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What’s a Passive Server?

Licensing software is often a more complicated process than I think it should be. Licensing database software seems to be even more difficult to understand, especially when you start to talk about the various high availability (HA) scenarios, virtualized  servers, separate machines to process SSIS packages and who knows what other configurations, not to mention the licensing changes with each new version of SQL Server.

I was following a licensing debate  about how you license passive servers in an HA situation. I have always understood from the SQL Server licensing documents that if you have a passive server, it does not require a license for the SQL Server software. However it’s not that simple, or at least, it doesn’t appear that way to me.

Suppose you have an primary instance that mirrors its database to another server. The mirror instance doesn’t need a license for that database, but what about if you also log ship your primary database to a third server? Does the third server need a license if it’s also “passive”? I assume that if you had second database on the mirror instance being used for another application, you’d need a license for that instance, but what if you only have a “DBA database” that gathers performance monitoring information for that mirror database? Is that “passive”?

Suppose I have a 6 node cluster, and I have 4 active nodes and two passive ones, do I still have 2 other “passive” licenses for log shipped servers? Or can I log ship to 4 separate servers? That doesn’t even bring this clause into play:  ”The passive server can take the duties of the active server for 30 days. Afterwards, it must be licensed accordingly” (from 2005 licensing). It almost feels like I am studying some type of Microsoft Internal Licensing Framework in preparation for some type of certification.

To me, the simple way to handle this is to say that passive servers, those not doing any work for the business that owns them, don’t require a license. The exception would be for internal monitoring or maintenance on the passive server (backup restores, DBCC checks, DBA sysadmin monitoring). I doubt we’ll get something that simple, but that’s what I think would be fair.

Steve Jones

(originally published at http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/Editorial/72338/)

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Filed under: Editorial Tagged: high availability, licensing, syndicated

The Voice of the DBA

Steve Jones is the editor of SQLServerCentral.com and visits a wide variety of data related topics in his daily editorial. Steve has spent years working as a DBA and general purpose Windows administrator, primarily working with SQL Server since it was ported from Sybase in 1990. You can follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/way0utwest


Posted by davipug on 7 February 2011

This is often times a confusing piece of Microsoft licensing. Basically for each licensed active/production/primary SQL Server you are allowed one corresponding passive instance. A passive instance can be defined as an instance not performing any SQL Server workloads or serving any data to clients or users. If licensing per processor the passive instance must have an equal or less number of processors than the active instance.

In your mirroring/log shipping example above you would have a single active instance with two passive instances (the mirror and log shipping partner). In that scenario you would be required to license the active instance as well as one of the passive instances.

Dave Pugh


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