SQL logoSomebody asked me yesterday what the differences are between the various versions of Microsoft SQL Server. Given that we have 7 different editions - in addition to the core editions, there are two free versions and three specialised editions - it's a reasonable question. The question made me think hard about the kind of data that's being put onto these servers.

Probably most education establishments will have a range of different SQL servers running, each running your student management system, email system, SharePoint system and a pile of others. And they may be running on different flavours of SQL - for example, a lot of primary schools will be running their student management system on SQL Express, one of the free editions, because they have small databases.

There's a handy table from the SQL Server team, that summarises very quickly the key differences, in terms of database support (eg the Express edition will support a maximum database size of 10GB), but it's in the features that the real differences come out - and help you to work out which version is right for you.

So, in an education context, here's my simple guide to choosing the right version:

Question

Is
Express
edition suitable?

Is
Standard
edition suitable?

Is
Enterprise
edition suitable?

Do you need a basic database system?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Is the database big (>8GB) or going to keep growing with complex info (for example adding images, scanned paperwork?)

No

Yes

Yes

Does it contain sensitive data (for example, any student medical data)?
ie you need data encryption

No

No

Yes

Do you need to be able to track all changes of data, and all access by users?
ie you need an audit trail for compliance

No

No

Yes

Find out the differences

Express

Standard

Enterprise

In a nutshell, for the majority of education users, the Enterprise Edition is the right one to choose, because most school databases contain some sensitive student data (medical, behavioural), and that data is then at risk from unauthorised access or theft. Unless your server is very securely locked away, then you've got a data security risk. And if you don't have an audit trail of who's accessing what data, you've also got a data security risk that you can't even quantify. (Enterprise Edition also offers live mirrored backups, for more data resilience).

I have seen plenty of primary schools where the server for the Student Information System is in the school office, under a desk - right by the front door. And I've walked past plenty of them as I've headed towards a meeting with staff. With so much sensitive data now stored by default on these servers, they definitely need better physical security, as well as better protection for the data which is being stored.

With so much focus on data security, and privacy, it's right to think about how valuable your data is. With data storage growing massively, as more and more data is retained, the situation might well have changed since you last looked.