How to choose between SQL Server Standard vs. Enterprise

Get Enterprise features and pay Standard licensing fees

Deploying flash storage arrays for companies with enterprise database systems is my specialty. With over 15 years of experience in Information Technology, I’ve learned which features are essential to support the needs of an enterprise.

Do more with less

One thing that’s become crystal clear is that people at all levels of an enterprise are asked to improve productivity — and accomplish greater results — with fewer resources. Businesses that are unable to improve results are facing tough times or being punished by Wall Street. Below is a visual that demonstrates why this is happening.

Data Growth

The demand for connected devices that control every aspect of our lives is leading to the explosive growth of data.

What’s more, the need for analyzing this growing data (often in real time) is burning brighter than ever. How can companies achieve greater results with all this data?

Microsoft SQL Server is ideal for enterprise deployments

A lot of large enterprises rely on Microsoft SQL Server to run their database systems. SQL Server database comes in multiple versions; and the most commonly used are Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition.

The licensing of the two versions is significantly different:

  • The Enterprise Edition is roughly five times more expensive than the Standard Edition.
  • More often than not, an IT organization does not have a choice but to pay for Enterprise Edition.

How to pay for Standard – and get the features of Enterprise

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could pay for the Standard Edition and get the same features and functionality that you’d get from Enterprise Edition? In this blogpost, I will share some of the software features that are included with a Tegile flash array that complement the features of Standard Edition of SQL Server database (see below graph). We will review features such as DRAM footprint, AlwaysOn availability groups, application-consistent snapshots, and data compression.

 SQL Server StandardTegile Solution*
DRAM FootprintLimited to 128GB192GB
AlwaysOn Availability GroupsNOApplication-consistent snapshots
Data CompressionNOYES
Asynchronous MirroringNOYES; Replication between all-flash and hybrid arrays

* Features of Tegile flash arrays that complement SQL Server Standard Edition.

DRAM Footprint

SQL Server Standard Edition can use a maximum of 128GB of DRAM. But these days, most enterprise servers have more DRAM than 128GB. Because of rapid data growth and increased retention requirements, most of the databases we come across are 1TB and over, which makes the Standard Edition a less desirable option. However, a Tegile flash array has 192GB of DRAM in it, which makes it ideal for large data requirements.

The goal of the Tegile IntelliFlash software architecture is to service most of the I/O requests from this DRAM tier. So in essence, the flash array ends up providing a low-latency high-performance DRAM-like performance to the SQL Server that is running on it. This performance is in addition to the 128GB DRAM that is available to the SQL Server on the host server.

One way to look at it is that the Tegile-based DRAM can now benefit multiple SQL Servers that are connected to it — as opposed to just a single SQL Server. One can even use a LUN from their Tegile flash array to use the Buffer Pool Extension functionality that was introduced in SQL Server 2014. In this way, the DRAM footprint of the SQL Server can be directly augmented with low-latency flash storage from Tegile.

AlwaysOn Availability Groups

Microsoft introduced the concept of AlwaysOn high-availability groups with SQL Server 2012. The idea was to failover multiple databases as one atomic unit to DR Servers. As you can imagine, in situations where an application depends on multiple databases, there is an absolute need to have this functionality. However, SQL Server Standard Edition does not have this feature. On the plus side, Tegile flash arrays do come with the ability to create application-consistent snapshots.

Tegile IntelliFlash storage management software includes the Tegile Data Protection Agent (TDPA). The TDPA runs on the SQL Server and communicates with Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS). This set-up allows the snapshot process to ensure that the snapshot captured across multiple databases and multiple LUNs is atomic. The snapshot can then be mounted as a separate set of LUNs on an alternate server and the databases can be used for both read and write access.

Application Consistent Snapshots

SQL Server Standard Edition does not include the ability to create snapshots. More than that, the Enterprise Edition just gives users the ability to create read-only snapshots. As mentioned above, Tegile’s IntelliFlash software includes the ability to create snapshots that are not only readable, but can also be presented as write-enabled LUNs. This functionality gives the user some really cool features that even the Enterprise Edition of SQL Server does not offer.

You see, snapshots are mere pointers to original LUNs; so as objects, they have minimal storage footprints and are created in seconds regardless of the size of the database. What this means is that a user can create a copy of a 2TB database in seconds — and without requiring the additional 2TB of storage capacity. This feature comes in real handy when you need to recover data quickly or spin up a test/dev or QA environment from production databases fast, and without allocating the exact storage capacity.

Data Compression

As with SQL Server 2012, Microsoft introduced page-level and row-level compression. However, these cool features are reserved only for the Enterprise Edition. And even in the Enterprise Edition, when these features are used, they consume the CPU resources on the host SQL Server.

On the other hand, Tegile flash arrays have software that compresses data on the fly in real time. On top of that, the data reduction does not consume the CPU resources of the host SQL Server because Tegile arrays have their own processors and memory. Data compression is one of the most popular features of Tegile flash arrays because data compression drives down the effective cost of flash storage significantly.

Asynchronous Mirroring

SQL Server Standard Edition only supports synchronous database mirroring, which introduces very high latencies when you create a database replica on a DR site that is geographically far away from the primary site. Tegile flash arrays come with asynchronous replication functionality, which enables you to replicate data from one Tegile array to many or from many to one. To top that, the replication functionality also works between an all flash array and a hybrid flash array. This feature is very popular because customers can replicate from an all-flash array at their primary site and a hybrid array at their DR site. This feature further reduces the total cost of flash storage.

Same features & functionality of Enterprise, but at the Storage level

With my experience as a DBA and a VP of IT who had to deal with budgets and expenses, I recognize that flash storage solutions from Tegile take functionality to the next level. Our customers get the same features and functionality they’d get from SQL Server Enterprise Edition, but at the storage level.

With these savings

  • Tegile customers can afford to get multiple Standard Edition SQL Server licenses instead of just one.
  • Tegile customers pay a lot less licensing fees, but still get all the features they need.

Of course, in many instances, SQL Server Enterprise Edition is a necessity based on actual requirements. However, evaluating the requirements pragmatically and then opting for SQL Server Standard Edition to run on Tegile flash arrays can lead to enormous savings and fast performance.

Win in the marketplace

SQL Server MVP David Klee and vExpert James Green have written a book discussing how you can architect your next SQL Server environment effectively. The book explores SQL workload characteristics, key considerations for storage, best practices for leveraging flash, and how to take advantage of the latest updates in SQL Server 2016. It’s available for free here:

Gorilla Guide Modern Storage Strategies for SQL Server

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Modern Storage Strategies for SQL Server

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