When Microsoft announced the availability of SQL Server 2012 on March 6, the company trotted out a long list of new features. But the huge increase in the number of supported partitions, the addition of more high-availability support and the shuffling around of some version titles all take a back seat to the first changes new users will encounter: the changes to the licensing and pricing.

SQL Server 2012 now comes in three editions: Enterprise, Business Intelligence and Standard. And all three of these are now priced on a per-core basis rather than a per-socket basis. That’s a change that will require systems architects to mind their core-counts when purchasing servers, said Wes Miller, research analyst at IT consulting firm Directions on Microsoft.

“This is very significant,” he said. “Now, instead of licensing each processor, you’re licensing each core within each processor on your server. It can get very sordid and complicated very fast. For a system with four or less cores per processor, generally you’re going to pay the same amount you would have for the last edition of SQL Server.”

But quad-cores are quickly becoming last year’s news, and that could mean major price hikes if your servers are brand new.

“If you’re talking about an eight-core processor, you’re talking twice as much,” said Miller. “The upper echelon for cores per processor is 10, so that’s 2.5x the cost of SQL Server 2008 R2. And while there are ways to get your existing systems grandfathered in if you have Microsoft Software Assurance, this means you have to bear in mind your per-core count.”

In addition to the per-core change, the three editions of SQL Server divide up the markets that were previously occupied by SQL Server Data Center Edition and SQL Server Workgroup Edition. Previously, SQL Server Enterprise Edition was the penultimate license model for the database, with the Data Center Edition offering an even larger license option. Now, Enterprise Edition is the top of the line.

Previous versions of Enterprise were also available with the combination server and client access license. These so-called CAL licenses are no longer an option on Enterprise Edition, where only per-core pricing is available now.

Server CAL licenses are available on the Business Intelligence Edition of SQL Server 2012, which Miller pointed out is now priced at exactly the same amount as SQL Server Enterprise 2008 R2. The new Business Intelligence Edition includes analytics support that he said are a welcome addition in a space that has traditionally not added analytical value on top of products.