Which Edition of SQL Server 2016 Do You Need for Business Intelligence?

John White

by John P White on 8/23/2016

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Article Details

Date Revised:

Applies to:
BI, Business Intelligence, mobile reports, Power BI, PowerPivot, SQL Server 2016, SSAS, SSRS

For the past several releases, (prior to SQL Server 2016), Microsoft SQL Server has come in six possible editions:

  • Developer
  • Express
  • Web
  • Standard
  • Business Intelligence
  • Enterprise

Developer, Express and Web are for specific workloads, which leaves Standard, BI, and Enterprise. If you want to do BI work, it seems that the choice of which edition to use would seem to be obvious – the one named Business Intelligence. However, Enterprise contained all of the features that the BI edition did, and in many cases, wound up being a better choice from a licensing perspective. Standard mode also provided many BI capabilities, but not all.

The biggest difference (but not the only one) from a BI standpoint between Standard, and either BI or Enterprise edition was the support of the Tabular Mode in SQL Server Analysis Services. For those unaware, Tabular Mode is the engine behind PowerPivot, and increasingly importantly, Power BI. From a price standpoint, the difference between Standard and either BI or Enterprise is quite significant. This has put the Tabular model out of reach for some small and medium-sized businesses, which is unfortunate, given that tabular is at the center of Microsoft’s future BI efforts.

SQL Server 2016 removes the BI edition as an option, leaving us with a choice between only Standard and Enterprise. In my opinion, the biggest news, from a licensing perspective with SQL Server 2016 is that Tabular Mode will now be supported in Standard edition. This puts the tabular model within the reach of all organizations, and closes the licensing gap in the BI stack. This is fantastic news.

There are, of course, limitations with Standard edition. Tabular in Standard edition is restricted to 16 GB of RAM, which may seem like a lot, but keep in mind that tabular is an in-memory technology. It’s possible to bump into this limit fairly quickly, but it’s a limit that serves the small/medium business space rather well.

PowerPivot for SharePoint also remains an Enterprise-only feature. However, given the capabilities available in Power BI, and the upcoming rendering capabilities of SSRS, this may be less important than it previously was.

Given that it’s relatively simple to move from Standard to Enterprise (from a technology perspective), this approach allows organizations to get up and running, and then scale up if necessary. It removes that up front Enterprise cost barrier. It’s much easier to get budget for an Enterprise license when its value has already been proven.

Another difference between Standard and Enterprise in SSAS is that Standard edition does not support partitioning, perspectives or DirectQuery. DirectQuery allows for real-time analytical reports, which removes the cached data storage from the picture. All queries go directly back to the source. An explanation of partitions and perspectives is beyond the scope of this post, but if you don’t know what they are, the chances are that you don’t need them.

From an SSRS standpoint, the traditional differences between Standard and Enterprise are still in place. These include data alerting, data-driven subscriptions, PowerView support and scale out capability. All of the new features of SSRS 2016 are available in both Standard and Enterprise editions with one very notable exception. The new mobile reports are only available with Enterprise.

Mobile reports are the result of last year’s acquisition of Datazen, which has been fully integrated into SSRS. It allows on-premises SSRS servers to provide rich mobile reports on a variety of platforms. If your organization is using Power BI already, then you likely have a mobile solution, but if not, mobile reports may fill that gap.

This link provides a complete summary of the differences between all of the different SQL Server editions. This link provides a quick PDF chart of what’s new in SQL Server.

In summary, both Standard and Enterprise editions of SQL Server 2016 are now suitable for use in business Intelligence solutions. The decision to move to Enterprise can now be based on scale and enterprise requirements, not on basic functionality. This, in my opinion, is all to the good.

You can find John’s original post, along with his other great blogs, on his site, Unlimited Viz.

Topic: Business Intelligence

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