Licensing Q&A: What to consider when deploying and licensing Microsoft SQL Server in a container environment?

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Understanding how containers work is the first step to successfully deploying and licensing Microsoft SQL Server in a container environment. Containers package applications and their dependencies into isolated, self-contained units that can be easily deployed and managed. Using containers ensures that your application will always run the same way regardless of the environment it is deployed in.

Select the right container technology for your environment depending on your specific needs. You may want to use Docker, Kubernetes, or another container platform. Each platform has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to research and choose the one that best fits your needs.

Determine how you will license Microsoft SQL Server within the container environment. Microsoft offers several options for licensing its software within a containerized environment.

In December 2022, Microsoft changed the licensing rules for containers in SQL Server. If you have Software Assurance or subscription licenses for SQL Server, containers deployed inside the physical operating system are treated as virtual machines. When you count licenses for SQL Server, you should treat each container as a virtual machine, regardless of whether it is “Hyper-V isolated” or not. However, you may not license SQL Server per virtual machine or container if you have a perpetual license for SQL Server without Software Assurance. Instead, you must license SQL Server per physical core.

For versions of SQL Server before 2022, each container is treated as a virtual machine for licensing purposes. This means you should treat each container as a virtual machine when counting licenses for SQL Server, regardless of whether it is “Hyper-V isolated” or not. This affects the limit on the number of operating system environments when you don’t have Software Assurance for SQL Server Enterprise licenses, the counting of operating system environments, unlimited instances inside an operating system environment, and other aspects of SQL Server licensing.

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