With the release of Microsoft SQL Server 2016, there are several options to use Analysis Services Tabular.
- SQL Server Standard: it includes Analysis Services Tabular, and it is available in two licensing models: Server + Client Access License (CAL) and Core-based.
- SQL Server Enterprise: it has all the features, and is available only in a license per-core.
For a Tabular model, the limitations existing for the Standard edition affect the memory available for an instance (16GB) and the lack of these features, available only in Enterprise: DirectQuery, partitions, and perspectives. The limit of 24 cores for the standard fundamentally is a non-issue, because with the right hardware with a single socket you should have so many cores (no NUMA is still better for Tabular, at least in current release of 2016). You can find more details in this detailed matrix of the features available by the Editions of SQL Server 2016.
If you have a Tabular model in SSAS 2012 or SSAS 2014 today, you might want to upgrade immediately because of the big performance improvements available in SSAS 2016 (almost any data model and report should benefit). However, what are the options to upgrade? It depends on your current license and whether you have a software assurance (SA) in place or not.
- SQL 2012/14 Enterprise with SA: you can upgrade today, you should be already covered.
- SQL 2012/14 Business Intelligence with SA: for the duration of your current SA contract, you can upgrade to SSAS 2016 using a licensing model Server+CAL that is not available otherwise. At the end of your SA, you will have to renew using current SQL Server Enterprise licensing terms. You can also get new licenses (of Business Intelligence that you upgrade in this way) up to 25% of the number you had on May 1, 2016.
- SQL 2012/14 Enterprise or Business Intelligence without SA: you have to buy a license for SQL 2016. You might consider using the Standard for SSAS Tabular in case your model does not need the features available in Enterprise, otherwise you should get an Enterprise license.
Please note this is a summary I created to recap the current situation. I suggest you to consider all details and terms explained in this PDF. You can also visit this Microsoft website with all the information about SQL Server licensing.
Finally, a very welcome news is that Microsoft SQL Server 2016 Developer edition is now free. It had a minimal cost in the past, but now it will be much easier to install development enviroments also in those companies with a very long and bureaucratic procurement process, other than for all the consultants who want to study the new environment on their workstations without using a trial version expiring in 6 months.