and Enterprise editions; these features include mirrored backups, database snapshots, hot add of CPUs and additional memory, and peer-to-peer replication, which is is an additional availability technique that maintains copies of data across multiple server instances.


Security features that are not yet supported by the Standard edition but that enjoy full support in the Datacenter and Enterprise editions include fine-grained security auditing and transparent (at rest) database encryption. Other security mechanisms, including Windows integrated authentication and data encryption, are available in all three editions.

Advanced data analysis

When you move beyond the technical details and into information analysis, you begin to see more differences between the editions. For instance, SQL Server 2008 R2 Standard edition supports some very limited data warehouse features, while the Datacenter and Enterprise editions support data compression, proactive caching, partitioned cubes, distributed partitioned cubes, advanced query optimization, and more.  Further, Datacenter and Enterprise editions take the Standard edition’s limited Analysis Services capabilities to a whole new level by adding support for PowerPivot for SharePoint and a number of other advanced analytical functions.

Master Data Services

SQL Server 2008 R2 Datacenter and Enterprise editions support Microsoft’s Master Data Services, which is intended to act as the “single source of truth” with regard to organizational data.

Full edition list

In addition to the four editions of SQL Server 2008 R2 mentioned in this column — Datacenter, Parallel Data Warehouse, Enterprise, and Standard — Microsoft also provides three other editions: Workgroup, Web, and Express.

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