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SQL Test and Dev: Visual Studio vs Traditional Licenses

Understanding the rights associated with using SQL Server included with Visual Studio compared to regular licenses in testing and development can be detrimental to keeping your software budget under control

What SQL Server comes with Visual Studio Professional?

Visual Studio Professional Subscription is the cheapest option for Visual Studio. It includes SQL Server Standard, Enterprise and Web that you may install within unlimited instances and use for testing, development, design, demonstration, and other non-production purposes. 

The problem, however, arises when you have a large IT team supporting a small development team. In this scenario, anyone who administers, supports, backs up, configures, or monitors non-production workloads with SCCM would require a similar Visual Studio license per user. It can be a significant financial burden for larger organisations with large IT departments. And it is often a software audit risk as organisations misunderstand this fundamental non-production licensing condition.

Is there a cheaper alternative?

One option is to use the SQL Server Developer Edition, a technical equivalent of SQL Enterprise. This edition is free. It used to cost about $50 per user per year. However, Microsoft made it free of charge. It is an excellent option for purely SQL Server development.

The other option is to use SQL Server Express, which doesn't have licensing limitations, but its technical capabilities are capped.

Please note that other software, including operating systems, would require regular production licenses in both scenarios.

Isn't any SQL Server edition free for development?

What if you want to install SQL Server Enterprise Edition for testing and dev and only intend to use it for development purposes? Unfortunately, it is not free of charge, even though it's only being used for development. You must license it with Visual Studio (per user) or a regular software license for SQL Server Enterprise (regular SQL Server licensing terms would apply).

May I use commercial SQL Server licenses for development and testing?

Yes, you may. Regular SQL Server licences via, for example, Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, do not prohibit non-production usage.

Let's summarise the options for non-production usage.

You can choose from:

  1. SQL Server Developer — free of charge equivalent of SQL Server Enterprise, 

  2. SQL Server Express — free of charge but technically limited,

  3. Visual Studio — includes commercial editions of SQL Server: Web, Standard and Enterprise for non-production use only, licensed per every user accessing the software, instances are unlimited,

  4. Regular SQL Server licenses — Standard and Enterprise editions licensed: 

    1. Per processor core or 

    2. Server/CAL — per instance plus each user or device (Standard edition only).

Understanding the rights associated with using SQL Server for development and testing can be tricky. However, multiple options are available to you, including free of charge, such as using the SQL Server Developer Edition, which has the same capabilities as the commercial Enterprise edition. 

Commercial alternatives include Visual Studio subscriptions, which are licensed per user and allow you to use the software within your organisation without worrying about individual licenses for each installation. However, the software may only be used for development and testing, and each IT user supporting it also requires a license. 

Ultimately, it's necessary to weigh the costs and benefits of each option and choose the one that best fits your organisation's needs.

Please get in touch with us if you need independent, unbiased advice using the form below.