SQL Server 2012: Biggest Little Core-house

You sure do got a ‘purty motherboard…

Now that SQL Server 2012 is generally available to the public, many companies are looking at the new platform and trying to figure out how to move to it and take advantage of all the new cool features. Unfortunately, some folks haven’t noticed/been aware of some of the fine print that came along with this release. I think at this point, it’s safe to say, mostly everyone knows about the change to a core-based licensing model. The part that is now causing major heartache with folks is an issue that Aaron Bertrand (Blog | Twitter) recently brought up in his post that I HIGHLY recommend you go read ‘A cautionary tale about grandfathering CAL licenses in SQL Server 2012 Enterprise’.

To quickly summarize the issue, there’s a 20-core limit in place with Enterprise edition (UPDATE – Thanks for this clarification point Aaron: to be clear, the 20-core restriction *only* applies if you upgrade Server + CAL via SA. With core limit = licensed. In other words if you buy a 64-core Enterprise license, you get to use all 64 cores.)! In a nutshell what that means is if you have a server with 4 8-core processors for a total of 32 cores, and you install SQL Server 2012 on it licensed previously by CAL with SA, SQL Server will only “see”/use 20 of those cores! This is a huge deal and one I’m really surprised has not been addressed more vocally from the user community. I’ve already seen a couple of statements as strong as “based on this, we will seriously start looking at another platform”. My hope is that if enough noise is made from the customer base, Microsoft will at least up that limit similar to how VMware changed their licensing for vSphere 5 based on customer lashback. Have you or your company run into this issue yet? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments.

Yet Another Update: Per Steve Jones’ request in comments, here’s a visual indicator of scenarios and how it could affect you

Edition Licensing today Licensing in 2012 Can I use all my cores?
Enterprise Per Processor (4 procs, 4 cores) License all 16 cores (buy 8 core packs*) Yes
Enterprise Per Processor (4 procs, 8 cores) License all 32 cores (buy 16 core packs) Yes
Enterprise Grandfathered Server (4×4 cores) + CALs (with SA) No core packs purchased due to agreement Yes
Enterprise Grandfathered Server (4×8 cores) + CALs (with SA) No core packs puchased due to agreement No (limit to 20)
Enterprise Server (4×8 cores) + CALs (with SA) License 32 cores (buy 16 core packs) Yes

*Core pack comes in pairs so 16 cores requires 8 packs to be purchased, etc.

Additionally, here’s link to licensing FAQ from Microsoft. The one you want to pay attention to (for this scenario) is the last one:

How will the 20 Core Server limit work for SQL Server 2012?

Existing Enterprise Edition licenses in the Server + CAL licensing model that are upgraded to SQL Server 2012 and beyond will be limited to server deployments with 20 cores or less. This 20 core limit only applies to SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition Server licenses in the Server + CAL model and will still require the appropriate number/versions of SQL Server CALs for access.

Addendum: Please note, this blog (or any other) should NOT be your definitive source for licensing information. For that always, ALWAYS contact your local Microsoft rep as they have the details of your specific agreements and options. This post is meant for informational purposes only.

7 Replies to “SQL Server 2012: Biggest Little Core-house”

  1. Just to clarify –  you need to change this sentence: “if you have a server with 4 8-core processors for a total of 32 cores,
    and you install SQL Server 2012 on it, SQL Server will only “see”/use 20
    of those cores”

    To instead say: “if you have a server with 4 8-core processors for a total of 32 cores,
    and you install SQL Server 2012 on it licensed by the core, SQL Server will only “see”/use 20
    of those cores

    1. Thanks Brent, have updated it and also added clarification point from Aaron as well. While this won’t affect everyone, it certainly will catch a few people offguard as the Microsoft licensing calculus is already tough enough to understand.

  2. Hmm, I’m not sure I agree with Brent’s edit. If you buy SQL Server 2012 licensed by the core, SQL Server *will* use all the cores. The 20-core limit comes into effect when you use VL or other pre-pidded builds where it is known that SQL Server is actually using CAL licensing (and you can only get these builds through SA, if you had CAL licensing on a previous version of SQL Server Enterprise that is still covered by SA).

  3. This is confusing as heck, and I’m not sure I’ve got it straight. It would be nice to see you list out 12 scenarios and show the upgrade cost/use. Say I have a 16 core system, a 20 core system, a 24 core system, licensed different ways with new and upgrade (SA and non-SA) paths being taken.

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