Deciding Between Editions of SQL Server for Production

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You're asked to run a project that uses SQL Server as the database engine in your production environment with the least cost as possible. You know there are different editions of SQL Server, but how do you choose the right edition to make sure you have the needed features and keep the cost down.


Decisions are hard to make, especially if you don’t have relevant information. Sometimes the person that makes the decisions is not the person who knows the most. Let’s face it. We as database administrators don’t have the last word in the enterprise world. Not even regarding databases. The one with the last word is the one who signs the pay check, which in most cases is not the DBA.

Just to show you the picture, imagine yourself in a meeting with your company’s CFO explaining to him/her that you need the Enterprise edition of SQL Server. When your CTO asks about the price difference between the 2-pack of core licenses of SQL Server Enterprise $14,256 ($7,128 per core) and the Standard Edition which costs significantly less $3,717 ($1,859 per core) you must provide him with all the information in order to justify the $10,539 difference.

Editions of SQL Server

There are five editions of SQL Server:

  • Express: This is the most basic of all SQL Server editions. It’s free to use in production, which makes it the best choice for independent software vendors, whose clients can’t afford the cost of a SQL Server license.
  • Web: This edition is between the Standard and Express editions. It has features that Web hosting companies and Web VAPs can offer their customers to provide scalability, affordability, and manageability capabilities for small to large scale web properties.
  • Standard: This edition enables database management with minimal IT resources.
  • Enterprise: This is the most complete edition of all. With this edition you have unlimited virtualization and high service levels for mission critical workload.
  • Developer: This edition has all the features of the Enterprise edition, but cannot be used in production environments.

These editions differ on features and also the resources they can utilize based on resource caps that are part of the edition.

Reasons to use SQL Server Express Edition

  • If your application runs fine when capped to the lesser of 1 socket or 4 cores.
  • Your application needs less than 1410 MB of buffer pool and less than 352 MB of memory for both Columnstore segment cache per instance and memory-optimized data size per database.
  • If your database won’t be greater than 10 GB.

Recently I wrote the tip, Deciding to use SQL Server 2017 Express Edition that goes deeper into this matter and SQL Server Express Versions that will help you decide which version of SQL Server Express is right for you.

Reasons to use SQL Server Web Edition

Reasons to use SQL Server Standard Edition

Reasons to use SQL Server Enterprise Edition

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Daniel Farina Daniel Farina was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Self-educated, since childhood he showed a passion for learning.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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Comments For This Article

Tuesday, September 3, 2019 - 3:35:32 AM - Anindya Basu Back To Top (82218)

Hi Sir,

I need help to know which ver of SQL Server supports Agent. I still have Express loaded but recently installed Developer ver 2017 when someone said it supports Agent. But to my utter dismay found out after installing that it doesn't. Or maybe that there are other issues that I'm not able to find out. Tried to start the service from services.msc and it got started. But while trying to start it from Configuration Manager it showed an error. The error was as under:

"Couldn't start Agent because the server didn't respond in due time. Please look into Event Log for details."

Then tried to locate the Agent.exe and tried to run it from cmd. It didn't return any result and didn't show anything. 

It seems somewthing is wrong somewhere. Have already spent a lot of time in trying to crack this but to no avail. 

Can you pls help?


Anindya Basu

Thursday, August 23, 2018 - 10:11:46 AM - Steven Taub Back To Top (77289)

Great article, gang.

But you left out information on the developer edition.  And I think if your goal is to learn sql server, go with the developer edition, since it has more features.

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