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“Enterprise Edition was installed for SQL Server, but it turns out that we only have a license for Standard Edition. Is that an easy change?”

I see this question a lot. The answer is well documented by Microsoft, but it seems to be really hard for folks to find! If you’d like to go straight to the source, everything I’m going to highlight here comes from the MSDN page Supported Version and Edition Upgrades.

Sometimes Edition Upgrades (SKUUPGRADES) are simple

If you want to make a supported edition change, it takes a little downtime but isn’t all that tricky. You run SQL Server Setup and just follow the steps in the Procedure section here.

Edition Upgrade SQL Server 2012

“How complicated can this be?” … Famous Last Words

Protip: The Edition Upgrade GUI lets you see and copy the current license key for that instance of SQL Server. (No, I’m not showing a screenshot with my key in it!)

You can also do this from the command line using the SKUUPGRADE parameter (and back in SQL Server 2005 and prior, that was your only option).

Changing the edition causes some downtime, but it’s a simple procedure. The fact that it’s relatively simple isn’t an excuse to skip testing: always run through this outside of production first so you know exactly what to expect. And always, always, always take your backups and make sure they’re on separate storage before you start. Document everything you need to know about your configuration just in case something goes wrong and you’ve got to reinstall.

It’s pretty simple. Except when it’s not supported.

What Goes Up Does Not Necessarily Come Down

The way I usually remember the rules is that you can typically change from a cheaper version to a more expensive version. But you can’t necessarily go from a more expensive version to a cheaper version.

So if you have SQL Server Enterprise Edition and you want to change to Standard Edition, a simple SKUUPGRADE isn’t going to work for you. (If you have the “Evaluation” Enterprise Edition, you’re probably OK though!) Check the chart for what you want to do to make sure.

Clusters are Special. (Not in a good way in this case.)

A lot of the confusion is around SQL Servers installed on failover clusters. You have to scroll waaaaay down on that page to see this:

The fine print on upgrading failover clusters

The fine print on upgrading failover clusters

Ouch! Changing the edition of a clustered SQL Server is not a simple thing.

While I’ve made you uncomfortable, check out KB 2547273, “You cannot add or remove features to a SQL Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 R2, or SQL Server 2012 failover cluster”.

What if I Don’t Know What Edition I Need?

Typically the answer here is to use Evaluation Edition. But if you’re running a failover cluster, be careful– as you can see above, you can’t easily change from Enterprise Evaluation to Standard Edition.

Will CHANGING THE EDITION Reset My Service Packs?

I believe this used to be true on SQL Server 2005– if you changed editions, you’d have to reapply service packs and cumulative updates afterward.

I just ran a test on SQL Server 2012 and upgraded from Developer Edition to Enterprise Edition on a test instance, and I still had version 11.0.3431 (Service Pack 1, Cumulative Update 10) after the upgrade.

But like I said, test this out with your version, even if it’s using a quick virtual environment that you don’t keep after the change has been completed successfully. There’s other real perks to doing this as well, such as making sure that your license keys really work and are the edition you think they are!

What If My Change Isn’t Supported By the GUI / Upgrade Installer?

In this case, you need to uninstall and reinstall SQL Server. It’s going to take longer and cause more downtime. You’ll have to reconfigure everything and reinstall service packs. (It’s not actually that much extra work, because you were going to take those backups and document all the special configuration just in case, right?)

What if I Can’t Take Much Downtime?

If downtime is a real issue, don’t make this change in place. Set up a new SQL instance, test the heck out of it, get it into monitoring and plan a way to migrate to it with limited downtime using something like Database Mirroring. (If you’re considering this, read that link– it mentions that mixing editions between database mirroring partners isn’t supported by Microsoft. You can’t set it up through the GUI, you have to use TSQL. If that makes you paranoid, you could do the migration with log shipping.)

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  1. Kendra,

    using an Enterprise Evaluation together with Sharepoint may result in activated EE features. After downgrading to Standard Edition the database will be in suspect state …

  2. I have successfully downgraded multiple SQL 2008 R2 and SQL 2012 Enterprise Edition servers by following the uninstall and reinstall process. Before I uninstalled though, I made a note of the SP and CUs installed. I also stopped the SQL services and saved the system DB files (MDFs and LDFs for Master and MSDB) to a separate location. Once I reinstalled the correct Edition (Developer or Standard Edition depending on the server’s role), I then updated it to match SP/CU level that previously existed. Stopping the service, swapping in the MDFs and LDFs from the previous installation, and then restarting the service restored all my databases, logins, jobs, etc… to the now correct edition instance.
    One caveat that I want to mention, I did this on VMs and I took a snapshot before I started so if things really went south, I could just recover to that point in time.

    • The idea of swapping in the MDFs and LDFs makes me feel queasy. Like, literally, I actually feel queasy just thinking about it.

      The reason it makes me uncomfortable is that I picture something really weird happening three months later, possibly totally unrelated, and being on a call with Microsoft support and having to explain what I did. If I was them, I’d make me do a totally fresh install and start over before I passed go, unless it was something REALLY obvious. (And even then, I might make me do it for fun. OK, not really. But I’d be tempted!)

      I know people also talk about taking copies of system databases for emergency purposes, but I just can’t get on board with it. It’s like playing Dr Frankenstein to me, I guess.

      • I went through the hell of doing that same technique of mdf/ldf swapping after an uninstall/reinstall on hundreds of servers, and I still remember that queasy feeling! It worked though, even if it took years off my life.

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