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I am looking into the licensing of SQL Server 2012 when using Availability Groups with 2 servers.

It is not clear to me if Availability Groups are only available as Active/Active and not Active/Passive.

For reference I found a couple paragraphs in the SQL Server 2012 Licensing Reference Guide but it doesn't mention passive servers with respect to Always On.

Licensing SQL Server for High Availability SQL Server software can be configured so that if one server fails, its processing will be picked up, recovered and continued by another server. All editions of SQL Server 2012 provide basic high availability features including backup log shipping, database mirroring and two-node failover clustering. Advanced (AlwaysOn) high availability features in SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition include enhanced support for multiple, active (readable) secondary servers and support for multi-site failover clustering. Log shipping and database mirroring take place at the database level, whereas failover clustering takes place at the SQL Server instance level.

AlwaysOn Availability Groups New for the SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition, AlwaysOn Availability Groups enable customers to configure multiple databases that will failover as a unit, with support for up to four active secondary servers and two synchronous secondary servers. The ability to use secondary servers for more than just passive failover support can improve the performance of primary, reporting and backup workloads due to better balancing of workloads across instances, helping to provide better return on hardware investment. Note: When secondary servers are actively used to support these additional workload scenarios—that is, when the servers used for failover purposes are no longer truly passive—they must be fully licensed accordingly.

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Take a look here: simple-talk.com/sql/database-administration/… Scroll to licensing. –  dezso Oct 17 '12 at 13:36
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up vote 1 down vote accepted

If you are talking about AlwaysON Availability Group in that case as long as secondary replica(s) are used strictly for Disaster Recovery or StandBy database then you do not need to license those replica in terms of SQL Server Licensing.

Few weeks ago, I had similar question related to AlwaysON availability group and here is the official answer I got from our MS Licensing Rep.

"When the secondary server does any work at all, like taking requests or running backups off of it, or any of the readable features of AlwaysOn are enabled then it must be fully licensed.

If its sole purpose of replica is for fail-over and none of the readable features of AlwaysOnare enabled, then the fail-over right provided below will cover that server from a licensing standpoint and a second license is not required."

In terms AlwaysON FCSI (failover clustering) licensing stays the same. You only license active node. If you use log shipping for DR you do not license your DR server.

If you are in North America region, you can call Microsoft 1-800-426-9400, Monday through Friday, 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. (Pacific Time) to confirm this.

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Thanks. Apparently this isn't a simple question... I was on the phone with Microsoft for an hour and was then required to wait for an email response. To sum it up, active/passive is possible when using Always On, however there are some Always On features which require Active/Active. –  John Hughes Oct 17 '12 at 16:19
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