Without a doubt,Microsoft SQL Server 2012 is one of the biggest releases of SQL Server ever, and it definitely pushes SQL Server to a higher rung on the enterprise ladder. Like all new releases of a major server product, SQL Server 2012 contains many changes, enhancements, and new features. Anytime there are changes, there are also numerous questions. In this column, I'll answer some of the top FAQs about SQL Server 2012. (See also, " Top 10 New Features in SQL Server 2012").

1. What are the SQL Server 2012 editions?
SQL Server 2012 is available in three primary editions: Enterprise, Business Intelligence, and Standard. The Enterprise edition contains all of the features in the product. The Business Intelligence edition contains all of the BI capabilities but lacks some of the higher-end availability capabilities. The Standard edition provides basic relational, BI, and availability capabilities. Microsoft has discontinued the Datacenter, Workgroup, and Standard for Small Business editions but will continue to provide the Developer and Express editions.

2. What are the licensing changes with SQL Server 2012?
SQL Server 2012 has a new core-based licensing model. The Enterprise edition is licensed only per core with a minimum of four core licenses. The Business Intelligence edition is licensed only per server. The Standard edition has the option of being licensed either per core (with a four core minimum) or per server. There are also three versions of the free SQL Server Express edition. The Developer edition is also available; it's licensed per developer and can't be used for production work. More information about SQL Server 2012 licensing can be found on Microsoft's website.

3. How does virtualization affect licensing?
You have two basic options for licensing virtualized SQL Server 2012 instances. You can license SQL Server at the virtual machines level or you can license all the cores in the physical server. At the VM level, you can choose server licensing or core licensing, where a core essentially equates to a virtual CPU. If you choose per core licensing, that four core minimum still applies. Alternatively, if you're planning to run several SQL Server VMs, you can license all the cores in the physical box with the Enterprise edition and Software Assurance (SA), which allows an unlimited number of SQL Server VMs.

4. Is it true that you can't move SQL Server VMs because of the licensing?
Yes, surprisingly, there are licensing limitations that restrict how often you can move a VM. If you don't have SA, you can move a SQL Server system only once every 90 days—which certainly isn't enough to keep up with Patch Tuesday. If your licenses are covered by SA, you can move your VMs as often as you like. SA is a requirement if you want to use SQL Server 2012 in a dynamic data center.

5. Is the Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS) gone? What development tools for BI projects are available in SQL Server 2012?

BIDS has been replaced by SQL Server Data Tools. SSDT contains all the functionality of BIDS, plus it can be used for declarative database development as well as for developing SQLCLR projects. SSDT can be used with SQL Server 2012, SQL Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008, SQL Server 2005, and SQL Azure.

6. What is SQL Server AlwaysOn?
AlwaysOn Availability Groups is essentially the next evolution of database mirroring. AlwaysOn Availability Groups leverages AlwaysOn Failover Clustering, and it can protect multiple databases as a group. AlwaysOn Availability Groups allows both synchronous and asynchronous database replicas as well as active replicas.

7. What is Power View? Does it replace Report Builder?
Power View picks up the idea that was first introduced with Report Builder—enabling powerful end-user reporting—but doesn't replace Report Builder, which is still present in SQL Server 2012. Power View is a graphical data navigation and visualization tool that's designed to provide data insights by helping the user create reports over a BI Semantic Model. Power View reports can be embedded in your own applications, published to SharePoint, or included in PowerPoint presentations. Report Builder is still present in SQL Server 2012.

8. Is Hadoop a part of SQL Server 2012?
No. Hadoop is an open-source platform for processing unstructured data. SQL Server 2012 offers connectors for Hadoop. Hadoop itself is implemented separately from SQL Server.

9. Did the new LocalDB edition replace SQL Server Express?
LocalDB is not the SQL Server Express edition, nor is it the SQL Server Compact Edition. LocalDB uses the same sqlservr.exe engine as the other editions of SQL Server, but it runs in user mode—not as a service. LocalDB is used for offline development by tools such as SSDT to ensure that the code you develop is 100 percent compatible with your production SQL Server database.

10. Where can I find out more about SQL Server 2012?
Get more information about the different editions and features of SQL Server 2012 from Microsoft's MSDN website. Even better, if you want to try out some of these features yourself, check out the SQL Server 2012 Virtual Labs, which step you through the most important features using VMs hosted by Microsoft.