How Is SQL Server 2014 Licensed? Part 4, Virtual Environments

How to license VMs with server licenses and CALs showing VMs with 1 server license required

Jul 3, 2014 by Seth Rodriquez

In our last few posts, we have covered the basics of SQL licensing, the breaking points between the main versions, and the use right changes made when SQL 2014 was released at the beginning of April. That leaves us with only one important question left: How do you properly license SQL Server in a virtual environment?

As you might have guessed, the answer is not simple. There are two ways to license SQL 2014 for a virtual environment: you can either license the individual virtual machines or you can license the physical server (or server farm) for maximum virtualization. Here’s the deal:

Licensing Individual Virtual Machines

If you only need a couple instances of SQL, then this is the route you will want to go. For this option, basically you are going to treat your virtual machine just like a physical machine and license it accordingly. So just like a physical machine, you will need to decide if you want to go with the Per Instance licensing model or the Per Core licensing model (see my previous posts here and here to help you decide).


If you decide on the Per Instance (a.k.a., Server + CAL) model, then you will need a one server license for every running instance of SQL and enough CALs to cover your users or devices. Simple enough.


If you decide on the Per Core model, then you will need to decide how many virtual cores (i.e., virtual threads) you will assign to each virtual machine. Then you buy enough core licenses to cover those virtual cores. Just remember that the four-core minimum still applies, so even if you create a virtual machine with only two virtual cores, you still need to purchase four core licenses for that VM.

One last detail to note (and it is important not to miss this!): Whether you go with the Server/CAL licenses or the Core-based licenses, permission to move your virtual machine from one physical host to another is a benefit of Software Assurance. So if you want to use vMotion, then you will need to purchase SA. SA provides you with additional use rights, including permission to move the VM around the server farm. Otherwise, you will need to assign your SQL licensing to a specific physical machine and you will not be allowed to move that VM to another physical host for 90 days. This was a change they introduced in SQL 2012 and they have not changed the rules for SQL 2014. For more information on this topic, see my previous post here.

Licensing Physical Servers for Maximum Virtualization

But enough of this small business stuff. Let’s get down to the robust solution. Let’s say you want to create as many virtual SQL servers as your hardware can handle and money is no object. For you fortunate individuals, you will want to look into Microsoft’s solution for maximum virtualization rights.


To make this happen, you will license every processor core in the physical machine with SQL Server Enterprise and cover those licenses with Software Assurance. Once you do that, then all bets are off. You can create virtual SQL servers to your heart’s content. An unlimited supply of SQL servers is now at your fingertips.

And if you want to expand your SQL empire even further, you can take a whole server farm and do the same thing! Cover all the processor cores in all the physical servers with a license of SQL Server Enterprise with SA, and you can create a bazillion virtual machines running SQL Server. And since they are covered with SA, you also have permission to move the VMs from host to host as the need arises. Then you just unleash your minions and you’re on your way to taking over the world! It’s brilliant.

Of course, the only catch is the price. For example, in the image above you will need to license 12 processor cores with SQL Server Enterprise with SA. One way to do that would be through the Open License program which will give you two years of SA. At $20,621 for a two-core license with SA, you are looking at an initial price of $123,726. Down the road, a two-year renewal will cost you $6,874 per license, so you are looking at paying $41,244 every two years for the rest of your life (or until you take over the world; whichever comes first). There are other volume licensing programs that will help bring that cost down a little and will allow you to spread out the payments, but those numbers give you an idea of how much this robust solution is going to cost. You may have to cut down on the number of minions in your empire.

So there you have it! Four posts later, you now have what you need to know about SQL 2014 licensing. Hopefully these posts have helped to unravel some of the mystery surrounding SQL licensing and you are in a better position to figure out what you need. Still confused? Give us a call and we’ll help walk you through it. We’re here to help.

(All images in this post were taken from the Microsoft licensing datasheet which is available here.)

Need help planning your next SQL deployment or improving your current deployment? Mirazon is here to help with both the licensing side and technical side of the project. Give us a call at 502-240-0404 or send us an email at

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