It had to change at some point in time. I've watched technology advance over the last few years, with dual core, quad core, and even up to twelve core processors appearing from Intel and AMD. With those advances, one of the huge advantages of choosing SQL Server over other RDBMS's is that SQL Server has been licensed by physical socket rather than core licensing. For less cost, we have been getting more and more processing power for our CPU licenses. However with SQL Server 2012 being released next year sometime, that is due to change. Microsoft released initial licensing information and Denny Cherry (blog | @MrDenny) wrote a great post that helps explain how the licensing will be handled moving forward.
Licensing is a strange topic for me. There are so many restrictions and decisions made by software companies as to how they will allow customers to use their products, it is not only confusing, it can be incredibly frustrating. For most DBAs, we don't sign the checks to purchase the software, but we are charged with finding the best deals we can for our companies, and making the decisions about which editions are needed, how many licenses are appropriate and which type of license. We are also under pressure to minimize costs, which often results in lots of stress trying to make the best decision for our workload while ensuring compliance with vendor licensing.
I've made my thoughts on licensing known before (I prefer licensing by scale only), but at least the new scheme for 2012 is fairly simple. We have fewer editions and we are licensing by cores, so sockets * cores = licenses needed. This is unlike Oracle, which has some strange math required for cores of different speeds. There are a few twists with virtualization, but it does appear that overall it's a simpler scheme, although perhaps more expensive for some customers. There are some benefits for customers that upgrade licenses, so if you are considering moving servers to 2012, you might want to purchase SQL Server 2008 R2 licenses now. If you upgrade them later, it may be cheaper if you have larger servers, especially those with more than 4 cores per socket.
With the ever increasing density of processing power in today's CPUs, this changes seems fair to me. Microsoft can license SQL Server however they choose to do so, and I think the move to charging for cores makes sense. I would, however, like to see them just remove the feature restrictions and allow all features to exist in all editions of the product. We could build better applications and SQL Server would look to be a more polished product.
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