SQL Server licensing can be confusing.

Here is my guide to help you understand licensing for Solarwinds Orion SQL server, based upon a server with 20 CPU cores.

Types of SQL Server licenses

There are 4 types of licenses that make up 3 possible licensing combinations for sale via SQL licensing vendors.

  • SQL CPU Core
  • SQL Server
  • SQL Device
  • SQL User

  1. Processor Licensing Model

A license is required for each physical or virtual processor accessed by an operating system environment running SQL Server. This license does not require any device or user client access licenses (CALs). Under this structure, a customer acquires a separate processor license for each processor that is located in the server running the SQL Server software. If you have made a processor inaccessible to all operating system copies on which the SQL Server software is set up to run, you do not need a software license for that processor. This licensing model is most appropriate for applications that are accessible through the Internet and for internal applications with a high client-to-server ratio.

We have one Orion SQL server with 20 CPU cores, so this licensing model could be expensive.

  1. Server Plus Device CALs Licensing Model

Server plus device (CAL) licensing requires a separate Server license (for either SQL Server Standard Edition or Enterprise Edition)  for each server on which the SQL Server software is installed, plus a CAL for each client device.
A SQL Server CAL is required for a device (for example, a personal computer, workstation, terminal, personal digital assistant, or mobile phone) to access or use the services or functionality of either edition of SQL Server.
The main Solarwinds poller and each additional poller requires a device cal license to access the SQL server.

We have one SQL server and one Solarwinds poller server (device) this is classed as a multiplexer device, so you have to license the client devices that connect through Solarwinds to the SQL database. The licenses die with the devices and cannot be transferred.

  1. Server Plus User CALs Licensing Model

Server plus user client access license (CAL) licensing requires a separate Server license for each server on which the software is installed, plus a user CAL for each user accessing the server.
A SQL Server CAL is required for a user to access or use the services or functionality of either edition of SQL Server.

We have one SQL Server and about 60 users. This model is probably the best for around 60 users, when you reach more than 150 users the processor licensing model becomes a better option.

Here is the SQL Server licensing information that Microsoft provide on their pricing website. (Below)
Note the difference between Enterprise which only utilises CPU Core licensing and the Standard version which allows for Server + Device CAL’s too.

The Confusion about SQL Server licenses

  • Note the difference between Per Core and Server + CAL (CAL referring to either SQL User or SQL device accessing SQL Server or SQL CPU Core).

I’ve spoken with licensing vendors who specify that you must have User CAL’s as well as Device CAL’s as well as CPU core licenses. It is interesting to note how misunderstood SQL licensing is, even the vendors have trouble understanding the different licensing models.

If you have a Server CAL for your Solarwinds SQL database you will need user CAL’s  as you are utilising a multiplexing server and you can utilise 24 CPU Cores for Standard edition without buying those expensive CPU Core licenses.

You are licensing the server not the cores.

The information below is from Solarwinds regarding SQL licensing. Note the important part about SQL users accessing the SQL database via a web engine. This information is incorrect and you will still have to buy user CAL’s for your users in this scenario.


For Solarwinds, using a Server+Device CAL is not an option because the Solarwinds poller / app server is classed as a multiplexer device. All Solarwinds users go through this device so essentially user CAL’s are still required.

Device CAL’s can be used if you decide to separate out your Solarwinds functionality.

When Microsoft audit your company you can be assured that your SQL Server licensing for Solarwinds is covered.

Check out this advice reinforcing the licensing route from Solarwinds : MS SQL Server licensing recommendations for SolarWinds products – SolarWinds Worldwide, LLC. Help and Support