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Significant SQL Server 2019 licensing changes

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I thought I would cover significant SQL Server 2019 licensing changes for High Availability and Disaster Recovery. Because it was a big topic of conversation when I spoke at SQL Saturday Edinburgh

Note that this post does not cover SQL Server 2022 licensing. Details for that are not available at this moment in time (November 2021).

Which surprised me a bit because these licensing changes have been in-place for a while now. With this in mind, I thought I would discuss them here to raise awareness about the changes.

To clarify, in SQL Server 2019 there have been some big licensing changes about what you can and can’t do on a passive fail-over instance. Especially if you have Software Assurance.

Which I have to admit I am really excited about. Because it opens up some new possibilities which I will explain below. Of course, there are other significant updates in the licensing guide as well.

Passive fail-over changes

As I pointed out in one of my SQL Saturday sessions at SQL Saturday Edinburgh you can now do the below on a SQL Server 2019 passive fail-over (secondary) instance in some licensing situations:

  • Backups
  • DBCC CheckDB
  • Check Resource Data

As you can imagine, the fact that you may be able to do backups and CheckDB on your secondary databases is a big deal. Especially since this can apply to Log Shipping as well as Always On Availability Groups.

In addition, some of you are probably wondering what exactly the last item check resource data means. I assumed it meant you could query DMV’s.

However, I have since asked elsewhere and it actually covers more than just DMV’s. For instance, it also includes performance counters if required.

I’m guessing performance counters would be useful if you wanted to check why backups or CheckDB were taking too long.

What is a passive fail-over in licensing terms?

Just to clarify, as stated in the licensing guide a passive fail-over instance is one that is not used by clients or doing production related workloads.

If clients are touching this server or you are using it for daily queries for work, you will have to license the secondary instance.

One thing I like about the latest licensing guide is that Microsoft have gone into further depth as to what you can and cannot do. As well as making it clearer what exactly a passive fail-over instance is now.

Because in the past there was always some confusion relating to all of this.

Downgrade rights with SQL Server 2019 licensing

Another key point I want to highlight is about using downgrade rights on servers you have purchased SQL Server 2019 for use with.

For example, if you have purchased SQL Server 2019 licenses through Software Assurance and you then decide to install SQL Server 2016 on them. In that scenario the above usage rules for a passive fail-over instance I listed above would still apply.

Log Shipping included in licensing changes

I also want to point out that this does not just apply for Always On Availability Groups. It also applies to Cluster Instances and Log Shipping.

In fact, I wish these options had been in place for using Log Shipping with SQL Server 2000. It would have made some Log Shipping setups a lot easier to manage back then. Especially ones for larger databases that were very busy.

If this had been in place years ago, I would have not had to implement an alternative solution instead. Which I advised as a workaround in the old Connect site before it was closed by Microsoft.

Still, what you can do has changed for the better now. Like I said earlier I want to make sure as many people are aware of that as possible.

Because I want people to be aware what they can potentially do on their secondary instances now without having to license them.

Which is why I also added this as part of one of the sessions I did at SQL Saturday Edinburgh, which you can read about here.

SQL Server 2019 licensing guide

You can read the full SQL Server 2019 licensing guide in detail here. Which will give you a better understanding about the contents in this post. I highly recommend reading this guide instead of the datasheet.

Especially since this licensing guide covers other aspects of SQL Server licensing in detail as well. For instance, how the licensing for Big Data Clusters works.

Software Assurance

To clarify, most of this definitely applies if you have Software Assurance. If you are unsure if you have Software Assurance, I recommend asking your boss, or whoever deals with SQL Server licenses at work.

Of course, if you are still unsure what applies to you after reading this, I recommend discussing things with your license vendor further before changing anything.

SQL Server 2019 business cases

For those interested in what was new in SQL Server 2019 I did a post about SQL Server 2019 business cases.

Move SQL Server licenses to Azure

If you want to learn more about transferring your SQL Server licenses to Azure Microsoft published a useful post recently. It’s about how you can move SQL Server licenses without Software Assurance to Azure.

Final words about SQL Server 2019 licensing changes

I hope the contents of this post helps clear up some confusion about some of the significant SQL Server 2019 licensing changes for High Availability and Disaster Recovery.

Main things I want you to take away from this post is that there are changes with SQL Server 2019 licensing. If you are unsure if they affect your SQL Server environment then ask somebody.

As always, you are more than welcome to leave a comment.

Significant SQL Server 2019 licensing changes
Published inSQL ServerSQL Server 2019


  1. Paul Paul

    Can you run system database backups on a passive secondary in pre-2019 licensing without breaking passive restrictions.

    • Kevin Chant Kevin Chant

      Apologies for the long delay Paul. Technically, doing a backup on any databases on a passive secondary is seen as a workload. So I suspect that it would break passive restrictions.

  2. Ekrem Önsoy Ekrem Önsoy

    It’s worth it to mention that this licensing change does not only cover SQL Server 2019, but also the previous versions of SQL Server.

  3. Peter Peter

    How about testing a fail-over to the passive fail-over instance? It requires test clients to connect. Does this require licensing the instance? I recall that Oracle allows such testing for a maximum of 10 days per year. If not covered by the Microsoft license model, under which circumstances do you trust that the fail-over will work without testing it on the instance?

    • Kevin Chant Kevin Chant

      Hi Peter, if you look on page 28 of the SQL Server 2019 licensing guide it states that a customer may also run primary and the corresponding disaster recovery replicas simultaneously for brief
      periods of disaster recovery testing every 90 days.

      I hope that helps?


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