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Would You Choose SQL Server?

By Steve Jones,

I recently wrote a piece on the limitations of the Standard Edition (SE) of SQL Server and got an interesting comment from Brent Ozar. He asked me a question, as a businessperson, that I found intriguing, and it's one I thought might be worth thinking about it a bit.

Imagine that you are a manager or director for a large enterprise, or even the founder/owner of a small startup business. You are looking to build some application. Maybe you'll sell it, maybe it's a service you sell on the web or with a mobile application. You have people that are good .NET developers, and hopefully a DBA, and you need to choose a database to store data and allow you to run reports. The database is important to the application; no flat files or XML stand-ins. The question Brent asked me, and I'm asking you is:

Would you use SQL Server?

Before you answer, remember that you need to buy 4 cores worth of licensing for SQL Server. For Standard Edition, that's $8,000 at list price. You might find discounts, but since an SE-maxed out, 64GB RAM server can be had for a little over $2,000. If you needed a second server, those prices double. If you want more than 4 cores (8 are common in many servers), the cost goes way up.

I think SQL Sever is a fantastic product, but it can be expensive. Back when SQLServerCentral started, we considered MySQL or PostgreSQL as alternatives, strictly because of licensing. $10k for software licensing is a lot for a small company, and it can substantially impact a budget. However the cost of working with another platform might be significant as well. A developer can cost more than $10,000 a month, and if you lose much time in building your software (or administering the server) because of the platform, that $10k in licensing costs could evaporate quickly.

As much as I like SQL Server, and I'd like to use it, I'd consider alternatives such as PostgreSQL for a simple, core database back end. That's if I weren't tackling any problems that needed subsystems like SSIS or SSRS. The more features I'd use in SQL Server, the more likely I think the licensing isn't a huge cost. However when budgets matter, and you have staff that won't be overly challenged in managing other platforms, I'd consider another platform with the high, per core cost of SQL Server.

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Steve Jones
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