Is SQL Server 2008 R2 a full release of SQL Server?
February 9th, 20117
Is SQL Server 2008 R2 a full release of SQL Server?
February 9th, 20117

This has come up in conversations more than once in the past little while – recently on twitter I made the casual comment that later this year, SQL Server 2008 will be "two versions old."  Well, not everyone agrees that that is technically true.  So, I thought I'd put something out there that isn't limited to 140 characters.  There are certainly some valid arguments on both sides, but my opinion – based both on these facts and on my memory that Microsoft has marketed it as such – is that SQL Server 2008 R2 is certainly a version that stands on its own.  Still, I will present both sides of the coin (with my invalidation of the first set of arguments in green).

SQL Server 2008 R2 is simply an appendage to SQL Server 2008

  • When you SELECT @@VERSION, the major / minor version is 10.5 (Denali is 11.0). 
    So yes, internally, it is "half a version" – but marketing-wise, this is certainly not true.
  • The support lifecycle for 2008 is identical to the support lifecycle for 2008 R2
    I attribute that more as a courtesy to 2008 users than any implication that Microsoft deems them to be the same product.
  • Several pages on MSDN and other Microsoft properties still say "SQL Server 2008" even though parts have been updated for R2 (for example, compare the Express page headline with the third bullet under "Powerful"). 
    I chalk this up to sloppiness, and it was certainly a lot worse when 2008 R2 was first released, since they simply recycled a lot of documentation.
  • You can restore or attach a 2000, 2005 or 2008 database to 2008 R2.*  In other words, they did not move the chains for backward compatibility; these remain the same as SQL Server 2008.  If 2008 R2 were truly a new version, then SQL Server 2000 should have been removed from the supported compatibility list. Instead, this is not happening until Denali. 
    I'll give you this one, but I suspect it may have just been a resourcing issue rather than an intentional choice.  And again, this isn't a marketing thing, it is just the side effect of a technical decision.

SQL Server 2008 R2 is a full, independent version of SQL Server

  • You can't restore or attach a 2008 R2 database to 2008.
  • You can't just download R2 and apply it to your 2008 instances. You need to buy separate licenses, and outside of volume licensing / software assurance, there are no discounts – whether you are coming from 2008, 2005, or 2000.  It is not a service pack.
  • The structure of the support lifecycle documentation implies that they are completely separate products. Otherwise, why aren't they simply combined on the same page?
  • Support lifecycle aside, it is serviced completely separately from SQL Server 2008.  You can't apply a SQL Server 2008 service pack or cumulative update to SQL Server 2008 R2, nor does the reverse work. The servicing schedules for the two versions are also independent.

Now, I will agree that 2008 R2 is a terrible, terrible, terrible name, doing nothing except make it *sound* like it's not a full version. In fact, I know that some people feel like they're getting raked over the coals when they upgrade, because they feel like they're paying five figures or more, per instance, for a service pack.  (And given the features that were added to the core engine and tools, who could blame them for feeling this way?)  It also causes a lot of confusion in the community, as I've alluded to in several of my recent posts about service packs and cumulative updates for each version – many people ask whether a CU for 2008 R2 is applicable to 2008, or if they should be able to attach or restore a 2008 R2 database onto a 2008 instance. My answer is always going to be no, they are different versions, and it has become second nature now to include a disclaimer in every single post.

So, with all that said, my opinion is still that 2008 R2 is a full and official release of SQL Server, and my statement still stands: sometime in 2011 or 2012, SQL Server 2008 will be two versions old.  You may not think that way in all aspects of the product, but technically, I believe it to be true.

* There is one exception: if you've enabled 15K partition support in SQL Server 2008 SP2, you can't migrate that database to SQL Server 2008 R2 RTM.


By: Aaron Bertrand

I am a passionate technologist with industry experience dating back to Classic ASP and SQL Server 6.5. I am a long-time Microsoft MVP, write at Simple Talk, SQLPerformance, and MSSQLTips, and have had the honor of speaking at more conferences than I can remember. In non-tech life, I am a husband, a father of two, a huge hockey and football fan, and my pronouns are he/him.

7 Responses

  1. Glenn Berry says:

    Good post Aaron. According to Microsoft, SQL Server 2008 R2 is a full release. I agree that they pushed it out the door too quickly (in terms of limited new features, not quality) to help Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010.

  2. Steve Jones says:

    It certainly is a new release from the pricing, and changes. I don't think Microsoft has done a point release since v6.5, but this release felt rushed, and I'm not sure it should have been a full release. I suspect it was pushed to get the DatAllegro technology out there, which is fine.
    However it's a horrible naming convention. I hope that never happens again.

  3. AaronBertrand says:

    I will agree that SQL Server 2008 R2 brought very few changes, and that from the engine perspective it barely qualifies as a release at all.  But I disagree that Denali will be a repeat.  
    2008 R2 brought what changes? Unicode compression (only for Enterprise+) and backup compression (which was just a SKU limitation change, not a new feature). Anything else?
    Denali brings the following non-BI features (not all are engine but they affect everyone using the engine):
    – HADR / Availability groups
    – multi-subnet clustering
    – Contained databases
    – FileTable
    – custom server roles
    – additional HASHBYTES functionality (SHA2_256/512)
    – OFFSET
    – THROW
    – new system objects / DMVs
       – sys.sp_server_diagnostics
       – metadata discovery functions/procs
    – easier startup switch setup in config manager – no more messing with ; syntax
    – 1st SQL Server engine to support Server Core
    – SSMS enhancements
       – multi-monitor support
       – snippets, surround with
       – enhanced debugging capabilities
    – Apollo (column-based storage)
    – Juneau (even the table designer is cooler than what we have now)
    – potentially more T-SQL changes that are still NDA or not finalized
    Is it everything we want in SQL Server? No. But it is a much more impressive list of features that represent a marked improvement over 2008 R2 – much more than 2008 R2 was over its predecessors.

  4. Ben says:

    While Microsoft has certainly Marketed and Packaged SQL Server 2008 R2 as a distinct release, they have made a marked change in the packaging.
    This is the first release (with Denali soon to follow) with few visible changes in the SQL Engine itself. The major changes are in the ancillary products. Which not being named SQL Server causes me some confusion.
    This would be the equivant of creating a new Drawing tool, packaging it with Word, and calling it a new MS Office Release.
    Clearly Microsoft calls this a release. But, the emperor has no clothes. I care mostly about the SQL Engine…which has not been visibly enhanced for three+ years.
    Microsoft can package how they want…but there will not be a database engine release for some time to come. They released more in the first service pack of SQL Server 2005 than they have in R2 or Denali for the database engine.
    Oh well…maybe that has something to do with the management change on the MS developent team.

  5. AaronBertrand says:

    Sure, you could name any of the new features in 2008 R2 as a justification for calling it a different version.  Unicode compression, backup compression in standard edition, etc.

  6. Chris Wood says:

    How about that you need R2 for Powerpivot? Looking at its requirements I don't see SQL2008.

  7. Dugi says:

    Nice info, thxn for sharing!