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Planning and Installing SQL Server 2012 (part 1) - Understanding the Editions, Planning Your Installation

6/19/2013 7:47:44 PM
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1. Understanding the Editions

There are three main editions of SQL Server: Enterprise, Business Intelligence, and Standard. Beyond these, there are a variety of specialized editions: Developer, Express, and Evaluation edition. Before diving into the differences between each of these, it is important to first discuss 32- and 64-bit architectures, because each edition may or may not support your preferred hardware configuration.

Demystifying 32-Bit and 64-Bit Architectures

If you are relatively new to working with technology, you may have seen servers on the x86 or x64 or IA64 processor platform. If not, you will see that nomenclature once you read which platforms each SQL Server edition supports. Historically, x86 comes from the 86 part of the Intel 8086 chip. This chip design dates back the late 1970s and has been dramatically transformed over the years, increasing in performance and capabilities. Lately, the x86 in servers has been on 32-bit architecture. With 32-bit servers, one of the more significant limitations is the relatively small amount of addressable memory. Having large amounts of memory is good because it allows you to have more active connections and increases performance in memory-hungry applications like Analysis Services, SQL Server Integration Services, and the SQL Server database engine.

So, in a perfect world, manufacturers would give you a 64-bit chip to allow you to address greater amounts of memory. And they have provided 64 bits, just with some bumps in the road. Up until 64-bit chips, two main chip manufacturers supported the Windows operating system: AMD and Intel. In terms of market share, hardware vendors appeared to prefer Intel’s implementation of x86. When it was time for 64-bit, Intel veered off into a totally new direction, away from its popular x86 architecture. This new chipset was called Itanium, or IA64. AMD also wanted to produce a 64-bit chip, but it produced a chip that was just like the x86 except the instruction sets were 64-bit. In effect, AMD made a true 64-bit version of the popular x86 chip; it’s referred to as x86-64. In the end, hardware vendors and users of these chips found it much easier and quicker to leverage AMD’s implementation than Intel’s Itanium. This was because, with AMD, the vendors did not have to rewrite major parts of their implementations to run on a 64-bit platform. With the minimal success of its Itanium brand of processors, Intel was forced to make an x86-64 chip as well. Together, both AMD and Intel’s version of x86-64 are known to Microsoft as x64. Various editions of SQL Server support specific architectures, and chances are, if your company is buying new hardware, it’s probably 64-bit. SQL Server 2012 supports the x86 and x64 platforms. At the time of this writing, there is no planned support for the Itanium IA64 platform. Also note that if you are planning on installing SQL Server 2012 on 32-bit hardware, you will not be able to use addressable windowing extensions (AWE). This feature was introduced to allow SQL Server to use more than the 2GB memory normally capped by 32-bit operating systems.

Server Editions

Before SQL Server 2008, there was not much difference between the features in Standard edition and the ones in Enterprise edition. Enterprise edition traditionally has had features that focus on solving the needs of very large and highly available database systems. Features such as table partitioning, unlimited CPU usage, online indexing, and online restore are examples of enterprise features. If companies had unconstrained budgets, chances are they would probably just buy Enterprise edition and go on with life. In reality, most organizations are always under tight budget constraints, so companies were more likely to purchase Standard edition, which costs about one-fourth as much as Enterprise edition. Starting with SQL Server 2008, the differences between Standard and Enterprise editions are quite substantial. In fact, the changes added to the Standard edition of SQL Server 2012 are minimal. Most of the work has been placed in Enterprise edition and in a new edition called Business Intelligence edition. The feature sets work a lot like a Russian doll, where Standard edition is a subset of Business Intelligence edition, which is a subset of the Enterprise edition features.

Standard Edition

Standard edition is designed for departmental applications. This edition contains some basic business intelligence capabilities as well as the fundamental relational database features. Most of the enhancements to SQL Server are found in the other two editions; however, you will notice some minor improvements, such as native auditing support at the server instance level.

Business Intelligence Edition

Business Intelligence Edition contains all the functionality of Standard edition and includes a full suite of business intelligence capabilities including the new Power View feature. This edition contains functionality to integrate well with your SharePoint environment.

Enterprise Edition

Enterprise Edition is the most comprehensive offering. It includes all the mission-critical OLTP capabilities as well as end-to-end business intelligence capabilities. Unlike other database platform vendors, there are not any add-ons to SQL Server. When you choose Enterprise edition, you have everything that SQL Server has to offer.

Specialized Editions

Enterprise edition, Business Intelligence edition, and Standard edition are the core offerings for SQL Server. If those editions were all you could buy, you probably wouldn’t be too happy. There are situations where you need to have access to all the functionality of Enterprise edition but you can’t afford it. A development environment is a perfect example of when you might need all the features available. For this reason and others, several specialized editions are available. Each of these editions has some restrictions that are mentioned in the following subsections.

Developer Edition

Developer edition is really Enterprise edition with some extra development-oriented content and licensing restrictions on how it can be used. This edition is intended for users to build and test applications and is not allowed to be run as a production server. In the event you want to upgrade your Developer edition to Enterprise edition, this is also possible.

Express Edition

Express edition is Microsoft’s free version of SQL Server. A long time ago, Microsoft had a free version of a database called Microsoft Desktop Engine (MSDE). A major issue with MSDE was that there was no user interface, so it was very difficult to manage. Microsoft did away with MSDE and introduced the Express edition starting with SQL Server 2005. Functionally, Express edition is almost the same as Standard edition except that is limited on CPU and memory use. There are other differences, such as the absence of the SQL Server Agent job scheduler and a reduced replication story. After all, what do you expect for free?

There are a few more versions of Express. One is called Express with Advanced Services. The name is not really catchy, but it includes everything in Express plus a version of Reporting Services. The other is Express with Tools, which is the SQL Server database engine and SQL Server Management Studio Express version. You can also download just the SQL Server Management Studio Express version as a stand-alone install.

SQL Server Express LocalDB

SQL Server Express edition is a free version of SQL Server that is basically a throttled-down version of the full SQL Server engine. For SQL Server development, the idea was to include this free version for developers to use and learn with. One of the problems with SQL Server Express is it’s a heavyweight in a fight requiring a featherweight. SQL Server Express is a Windows Service and requires network configuration and attention.

For developers, there is something better in SQL Server 2012 called SQL Server Express LocalDB (LocalDB). LocalDB is a version of SQL Server that installs faster, has fewer prerequisites and doesn’t require management of a database instance. LocalDB is not an in-proc DLL that you bind to, rather it’s an application that runs in the user mode as a separate process. LocalDB is not appropriate for server-based or multiuser environments, because its opens the database files for exclusive use. It is, however, ideal for development environments since it’s fully supports T-SQL.

Evaluation Edition

The evaluation edition is a 180-day free version of Enterprise edition. You can download it for free from Note that at the end of the 180-day period, you will either have to upgrade to a paid edition or uninstall SQL Server.

SQL Server Terminology

Before we get too much in depth on describing how to install and use SQL Server, it is good to introduce some key concepts about this relational database at this point. In particular, you should understand the term instance as it is used with respect to SQL Server.

Prior to SQL Server 2000, you could have only one installation or instance of SQL Server installed on the server. You can think of an instance of SQL Server as a complete SQL Server installation including objects like system and user databases, logins, and SQL Server Agent jobs. Starting with SQL Server 2000, you can install multiple instances of SQL Server on the same server. These additional instances will simply listen for user connections on different ports. Since each instance is effectively a completely isolated database server, using multiple instances allows for easy application consolidation.

2. Planning Your Installation

If you are planning on installing SQL Server on your desktop to just play with it, you probably don’t create a plan, review it with other folks in your organization, and schedule a time to implement the plan. Chances are you load setup.exe and click the Next button a bunch of times until the wizard starts installing SQL Server.

Although installing SQL Server 2012 can be as simple as clicking a few buttons, it is a good idea to step back first and create an installation plan. This plan will help you answer questions that are critical to the success of the installation. Some of these questions are as follows: Do we meet the hardware requirements of SQL Server 2012? Are the systems engineering folks aware of our new installation of SQL Server? The last question is very important. In some organizations, measures are in place to automatically block network ports if new applications appear to be running on them. This is an effort to reduce the risk and damages of viruses. Always get the necessary people involved when planning an installation of SQL Server. These people include not only your database administrators but other folks from IT, such as the people who are responsible for the network and for the operating systems. The specific list depends on how your organization is structured.

Assessing the Environment

Most organizations have a good idea of all the servers that they currently have. However, the larger the organization, the more likely that there are instances of SQL Server that exist that may or may not be accounted for or managed by the DBA staff. That situation may come about for a variety of reasons, even some legitimate ones. In the end, as a DBA, it is a good idea to keep an active inventory of which servers and SQL instances you manage. Not only is this a best practice but it’s a good way to prevent you and your company from getting into legal trouble. There are a variety of tools that can help you with SQL Server instance discovery. Microsoft ships a tool called the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit. This toolkit is not designed for just SQL Server; rather, it helps users simplify the planning process for migrating to Windows 8, Microsoft Office 2010, Windows Server 2008 R2, and other Microsoft products. You can find more information about this tool at

With respect to SQL Server, the MAP tool will discover and inventory all the SQL Server instances in your organization. Data collected about each instance includes the version, edition, and current service pack applied. This tool also captures the hardware and platform details for computers that are running SQL Server instances, including determining whether the machines are virtual or physical. Figure 1 shows a screen shot of the MAP tool.


Figure 1. Microsoft SQL Server discovery summary

The MAP tool creates both a Word document and Excel workbook that are much more detailed than the report shown in Figure 1. Information gathered from this tool includes SQL Server service packs installed, editions, disk free space, database names, database sizes, users and much more. 

Choosing the Right Edition

Earlier, you read about the various editions available with SQL Server. Unless you know your organization is purchasing Enterprise edition, you need to determine whether the features and functionality you need are in any of the other versions. After all, there’s no need to spend money unnecessarily.

Validating Hardware and Software Requirements

Going to college in the great state of Michigan, I had the opportunity to do an internship with an independent software vendor that was working on a project for one of the big three automobile manufacturers. I learned a lot from that experience, and it wasn’t just Visual Basic and COM development. Rather, it was what was learned from the water cooler discussions. One time, I overheard a few folks talking about an investigation into why brakes were wearing out much faster than they did when tested in their lab. Apparently, the vehicles running those brakes that had this problem all had aftermarket rims, and these rims couldn’t dissipate the heat that the brakes generated. The heat buildup caused the brakes to wear more quickly than with the stock rims. The moral of this story in relation to SQL Server is to check that the hardware you plan to install SQL Server on can support the requirements and thus provide a great end-user experience.

In an enterprise environment, change happens. You’ll frequently be faced with new requirements and user demand. In the Enterprise edition of SQL Server, it is possible to hot-add memory and CPUs, provided both the hardware and the operating system support this capability. By being able to add memory and CPU without restarting the server or the SQL Server service, you can maintain high levels of availability for your database.

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