Is SQL Server Free?

The pricing model behind Microsoft SQL Server is a little difficult to understand at times. Since you’re not paying for an actual product, merely a license, you have to take into account your business needs when it comes to acquiring a license. So when asking whether or not Microsoft SQL Server is free, the answer is no. But it’s also yes. Confused yet? You’re not alone. Here are a few tips to help you understand the more daunting aspects of Microsoft’s licensing process.


What is SQL Server?


SQL Server is a relational database management system developed by the technical experts at Microsoft. It was designed primarily to compete with alternatives such as MySQL and Oracle Database. Microsoft SQL Server utilizes the programming language SQL, naturally. While it’s compatible with ANSI SQL (the most standard iteration of SQL) it also employs the proprietary T-SQL.


There are many applications of Microsoft SQL Server, the largest of which is to handle demanding amounts of business intelligence and database management. SQL Server offers secure options for handling sensitive customer information like debit card numbers or personal details. It’s also incredibly useful for file-sharing and increasing data access speeds.


SQL Server Pricing


If you type “sql server 2014 standard pricing” into Google, you might have difficulty getting a straightforward answer. That’s because there are differently priced licenses for different editions of any given server. It’s also important to keep in mind that SQL Server still supports its older iterations, through the recent announcement of the 2019 edition spurred Microsoft to divulge that they’ll cease support for SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 R2 in July 2019. The benefit of purchasing a license for an older edition means that you’re much more likely to find more affordable options for your needs. However, there are also instances where SQL Server is free.


When it’s free


While many users think of Microsoft SQL Server at the enterprise level (think managing massive amounts of data for large companies) there are also some handy tools for those who aren’t as familiar with SQL Server or are looking to build smaller scale data-driven applications.


There are currently two free licenses available for Microsoft SQL Server. The first is their Express edition which is available in Microsoft SQL Server 2017, the latest edition. The Express edition is an excellent choice for anyone who is just learning SQL and SQL Server, and it comes with the ability to build desktop applications as well as the aforementioned small server applications with a restricted maximum size of ten gigabytes.


The other free option is the Developer edition which assesses per user licenses and sometimes comes with added costs. This version of the Microsoft SQL Server software is full-featured. It’s an incredibly cost-effective means to building, testing, and demonstrating server apps that make use of the SQL Server software. If the restrictions of either of the free options don’t bother you or are enough to handle your data needs, they’re an ideal initial fit.


When it’s not free


All other editions of Microsoft SQL Server cost money for the license, but may be the best fit depending on your overall needs. However, their licensing process tends to be a little obtuse. They frequently sell per core packages but these are actually packs of two. There’s also a four core minimum. If you’re looking at their Enterprise edition per core packages, understand that costs can add up a lot more quickly than you’d anticipate.


Regardless of your Microsoft SQL Server needs, there’s an option out there to fit most anyone. If you’re solely interested in the free editions, be prepared to navigate around some restrictions. If you’re ready to purchase a license, you’ll be spending a fair chunk of change but it’s an excellent tool for database management as well as business intelligence.