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Developers need to be aware of avoidable costs

What do developers worry about when creating an application? Performance. Data validation. Correct logic and processing. Memory use. Concise code. What they tend not to concern themselves with is cost. Perhaps that needs to change.

In doing research for a story on containers as a service (CaaS), both users I interviewed railed on the topic of license costs, at least as it pertains to Microsoft SQL Server. Both make a good case for paying close attention to how many instances of SQL Server are running, the number of servers on which they run, and, especially the proliferation of home-grown or purchased applications that expect their own personal instance of SQL Server.

The first hint of this came from Don Boxley, CEO of DH2i, a Fort Collins, Colorado company that makes SQL Server containerization software, primarily to endow databases with portability for easy movement from a development environment to production or from one cloud provider to another. Being able to stack containers on physical or virtual machines contributes to cost savings, he explained.

Well, that’s fine when a vendor pitching a product floats the idea, but how does this work out in the real world, in real businesses, with real applications? Turns out it’s a big deal.

Michael York, a systems engineer at Asante, a major regional healthcare system in Oregon, lives with the realities every day. “We have nearly 100 applications that have a SQL Server back end,” he told me. Most were purchased apps that stipulated a dedicated instance of SQL Server as a requirement. Add an app here and another there, and pretty soon you’re suffering from what York characterized as database sprawl. “It’s easy to stand up another instance,” he said. Getting the job done was the developer’s primary concern, not licensure costs. Running one instance per server sped development. Developers, he said, were often not even aware that instances could be stacked.

Through containerization, stacking instances, and de-provisioning of instances that were unnecessary, Asante saved more than $200,000 in 2015.

Tammy Lawson, a database administrator at Sonoco, the South Carolina global product-packaging giant (containers of a different sort), laid it out in very precise terms: “If each of my 61 container SQL instances were on its own server, the SQL Standard license for each server would be around $16K (using 2×8 AMD processors in my calculation since that is what my [DH2i] DxEnterprise physical servers are). That is a total of $976,000 just for Standard licenses. Buying SQL for my 4 Dx cluster nodes ($65K) + the DxEnterprise software came nowhere close to this number. Big savings in the licensing department.” Miss Lawson knows her stuff.

While it’s eminently clear that performance matters most, how much you spend year after year is important, too, especially if much of that spending could be avoided. If you properly stack instances on servers to mix and match database demand for the greatest efficiency, containers can save huge amounts of money. Developers need to know.

What strategies does your organization use to minimize licensure and maintenance fees? Share your ideas; we’d like to hear from you.

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