Different Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Editions? Which Version of MS SQL Server 2008 Should I Use?

Editions? We Don’t Need No Stinking Editions!

Microsoft has released several different editions of SQL Server 2008. This is becoming increasingly common in the Microsoft product world.

The paradigm from the open source world that you are probably already familiar with goes something like this; At the bottom of the stack comes a version which the developer assures everyone is really really great and just super-phenomenal if you don’t need the functionality of a "power" user. Next, comes a "Let’s see if we can get them to pay a little bit of money for it" version. Then, comes the "Standard Full Size and Power" version which is targeted to most businesses and power users. Finally, a "Super Duper Version" which the developer promises is not only really, really, great and super-phenomenal, but also ready to handle the biggest baddest companies and users in the world. Fortune 100 companies should line up out the door for this version.

Microsoft’s SQL Server 2008 borrows from this paradigm and then gives it the Microsoft treatment. First off, in order to avoid confusion between upgrades (new versions) and different types of SQL Server within the same release, the variations are called "editions" by Microsoft. What we end up with are seven different editions of SQL Server 2008. That’s right, seven! How in the world could it be necessary to have seven editions of a database server? Well- I’m glad you asked.


Only the Enterprise and Standard Editions are supported in "production environments."

Developer Edition

Let’s start with the easy one. SQL Server 2008 comes in a developer version called- surprise- SQL Server 2008 Developer. (By the way, if you are only seeing six editions on a list from somewhere, including most Microsoft materials, this is the one that isn’t on your list.) (See Note 1) SQL Server Developer is just SQL Server Enterprise with a restricted license. As you might guess, the server is licensed for use by developers for building and testing applications and is not licensed for use as a production server. OK, one down, six to go.

Express Edition

Next, we look at the most basic edition of SQL Server 2008. This edition is called "Express" and matches with what Microsoft is doing in other product lines where it has a free version of the software. The Express Edition is billed by Microsoft as "a free edition of SQL Server, ideal for learning and building desktop and small server applications and for redistribution by ISVs." (See Note #2)

So, what the folks in Redmond want you to do with the Express edition is to develop those "little" applications that just run on a desktop computer or a "small" server. Or to put it another way:

  • One man entrepreneur? Check
  • Couple of guys in a garage? Check
  • Lone wolf tinkering on the side with a "better Google?" Check
  • Running a single coffee shop, gas station, clothing store, or small production facility? Checks all around
  • Running a multi-million dollar website? No
  • Multi-state reservations system, multiple factories, dozens of franchises? Nope, nada, negative.

Perhaps most telling for those who are players in the database development space, SQL Server Express is the latest version of the MSDE (Desktop Engine).

Compact Edition

If Microsoft played ball with the rest of the developer community, this edition would be called "mobile" or "portable." SQL Server Compact is free like Express, but is designed to be used as an embedded database, not a stand alone database. Most importantly, the Compact edition comes in a svelte 1.8 MB size.

Workgroup & Web Editions

Workgroup and Web Editions are both for specialized purposes. The Web Edition, not surprisingly, is for instances where database access will come primarily as a result of functionality derived from web based applications. The Workgroup Edition is for running in smaller group environments, like branches of a larger company where maybe the home office is not keen on running databases that are only of use to one location on their main servers.

Standard & Enterprise Editions

The "real" editions of SQL Server 2008 are Standard and Enterprise. If you aren’t just looking to save a few bucks, or are not looking for a match to a specific purpose, then the Standard and Enterprise versions are the way to go. These editions represent what the "real" companies will be buying and deploying in their data centers. If your software comes down from on high at corporate headquarters with the full blessings of the corporate IT guys, then you will be getting the Standard or Enterprise edition.

As you might imagine, the main difference between Standard and Enterprise versions is sizing, but it also differs in flexibility and new features. For example, Standard does not support data compression nor the new Resource Governor. It also doesn’t support hot add memory or hot add CPU and doesn’t come with the more detailed auditing in the Enterprise version. Size wise, the Standard edition supports 16 instances while Enterprise supports 50. Standard supports 2 node failover clustering, Enterprise supports as much as the OS can handle (8 for Server 2003, and 64 in Server 2008.)


  • (Note #1) Actually, if you want to play full scale numbers chicken, there are two Express editions (regular and "with Advanced Services") in addition to an x86 and x64 version of each edition except Compact (no x64) and Enterprise (also has IA64). I’ll leave it to you to count them up if you care that much about it.
  • (Note #2) Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Express data sheet – Part No. 098-00000

Other related articles

Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Introduction