High Prices for High Security

I was excited to see the new Secure Enclave technology come to Always Encrypted (AE) in SQL Server 2019. I’ve thought that the way Microsoft implemented the AE technology in SQL Server 2016 was a start and a good step forward, but it had too many restrictions. Kind of like Availability Groups in 2012 and In-Memory technology in 2014. A good idea, but not really ready for most of us to use.

One of the biggest restrictions in SQL Server 2016, in my opinion, was the inability to run range queries on encrypted data. These are the greater than, less than, and LIKE items that many of us need to use in applications. This made sense, since the server doesn’t know how to decrypt the data, but many applications need these queries.

That goes away in SQL Server 2019 with Secure Enclaves. I’m looking forward to testing and working with this, but there’s one interesting limitation for me. The SQL Server computer that runs the secure enclave must meet one of these requirements. It has to run on Windows 10 or Windows 2019 Server – Datacenter Edition. There also has to be an HGS server for attestation, but this can be a WS2019 Standard Edition.

Is it a big deal? I don’t know. Windows Server 2019 lists  with Datacenter at $6155 and Standard at $972. That means it will cost me $5,183 for Always Encrypted on my SQL Server. Not a bad price for the encryption and additional security. An HSM appliance goes for quite a bit. One in Azure is $5k + $4.85/hour and most of the enterprise appliances I’ve priced at $10k+. And you need two.

In some sense, maybe this doesn’t matter. The cost of $5k isn’t much, especially when you consider the downside of not using encryption and having a data breech. You don’t need this on all SQL Servers, just those that need AE, and even then you can run SQL Server Standard Edition. The cost of core licensing is likely going to already be quite a bit and this is just like having to pay for a few more cores. Is this an impediment for your organization?

At first this seemed like a burden, but the more I look at it, $5k isn’t a lot for encryption on your server. I hope this doesn’t deter organizations from adopting AE, and more importantly, I hope Microsoft continues to invest in this technology. I’d like to see multi-certificate support and the ability to easily revoke access for a compromised system while I deal with any security issues. There are other things, and we’ll see how this evolves in the future.

Steve Jones

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