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4 strategies to beat the SQL Server 2008 support cutoff

The looming end of SQL Server 2008 extended support should spur database teams into action. Consider these four options to extend security updates or migrate your aging SQL Server systems.

Microsoft will end Extended Support for SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 R2 on July 9, 2019. IT teams still running either version should start planning their migration strategies now to ensure that they meet the deadline. If they continue to run either version beyond that date, they will no longer receive security updates, opening systems to a variety of risks.

Mainstream SQL Server 2008 support ended July 8, 2014. For some teams, the end of Extended Support represents an opportunity to re-evaluate their environments and look at other approaches to data management.

For example, they might consider free, open source software or licensed products similar to SQL Server. But such a move can represent a significant undertaking and investment. Even on a small scale, many organizations are reluctant to take this route.

Microsoft, of course, wants to keep its customers within the SQL Server family and recommends one of four options: purchase Extended Security Updates, implement SQL Server 2008 or 2008 R2 on Azure virtual machines (VMs), move to an Azure SQL Database Managed Instance or upgrade to SQL Server 2017.

Extended Security Updates

Not all organizations will be ready to move off of their SQL database when SQL Server 2008 support ends in July. Application modifications and server software upgrades require significant time for IT to plan, test and deploy new systems. For those that need a grace period beyond the deadline, Microsoft offers Extended Security Updates for three years.

IT teams still running [SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 R2] should start planning their migration strategies now to ensure that they meet the deadline.

The Extended Security Updates option gives customers three more years of critical security updates for their SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 instances. This three-year plan is not intended to be a replacement for a more comprehensive SQL migration strategy but is rather a temporary measure within that strategy to protect certain applications and data during the transition. This option might also benefit workloads that will reach the end of their lifecycles within the three years after the deadline and that do not warrant the cost and effort that go into a full migration.

To take advantage of this option, customers must have an active Enterprise Agreement that includes a Software Assurance or subscription license.

Implement SQL Server on Azure VMs

To push Azure migrations, Microsoft is offering Extended Security Updates for free to customers who move their SQL Server 2008 or 2008 R2 databases to Azure VMs. They must still pay the applicable Azure subscription fees, but they can transfer their existing SQL Server licenses to the new environment while taking advantage of the free updates.

Software Assurance customers can realize additional savings using the Azure Hybrid Benefit program, which can save them up to 55% in subscription fees if they use their existing SQL Server licenses to host their databases in Azure VMs.

SQL Server 2008 Extended Security Updates

Extended Security Updates will only include Security Updates and Bulletins rated critical for up to three years after extended support ends on July 9, 2019.

Cloud: Customers running Windows Server or SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 in an Azure virtual machine will get Extended Security Updates at no additional cost beyond standard VM rates.

On premises: Customers with active Software Assurance or subscription licenses can buy Extended Security Updates for 75% of the full license cost annually. Customers pay for only the servers they need to cover.

For some workloads, the Azure VM option can prove useful. According to Microsoft, IT should be able to redirect their applications to the new environment with relatively little effort, while also realizing many of the advantages that come with a cloud service.

However, such a move should be part of a long-range SQL Server migration strategy that looks several years down the road to when the free security updates come to an end. Whether an organization runs SQL Server in-house or in the Azure cloud, the Extended Security Updates program is only an interim solution.

Move to an Azure SQL Database Managed Instance

An Azure SQL Database Managed Instance is a new SQL Database service, currently in preview, that provides additional instance-scoped capabilities similar to an Azure SQL Server VM. For example, a Managed Instance includes a native virtual network and is nearly 100% compatible with on-premises SQL Server.

According to Microsoft, an organization can migrate their on-premises workloads to a Managed Instance with relatively few changes to their databases or applications.

At the heart of the Managed Instance is the SQL Database service, which is based on the SQL Server Enterprise Edition, but is optimized for modern application environments. SQL Database is a full-featured database as a service that eliminates much of the administrative overhead that comes with managing on-premises hardware, operating systems and database engines. At the same time, IT still controls the databases themselves, along with the security, auditing and query tuning.

As with Azure VMs, customers can use their existing SQL Server licenses and use the Azure Hybrid Benefit program when migrating to a Managed Instance, again with the promise of up to 55% in savings. Microsoft plans to make the Managed Instance tool available in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Upgrade to SQL Server 2017

Despite Microsoft's efforts to move customers to the cloud, many want to maintain at least some of their database operations on premises. For them, Microsoft recommends upgrading their SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 instances to SQL Server 2017.

SQL Server 2017 offers a wide range of improvements compared to its predecessors -- especially when it comes to security. For example, SQL Server 2017 supports such features as backup encryption, Always Encrypted capabilities, Dynamic Data Masking and Row-Level Security -- none of which are available in SQL 2008 or 2008 R2.

SQL Server 2017 also includes a number of performance enhancements, such as in-memory online transaction processing, columnstore indexes, real-time operational analytics, adaptive query processing and buffer pool extensions to solid-state drives. Plus, SQL Server 2017 offers its Always On capabilities along with Basic Availability Groups, in addition to cloud-readiness features and enhancements to manageability, programmability, business intelligence and analytics.

Start planning now

When planning SQL Server migration strategies, IT teams can pick and choose from any of the four options. For example, a team might take advantage of the Extended Security Updates for some on-premises systems, upgrade other systems to SQL Server 2017 and move the rest to a SQL Database Managed Instance. The final decision, of course, depends on an organization's specific circumstances and requirements.

Whatever they decide to do, IT teams should start planning their exit strategies now. The sooner a comprehensive migration plan is defined and put into place, the smoother and more effective the transition will be.

Organizations still running SQL Server 2008 or 2008 R2 could face significant work, and the better prepared they are for that effort, the fewer risks and disruptions in services they will encounter. Given the looming SQL Server 2008 support deadline, putting off planning is no longer an option.

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