What Higher Ed Needs to Know: SQL Server 2014 vs. Microsoft Azure SQL Database

As SQL Server 2005 approaches its scheduled end of life, higher ed must decide what to do with existing SQL Server databases.

While it’s true that SQL Server 2005 will continue to function after its scheduled end of life, Microsoft will no longer provide technical support or security patches. That leaves institutions that continue to operate SQL Server 2005 vulnerable to security breaches, and to any technical problems that might occur. As such, it is clearly in higher ed’s best interest to migrate data to SQL Server 2014.

While it might be tempting to purchase licenses for the latest SQL Server version, Microsoft offers several options for those organizations that need to run SQL Server. Among the available options: run SQL Server on physical hardware, run SQL Server on a virtual machine or host SQL Server data within Microsoft Azure SQL Database. Each of those options has advantages and disadvantages.

Microsoft Azure SQL Database

Migrating SQL databases to Microsoft Azure SQL Database may be the best option for educational institutions that are trying to figure out what to do with their SQL Server databases. The greatest advantages to hosting SQL Server databases on Azure are that Microsoft provides enterprise-grade high availability and handles all patching and maintenance. That frees IT staff for more important tasks. And like other cloud platforms, Azure is highly dynamic, so workloads can be scaled as needed.

There are some potential disadvantages to hosting databases on Azure. The database response time can be unpredictable, as can the cost. Azure customers are billed based on the resources they consume, and because Azure is subscription-based, costs are ongoing; an institution never owns the licenses. Hosted solutions such as Azure also tend to complicate backup and recovery.

SQL Server 2014 on a Virtual Server

Another option is to run SQL Server 2014 on a virtual machine. This approach gives admins full control over SQL Server. High availability can be achieved either at the SQL Server level or at the hypervisor level, and hardware resources can be allocated to SQL Server as needed.

The main disadvantage here is complexity: IT staff must determine the best way to achieve high availability, and ensure that other VMs do not consume excessive resources, which could diminish the database server’s performance. Plus, the IT staff must handle patch management, maintenance and repairs — tasks they avoid with Azure SQL Database.

SQL Server 2014 on a Physical Server

Running SQL Server 2014 on a physical server permits the greatest degree of control over the SQL Server environment. Because the hardware is dedicated to SQL Server, performance and response times are completely predictable. Of course, dedicated hardware comes at a price, and it is difficult to estimate the exact hardware resources required. As such, hardware may be over- or underutilized. Furthermore, constructing a highly available deployment requires even more hardware and additional licenses.

As is the case with running SQL Server on a virtual machine, the IT staff is responsible for architectural planning and ongoing maintenance.

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Mar 13 2016

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