The 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:
• Procurement of a new on-premises server
• Switching to a new instance of SQL
• Restoring a backup database
• Ensuring the server receives updates
• Taking advantage of Microsoft Azure

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.