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TechnologyMar 18, 2014

The Right Way To Build A “Small” SQL Server

Paul Bell

“I just need a small SQL server for this production database.” Many CIOs have come to me making this statement and are immediately set back by licensing costs. This blog series will present several options for small SQL servers and help tune the decision making process. We’ll discuss SQL 2012 Standard on different platforms including: On-premise Virtual Server, Azure IaaS, SQL Azure, and at a hosting provider like Rackspace.

When my clients hear how much SQL Server 2012 Standard Edition will cost to license, they attempt to cut corners and reduce costs wherever possible – including the SQL server itself. I guarantee this is the wrong approach! Cutting corners provisioning SQL Server is never something I like to hear. Why? You get what you pay for, and downgrading the database should never be an option. Trimming the server hardware will give up a lot of performance and only save a relatively small amount of money.

When my clients want minimal downtime but won’t budget for SQL Enterprise Edition, here is my “go to” minimal configuration for an on-premise virtual server.

  • Virtual Machine, on a clustered hypervisor

  • 4 vCPUs

  • 64 GB RAM (or less if total data size is smaller)

  • RAID10 or SSD storage for all seven disks

    • Boot disk, SQL Binaries, SQL Data, SQL Log, TempDB, TempDB Log, and Backups

The smallest database server I ever build for these requirements has four cores. Microsoft sells licenses in two core packs, but requires a four core license minimum. I don’t skimp on the SQL Server virtual machine (VM) with just one or two cores when I am paying Microsoft for four! Even if the workload doesn’t immediately require four cores, provision them. And when possible, make sure they are the fastest cores available like the Intel Xeon E5-2643, 2667, or the big 2690. If I am building a brand new server I will look for the “v2” version of the same chips for the latest architecture (Fall 2013).

The four core SQL Standard license will run $7,172 (open license, retail). Wow. Again, don’t be tempted to scale back the virtual machine (VM) configuration. Throw the full 64 GB of memory in the VM and make sure the data store for the data and log files is as fast as possible. “More SSDs please,” is one of my favorite quotes in this case. The virtual server’s share of resources on a typical hypervisor may be $300-500 or so in this case. Cutting back here will not save much money at all. Instead of thinking of these costs as “I can’t believe I’m spending this much on licensing, I need to make up the difference somewhere,” think “I’m spending all this on licensing so this server better perform!”

When virtual, I always put the SQL VM on a clustered hypervisor to increase uptime even without a second SQL instance or Enterprise Edition.

The server above is a one-time expense. The only on-going costs will be electricity and the always helpful system administrator’s time. If high, up-front licensing costs are a problem, let’s take a look at Windows Azure, SQL Azure, or a datacenter hosting provider instead of slashing your server configuration.

To contact a SQL Ninja, email info@credera.com, or call 972.759.1836. For more information on Microsoft Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012, please visit our blog or follow us at @CrederaMSFT and @CrederaIT.