Your 2022 guide to migrating SQL Server to Microsoft Azure

Benefits and challenges of outsourcing IT services

Your 2022 guide to migrating SQL Server to Microsoft Azure

As Microsoft SQL Server 2012 is reaching its end of life on July 12, 2022, businesses still using the service will have to upgrade their SQL server to a more recent instance or migrate to Microsoft Azure. If businesses do not upgrade or migrate, they will no longer receive essential security updates, leaving them vulnerable to cyberattacks. Whilst any server migration process is a substantial undertaking, in this article we will guide you through the process, proving some best practices to ensure a smooth migration, regardless of whether you do so in-house or with a trusted IT provider.

What is an SQL Server Migration?

SQL Server is Microsoft’s popular relational database management service which stores and retrieves data requested by other applications. The migration process involved moving data to or from one database to another. There are many reasons why businesses choose to migrate their SQL Servers, including:

Benefits of Migrating to Microsoft Azure

Whilst some businesses continue to invest in on-premises server infrastructure, many are making the move to the Microsoft Azure Cloud. Migrating to Azure can save businesses money as with most cloud services, you only pay for what you use.

This means that businesses do not have the significant upfront capital investment, and can move to an operating expenditure model, with no depreciating assets. Also, as it is a cloud solution, it simplifies backup and disaster recovery, with Azure Backup. This service is a cost-effective, secure backup solution that ensures business continuity, even when disaster strikes. Finally, an Azure SQL solution is also more flexible and scalable, allowing businesses to quickly and easily spin up additional instances when required.

Azure SQL Server Options

SQL Server on Azure Virtual Machines

One option for migrating SQL Server to Microsoft Azure is through running the server in a self-managed Azure Virtual Machine. This option enables businesses to take advantage of Azure’s flexibility and connectivity, whilst maintaining the same level of performance and security as SQL Server. There are a wide variety of options available in terms of size and location for Azure VMs, ensuring that there is a solution fit for all businesses. There are also preconfigured images available on Azure Marketplace for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Enterprise Server, and Windows Server. Many businesses use this option if they have a specific version of SQL Server or a specific operating system they need to use.

Azure SQL Managed Instance

Azure SQL Managed Instance is a scalable cloud database service that is specifically designed for ease of migration. With this solution, current SQL Server customers can lift and shift their on-premises applications to the Azure Cloud with minimal application and database changes. As this is a fully-managed Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) solution, businesses no longer need to worry about patching, version updates or backups.

Azure SQL Database

Azure SQL Database is another fully-managed PaaS solution with built-in high availability, automatic scalability and performance. This solution fits several use cases and has some interesting features such as auto-scale in the serverless model, automatic tuning and elastic jobs. With Azure SQL Database, businesses can also bring their own SQL Server license using the Hybrid Benefit program.

The Migration Process

The migration process from SQL Server to Microsoft Azure is in 5 stages.

The first stage is Discover, whereby the network is scanned to identify all SQL Server instances and features currently in use. Microsoft has a service, Azure Migrate, that can be used in this stage to assess the suitability of migration of on-premises infrastructure, and perform performance-based sizing and cost estimations for running them in Azure.

Once all data sources have been discovered, the Assess stage begins. During this stage, the business assesses any on-premises SQL Server databases that can be migrated to one of the previously mentioned Azure SQL Server options. This stage identifies any migration blockers or compatibility issues. Microsoft also has a tool to simplify this process, the Data Migration Assistant. This tool will identify any compatibility issues and also recommends performance and reliability improvements for the target environment. In this stage, the Azure SQL Server option will be selected.

Now the business is ready for the Migrate stage. There are many migration methods to suit different use cases. Microsoft has two options to make this process as simple as possible, Data Migration Assistant and Azure Database Migration Service. There are other options that businesses can use as well, including transactional replication, import-export service, bilk copy and Azure Data Factory. For businesses that do not have in-house expertise, it is strongly recommended to outsource this to a trusted third-party IT provider.

After the migration stage is complete, the Cutover stage can begin. Firstly, businesses must ensure that the data is the same on both the source and the target. Once this is ascertained, it is possible to cutover from the source to the target environment. Typically, this stage is completed when applications are not being used to minimise interruption.

Finally, the business can move to the Optimise stage. During this stage, the new environment is tested to ensure everything is running smoothly and as expected. Other features that can be tested in the stage include the built-in high availability, threat detection and the monitoring and turning features within Azure.

How We Can Help

Although Microsoft has many tools to make the migration process easier, unless your business has in-house migration expertise, it can be a complex process. Involving a trusted third-party IT provider, like ourselves, ensures that not only will the migration process go smoothly, but we can also advise on which is the best Azure SQL solution for your business. To find out more, contact us today.

Benefits of Outsourcing IT Services

Access to a Variety of Talent

An IT department needs to have a varied skill set to effectively manage the business’s IT infrastructure. Some of these functions include network administration, IT support, systems integrations, migrations and deployment of new technologies, just to name a few. Therefore, in order to cover these skills and ensure the business has the right IT expertise required to thrive, a varied and experienced team is necessary. With the ongoing IT skills shortage, it is difficult and expensive for businesses to fill these requirements.

Businesses that decide to outsource their IT services gain access to a team with expertise in multiple areas of IT. This decreases labour costs, whilst ensuring the best digital technologies are implemented within the business, and all necessary support is always available.

Improve Productivity

For businesses that already have in-house IT resource, it can be difficult to assign the team larger projects, such as migrating workloads to the cloud, or other digital transformation projects, as this gives the department less time to complete business as usual tasks. For this reason, these larger projects take longer than necessary, and other functions of the business suffer due to less support from the IT department.

This can be solved by outsourcing project work to a trusted IT provider. This ensures that project work is completed within a reasonable time frame, and the in-house IT team can maintain the same level of support internally.

Strengthen Security Posture

With the sharp rise in cybercrime over the past 5 years, most businesses understand that they need to invest in securing their IT systems. However, for most businesses, hiring an in-house cybersecurity professional is prohibitively expensive. Many IT providers have security expertise and have systems and solutions that can monitor a business’s infrastructure to detect and respond to any potential cyberthreats, before it is too late.

Similarly, most IT providers have a disaster recovery solution, to ensure that even if disaster strikes, the business will experience less downtime, especially as many providers can provide a 24/7 support package.

Potential Challenges When Outsourcing IT Services

Limited Flexibility

Some IT service providers only have experience in certain technologies or are locked into working with a specific vendor. Whilst this can be beneficial as it typically means they have expertise with the technology, it may not be the ideal solution for the business. This challenge can be solved by having a conversation with any potential IT service providers and questioning why the solution is right for the business. Many IT providers will also offer bespoke packages with several technologies to provide all the IT services necessary for the business to work effectively, with a simple monthly fee.

Security Risks

Although using a third-party IT service provider can strengthen a business’ security posture, there is also a risk the provider can be involved in a data breach that affects their customers. An example of this was the Kaseya breach in 2021, where ransomware spread from a number of managed service providers to their customers.

Whilst there is no way to 100% safeguard against this threat, businesses can reduce this risk by looking for IT service providers with certifications to show their dedication to security. Some typical certifications to look for include Cyber Essentials Plus, ISO 27001 and ISO 27002.

How to Select the Right IT Service Provider

With so many IT service providers in the market, it can be tough to find the perfect provider for your business. However, there are some key aspects to consider when searching for an IT service provider. 

One of the most important aspects to consider when selecting an IT provider is their response times and service availability. Regardless of how comprehensive and well set up an IT solution is, there will be times when there will be an issue and a business will require support. During these times, it is essential that an IT provider can respond quickly and solve the problem without significant downtime. Information around response time and service availability can typically be found on the provider’s website, or in the service documentation.

A great indicator of the quality of an IT service provider is to look through customer reviews, testimonials and case studies. Not only does this give you insight into the customer experience, but case studies can help by showing if the IT provider has worked with similar businesses to your own.

Finally, if your business already uses a specific technology or platform, such as Azure or AWS, the IT service provider must have technical expertise within this area. This will ensure that they can quickly and easily understand and support your IT infrastructure.

Want to find out more?

As IT is a fundamental component of a business’s success, it can be a daunting task to select the perfect IT provider. However, selecting the right provider can boost employee productivity and drive business growth. They will also be able to deliver a solution that keeps your business secure and limits downtime, allowing you to focus your time on providing excellent customer experiences. If you are considering outsourcing your IT or moving from another IT provider, get in touch today to find out how we can provide a solution to meet all your IT needs.