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Database in the (virtual) machine

This week, Microsoft revamped pricing for SQL Server 2005 whereby “Enterprise Edition” customers can run unlimited instances of SQL Server within virtual machines of any denomination — VMware, Microsoft Virtual Server, etc… Compare this with SQL Server Standard Edition, which is licensed per physical or virtual processor.

At first blush, this seems like a pretty good deal, kind of like the unlimited virtualization with Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder — just how many folks is this really pricing really going to affect? First of all, how many SQL Server instances would one need to run per host in order for this deal to make economic sense? More to the point, how many shops are really running databases in virtual machines? And even if they are, don’t virtualization best practices state that we need to mix up our workloads?

Anyway, these are just some preliminary thoughts. If you’re running databases within VMs — particularly big honking I/O intensive ones — leave a comment; I’m curious to hear about how it’s working out.

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On his blog, Alessandro Perilli praises the change in SQL Server 2005 pricing and licensing. He writes: "This is an impressive move from Microsoft: at this point buying a Windows Server 2003 R2 Datacenter Edition and a single SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition means having limitless databases in your infrastructure. Previous evaluations of company strategy about virtualization are now to be reconsidered: when Microsoft released for free its Virtual Server 2005 R2 and subsequently unlocked its licensing model in virtualization scenarios for Windows Server 2003 R2, several analysts highlighted those moves as part of a sharp tactic to sell more back-end servers licenses (mainly for SQL Server and Exchange Server). But looking at this announcement and remembering the new Exchange Server 2007 isn't supported in virtual machines at the moment, such reading is far to be confirmed." In an article published just before the SQL Server announcement, Alessandro pointed out the problems Microsoft's licensing schemes pose for virtualization users. In How Microsoft’s virtualization licensing blocks adoption, he wrote: “Today, a notable portion of potential customers dislike virtualization for its lack of support and the complex licensing. To really conquer all market spaces, Microsoft and other software vendors have to completely rethink how they want to license virtual machines.”