How SQL developers can maximize savings

Whether you build applications for SQL Server on-premises or in Azure, there are several options for you to develop or test for free, or with substantial cost savings. Some of these options you may be familiar with, but this post will help explain details and answer some questions Microsoft often gets to provide you a clear story.

SQL Server Developer Edition

SQL Server comes in several editions and Developer Edition has for many years been the choice of many developers to build applications and test SQL Server with no license costs and the full functionality of SQL Server. As the documentation describes SQL Developer Edition, it “includes all the functionality of Enterprise edition but is licensed for use as a development and test system, not as a production server.” Microsoft has had some questions about exactly what the term means “as a development and test system.” Let's turn to the SQL Server Licensing Guide for the details.

The licensing guide states that SQL Server Developer Edition is “…licensed for development, test, and demonstration purposes only. SQL Server Developer Edition may not be used in a production environment”. Notice the addition of the word “demonstration purposes.” This means, for example, that you can use SQL Server Developer Edition to do demos at your favorite conference as a presenter.

There are some other points in the licensing guide worth noting, including:

  • You can run Developer Edition for development, testing, and demonstration purposes on an unlimited number of devices.
  • You cannot use Developer Edition to build test data and move that same data into production. But you can restore a production set of data backup for testing purposes. The intention here is to prevent users from using Developer Edition as a production server but calling the data test data.
  • Production environments include any system that is accessed by end-users for anything more than acceptance testing, environments that connects to production systems (such as Linked servers), disaster or backups of production systems, and environments that are “rotated” into production at any point in time.

One of the questions Microsoft often gets is find previous versions of the SQL Server Developer Edition. Therefore, you can use the following shortcuts to help you find versions back to SQL Server 2016:

SQL Server containers

One of the most amazing stories about SQL Server for developers is containers. SQL Server containers are pre-installed versions of SQL Server on that can be used for developers on macOS, , or Windows for a consistent experience. Furthermore, if you just run a SQL Server container by default it is configured for SQL Server Developer Edition. Now your organization can use a distributed development approach using a consistent SQL Server deployment instead of relying on development servers. SQL Server containers provide a convenient method to test your application against multiple versions of SQL Server.

You can find out more about how to use SQL Server containers. This includes details about find all container images for SQL Server 2017, 2019, and 2022 from the Microsoft Artifact Registry.

Visual Studio Subscriptions

Visual Studio Subscriptions provides developers options to use licenses for SQL Server Standard and Enterprise editions to develop and test applications for non-production scenarios. One scenario that can help developers is the ability to develop and test applications against SQL Server Standard Edition.

One of the benefits of a Visual Studio Subscription is Azure credits. Azure credits allows developers to receive free credits towards use of Azure services such as SQL Server (any edition) in Azure Virtual Machine or Database for development and testing purposes. No credit card is required to use these credits and it provides an option to develop or test SQL in Azure. While the number of monthly credits may feel limited, developers may find this benefit of their Visual Studio subscription as a method to get started in the cloud.

Azure Dev/Test pricing

If Azure credits are not enough for your development or testing needs, Visual Studio subscribers have a benefit available to them called Azure Dev/Test pricing. Azure Dev/Test pricing, offered exclusively to Visual Studio subscribers, allows developers to save money to develop and test applications with Azure services.

Azure Dev/Test pricing offers three plans:

Each plan has different requirements and offers different benefits per your needs. Azure credits are not designed to be used in combination with Azure Dev/Test pricing.

Azure Dev/Test pricing not only provides significant cost savings for dev/test scenarios for Azure Services such as Database or Azure SQL Managed Instance, but also allows customers to use software that is included in their Visual Studio subscription for free in an Azure Virtual Machine.

For example, if your Visual Studio subscription includes licensing for SQL Server, you can deploy SQL Server Standard or Enterprise Edition in an Azure Virtual Machine and not incur licensing charges from Azure. This could provide a method for you to test your application against SQL Server Standard Edition in a cost effective manner.

You can also optimize your cost savings with both Azure Dev/Test pricing and Azure Hybrid Benefit licensing. You can use Azure Dev/Test pricing for your dev/test workloads and Azure Hybrid Benefit licensing for production workloads. Azure Hybrid Benefit is a licensing offer that helps you migrate and save to Azure by using your existing SQL Server licenses.

It is important to note that Azure Dev/Test labs is not related to Azure Dev/Test pricing. Azure Dev/Test labs is a free Azure service used to help you optimize provision of development and test environments. You use whatever Azure subscription pricing model is available for Azure services within your Dev/Test lab deployments.

Try Azure SQL Database for free (preview)

Microsoft has recently announced a new free offer for Azure SQL Database now in preview. This offer is a major milestone for developers or any user of Azure SQL. This free offer provides a monthly set of cores and for free for a single Azure SQL Database per subscription for the lifetime of the Azure subscription.

The most significant aspect of this offer is that it is not limited for development and testing purposes. While the number of free core and usage may not make it viable for medium or large production workloads, it can be an excellent option for developers to have a “developer edition” of Azure SQL Database or for small workloads.

The free Azure SQL Database offer is based on the General Purpose service tier using Serverless compute so it carries all of the capabilities and limits that go with this deployment choice.

Provisioning an Azure SQL Database for the free offer is easy.

  1. Go to the Azure portal provisioning page for Azure SQL Database.
  2. On the Basics tab, look for the banner that says, “Want to try Azure SQL Database for free?“, select the Apply offer button. If you do not see this banner, you may already have a free database provisioned for your subscription.

Try Azure SQL Managed Instance for free (preview)

In some cases, developers need the full managed instance capabilities of SQL Server in the cloud so they choose Azure SQL Managed Instance. Developers can now save costs to develop and test applications with Azure SQL Managed Instance with a new free offer.

This offer, now in preview, includes the ability to try Azure SQL Managed Instance free of charge for the first 12 months to get:

  • A General Purpose service tier instance with up to 100 databases
  • 750 vCore hours of compute every month
  • 64 GB of

This is a major leap forward for developers who are looking to test a migration strategy with Azure SQL Managed Instance.

It is easy to get started with this free offer. Use the Azure portal to create the new free Azure SQL Managed Instance. To create your free instance, follow these steps:

  • Go to the provisioning page for Azure SQL Managed Instance in the Azure portal.
  • On the Basics tab, look for the “Want to try Azure SQL Managed Instance for free?” banner and select the Apply offer button. Check the Estimated costs per month option to validate the free offer has been applied to your instance.

When you are ready to migrate, our Managed Instance Link feature provides a true online migration path to modernize your SQL Server investments.

Other options for developers to save costs

As you can see SQL developers have several options to develop and test applications with SQL for free or substantial savings both on-premises and in the cloud. Microsoft wants all developers using SQL to have the most cost-effective options to build applications that work with SQL, edge to cloud, and the latest innovations.

Here are a few other tips for you to save costs with Azure SQL:

Learn more about SQL Server developer experiences

To learn more about some of the exciting new innovations for developers for SQL check out these resources:


This article was originally published by Microsoft's SQL Server Blog. You can find the original article here.