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The Rambling DBA: Jonathan Kehayias

The random ramblings and rantings of frazzled SQL Server DBA

Should SQL Server advanced features be available a la carte?

SQL Server users love the new features inside of the platform and each new release brings more exciting enhancements that motivate end users towards upgrading from previous editions.  However, one of the biggest gripes I see from the SQL Server Community is that the hot new features are primarily Enterprise Edition only.  Today I read a blog post by John Magnabosco over on Simple Talk titled “What If TDE Was Available In Standard Edition?” that once again brought up the subject of a newer Enterprise Edition feature that “should” be in Standard Edition according to John.  Now to be perfectly fair to John, who I don’t know but I am sure he is a great person, the argument he makes in his blog post has been made before.  The key statement in his blog post is:

You shouldn't have to be a large company with a large budget to create a secure environment.

To a degree I couldn’t agree with him more, but you don’t have to have TDE to create a secure environment.  TDE is the icing on the cake in my opinion.  However, in the not so recent past, this same type of argument has been made about other aspects of Enterprise Edition by the community.  At PASS Summit 2008, which happened to be my first Summit and my first year as a MVP, during a insider session with Microsoft, some of the better known MVP’s drove the point home to Microsoft that stability shouldn’t be an Enterprise only feature.  What specifically were they talking about?  The ability to Lock Pages in Memory with 64 bit SQL Servers that can now scale memory beyond the previous limits of 32 bit architectures and with potentially devastating consequences if the SQL Server working set got trimmed or paged out by Windows Server 2003 under memory pressure.  The result was a Cumulative Update to SQL Server allowing a this in Standard Edition.

Another big feature that debutted in SQL Server 2008 RTM was backup compression, which offered huge performance improvements and storage savings for backing up SQL Server databases.  A number of third party tools have existed for a long time offering this feature including LiteSpeed by Quest Software and SQL Backup by Redgate, both of which are still industry standard tools for SQL Server backups despite the feature being available in the RTM of SQL Server 2008.  Why are they still industry standard?  Simple, backup compression was introduced as a Enterprise Only feature, and for $300-800 a third party tool makes much better financial sense versus the cost of an Enterprise license over a Standard license.  Not to short change the third party tools, they offer a number of other awesome features beyond backup compression as well.  As of SQL Server 2008 R2 RTM, backup compression is now available in Standard Edition of SQL Server as well.

So it begs the question, of this blog post.  Should SQL Server advanced features be available a la carte?  The competing RDBMS vendors have been selling features a la carte for a long time now.  Are we to the point that SQL Server will also join the ranks with Oracle, Informix, and Sybase (this is an old link I know) on this?  Would that even make the SQL Server community happy, or would we just begin complaining about the added costs on top of the base cost of the platform?

At some point Microsoft has to monetize their efforts on the product and the advanced features of it, there is after all a significant cost associated with developing, testing, releasing, and supporting it.  SQL Server 2005 brought a number of features into the Standard SKU that were previously Enterprise only features, while also introducing a number of newer features in the Standard SKU, as well as a number of Enterprise only features.  Coupled with this, the SQL Express platform is extremely robust for FREE and in SQL Server 2008 R2, now supports 10GB databases, which is larger than a number of the most basic databases in use by a lot of systems I encounter in consulting work.

What are your thoughts?  What Enterprise only features do you think should be in Standard Edition?  Should SQL Server features be available a la carte allowing you to determine what’s the most important to you, and if you are willing to pay for just those features?

Published Monday, June 21, 2010 11:32 PM by Jonathan Kehayias



Eric Stephani said:

Interesting thought. However being both a SQL Server and Oracle DBA, I do like the ease and simplicity of the "edition" model that Microsoft is using. And remember to get the advanced features of Oracle Database you need an Enterprise edition license plus the extra cost for the specific feature. Oracle licensing is down right confusing. People make careers on just trying to understand it.

The a-la-carte model is better for consumers in the long run. Think similar to buying individual songs vs whole albums. Also, it would probably generate more revenue. But at what cost? How much more complex would the software have to be? The Oracle model of just having all features available and tracking their use is pretty easy and flexible. But now you have to employ an army of auditors to make sure your customers are paying for the features they are using. And that doesn't make you any friends.

Regardless, I highly doubt Microsoft would every change to this model because they can to use this dimension as a differentiation between them and the "others".

June 21, 2010 11:40 PM

Jonathan Kehayias said:


Thanks for the comments.  I got to see first hand how confusing Oracle licensing was at my last job, and I wouldn't look forward to that kind of thing with SQL at all.  I love the ease of licensing with SQL by edition personally.  I just keep seeing comments about what should be Standard Edition and thought it was an interesting topic to discuss.

June 22, 2010 12:11 AM

WIDBA said:

Interesting point - I suppose it would be nice to purchase Standard and then add on features (Resource Governor, etc) to it.  I could see where that type of model would have caused us to down convert from Enterprise since we are using some features but not all.  (I suppose that sentence provides, in a nutshell why MS does it.)  However I echo the point on simplicity.  The easy way out is you need to work for a company that is big/rich enough to support Enterprise servers, or at least one that doesn't mind throwing money at hardware/software:)

June 22, 2010 8:56 AM

noeldr said:

BTW: Not only microsoft ADDED features to Std Edition they also "LIMITTED" it. For example Std Edition used to be able to utilize *all* OS Memory but now(R2) is limited to 32GB!!

I am fan #1 of a-la-carte features but given M$ direction I seriously doubt they will follow that path!

June 22, 2010 12:44 PM

Jimmy said:

One thing that irks me is the fact that within BIDS all features are available by default but when it comes time to put your SSIS package out there for production use, it errors out and you realize with horror that the component you just used is for enterprise edition this case the a la carte purchasing of features makes a lot of sense.

June 22, 2010 6:29 PM

Alex K said:


When we choose which features to pay for, we essentially vote with our money, say in a very clear way what we actually want. This is a very powerful feedback mechanism. As such, it usually meets very strong resistance: some don't like feedback.

Surely there will be plenty of "technical reasons" why this idea is not feasible.

June 22, 2010 8:44 PM

Jonathan Kehayias said:


Why would there be "plenty of 'techincal reasons' why this idea is not feasible"?  Other platforms license their products this way already, so it is technically feasible.  

Please understand I am not arguing one way or another for this, I am just asking the question.  I work in an entirely Enterprise Edition shop, so it really matters not to me since even under 2008 R2 licensing my VM's are covered under a host level Enterprise Edition Server license.

June 22, 2010 9:01 PM

Alex K said:

Hi Jonathan,

>>Why would there be "plenty of 'techincal reasons' why this idea is not feasible"?<<

I am just making a guess. I guess that introducing a very strong new feedback mechanism, or any other serious change, into a long established place with a strong corporate culture rarely goes smoothly.

There were multiple similar discussions, like cable TV subscribers did not want all the channels and such. Also I know quite a few people who would love to strip down Excel to bare essentials, even if the price would stay the same. Such suggestions rarely succeed.

June 22, 2010 10:06 PM

Kiran said:

100% agreed with the a-la-carte concept. Personally, although I would love to have access to the Resource Governor, our company simply is not in a position to be able to acquire the license for the Enterprise Edition. I could probably make a case for acquiring that one part for a small investment, but to get the whole package would require some major game-breaking problems that had no other solutions available.

June 29, 2010 8:28 AM
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