This guide was originally written by Chloe Green at Tech Trust. This post has been adapted by TechSoup Canada for a Canadian audience.

Microsoft Structured Query Language (SQL) Server is relational database software offering tools for data storage, management, analysis and reporting. Many organizations use it to support a wide variety of data-related tasks such as transaction processing and business intelligence.

Microsoft’s offering is one of three market-leading database servers, alongside Oracle and IBM’s. They all fall into the category of relational database management systems (RDBMS) which are built on top of SQL – a programming language used by IT administrators to manage and query data in a database.

Since eligible charities and nonprofits can get donated versions of Microsoft’s SQL Server from TechSoup Canada’s catalogue, this post has been adapted from Tech Trust to help you decide if you need a SQL server and reasons why you may want to consider Microsoft’s SQL server.

Is a SQL server right for my organization?

To decide if your organization should use a SQL server, here are a few reasons other nonprofits decided to go with a SQL database system. If these scenarios apply to your organization, chances are a SQL server may be the right fit for your needs.

  • You need to do more with data than just the basics, such as managing direct debits and gift aid (which can be managed by a traditional CRM system such as Salesforce), and need to support more heavy-duty data processing such as online transactions or managing large numbers of beneficiaries or supporters.
     
  • You need to manage complex relationships between data across your departments (i.e. event data needs to be compiled with fundraising history), where information needs to be easily cross-referenced and not siloed. A SQL server’s table format makes it easier to query and retrieve the right data, as many different records can be linked together and accessed efficiently.
     
  • You have multiple users working on the same data at once. SQL databases have a good amount of  data integrity – you only need to change the data in one of the tables, and it will then update itself, with less room for errors.
     
  • You need to analyze or report on data in the database itself, without any add-on software, or need to answer ask complex questions by linking data together, for greater visibility into supporters and beneficiaries in order to improve decision-making about where and how to invest in services.
     
  • You are managing sensitive data and must ensure it is kept private and secure. Authorization and privilege control features in a RDBMS allows the database administrator to restrict access to certain data sets to only authorized users, and grant privileges to individual users based on the types of tasks they need to perform.

Benefits of Microsoft's SQL Server

If you’ve decided that a SQL server is the right for your organization, here are a few reasons why you may want to consider Microsoft’s SQL server:

  • If you’re currently running Windows Server, Microsoft SQL Server is tightly integrated with the Windows Server security settings. This allows for a quick installation on your existing server.
     
  • By running it on top of Windows Server, nonprofits can make the most of investments they’ve already made into Windows Servers and Office 365, with full integration. Common code underlying the Microsoft platform means your data workloads can seamlessly and consistently run on-premise, in the cloud or in a hybrid environment, moving easily from one environment to the other.
     
  • It is available as a donation for eligible nonprofits through TechSoup Canada.

SQL Server editions

Microsoft offers two SQL Server editions through TechSoup Canada: Standard and Enterprise. Standard Edition is most suitable for medium-size charities and organizations. Enterprise Edition is most suitable for larger organizations.

Standard Edition offers basic database, reporting, and analytics capabilities. Microsoft offers this edition under the server/CAL and core-based licensing models.

Enterprise Edition contains all of the basic features of Standard Edition plus tools for analysing business and financial data, mission-critical applications, and data warehousing features. Microsoft offers this edition only under the core-based licensing model.

For more information on SQL Server editions, see the basic summary, full comparison, and new feature comparison.

Next steps - SQL Licensing Requirements

Below are some of the major licensing requirements for SQL Server.

  • Installing this product requires you to download the software from the Volume Licensing Service Centre (VLSC) and enter a license key (need help? See our guide to the VLSC).
     
  • The core-based licensing products offered through TechSoup Canada provide licenses for two cores. SQL Server with core-based licensing requires a minimum of four core licenses to function. In order to use these products, you will need to obtain enough copies to cover the cores in the processors you plan to use with SQL Server. Client Access Licenses (CALs) are not required for SQL Server with core-based licensing.
     
  • The server/CAL licensing products offered through TechSoup Canada provide a single server license for a physical, virtual, or cloud-based server. SQL Server with server/CAL licensing requires each user or device that accesses the licensed server to have a client access license (CAL). It is most appropriate for administrators who know the exact number of users and devices that will connect to the server.
     

For more information on licensing, including details on licensing virtual machines, see the SQL Server 2016 Licensing Datasheet, or our Guide to Microsoft Server licensing.

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