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Guide to SQL Server Editions and Licensing

Explore the available editions of Microsoft SQL Server

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TechSoup - June 13, 2016
Learn about the available editions of Microsoft SQL Server and the licensing requirements.

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SQL Server is relational database server software offering tools for data storage, management, analysis, and reporting. It can be used as a back-end database server for internal applications or for powering a dynamic website.

You can use this guide to help you find the SQL Server edition and licenses appropriate for your organization's needs.


Microsoft offers SQL Server through TechSoup in the Standard and Enterprise editions. Standard Edition is most suitable for medium-size charities and organizations. Enterprise Edition is most suitable for large organizations.

  • Standard Edition offers basic database, reporting, and analytics capabilities. Microsoft offers this edition under the server/CAL and core-based licensing models.
  • Enterprise Edition contains all of the basic features of Standard Edition plus tools for analyzing business and financial data, mission-critical applications, and data warehousing features. Microsoft offers this edition only under the core-based licensing model.

For more information on SQL Server editions, see the basic summary, full comparison, and new feature comparison.


Below are some of the major licensing requirements for SQL Server.

  • The core-based licensing products offered by TechSoup provide licenses for two cores. SQL Server with core-based licensing requires a minimum of four core licenses to function. In order to use these products, you will need to obtain enough copies to cover the cores in the processors you plan to use with SQL Server.
  • The server/CAL licensing products offered by TechSoup provide a single server license for a physical, virtual, or cloud-based server. SQL Server with server/CAL licensing requires each user or device that accesses the licensed server to have a client access license (CAL). It is most appropriate for administrators who know the exact number of users and devices that will connect to the server.

For more information on licensing, including details on licensing virtual machines, see the SQL Server 2016 Licensing Datasheet. You can find even more detailed licensing information information in the Microsoft Product Terms document..


For information about upgrading from previous versions of SQL Server, see the SQL Server Supported Version and Edition Upgrades.

If you have active Software Assurance for your SQL Server licenses, you don't need to request the new version of SQL Server through TechSoup. You can simply download the new version through the VLSC to upgrade, and it won't count as an additional title toward your two-year title limit.

CALs work for the version equal to or earlier than their server software. They must be upgraded for use with newer server software. If you upgrade to the next version of SQL Server, you will also need to use Software Assurance to upgrade the CALs or request new CALs. CALs offered through TechSoup are always for the currently offered version.

For more information about Software Assurance, see Software Assurance Benefits Included with Microsoft Donations

SQL Server Products Available Through TechSoup

See the SQL Server products available through TechSoup.

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