Moving your SQL Server to the Cloud, that devilish concoction of riddles and frustration, might be a little harder than anticipated. There is a lot to figure out, such as providers, solutions, and options — so many options. At MetrixData 360, we often assist our customers in migrating to the Cloud successfully, primarily in making sure their transition is adhering to the rules of their software vendors and to make sure they are moving in the most cost-effective way possible.

So, in this article, we’ll be discussing how you can successfully move your SQL Server into the Cloud and some of those juicy options you have at your disposal.

Why Migrate Your SQL Server to the Cloud?

Before you go through all the trouble of moving your SQL Servers to the Cloud, it is important to ask why you would even want to do something like that when you already have a SQL Server on-prem that works just fine.

  • Future-proof your software infrastructure: It is clear that the Cloud is where the business world is going, and the pandemic of 2020 has only sped up this transition. It is also clear that Microsoft’s goals are to operate and sell licenses exclusively in and for the Cloud, and on-prem products are being phased out of their lineup.
  • Scalability in the Cloud is so much easier: Your SQL Servers need to be as elastic as possible (especially in these times of uncertainty), and the Cloud typically allows you to adjust your Cloud sizing as you go along.
  • The Cloud is praised for having advanced security: Protecting your data is everything, and the top Cloud vendors are praised for having world-class security infrastructure.

Azure vs. AWS

While there are many cloud providers to pick from, there are basically two main Cloud providers that dominate the marketplace and serve as the only viable option for large international companies: Microsoft’s Azure and AWS from Amazon.

Both providers will allow you to move your SQL to their Cloud platform, and both offer your classic pay-as-you-go plan that is often found in the cloud, along with a variety of configuration types. So, let’s look at each platform’s SQL Server Migration Options and see if we can find one that is best for your business.

Related: How do the top three Cloud platforms stack up?
Check out our Comparison

Azure in the Cloud

Microsoft’s Azure has currently three deployment options for putting your SQL Server Database in the Cloud:

Azure VMs

With Virtual Machines (VMs), you have access to the Server’s Operating System (OS) as if it were hosted in your infrastructure, allowing you the freedom to install all the software that you require, just so long as you have sufficient storage space. This solution offers the widest range of services, including backups, restoration, mirroring, detaching and attaching, log shipping, bulk loading, DMA/DMS, and replication. VMs are also excellent for almost every migration strategy and it is quite easy since it is the closest you can get to simply copying and pasting your old server into a new server. For this reason, it is the most popular option.

Virtual Machine Configuration Types

ObjectionDescriptionAWSAzure
General Purpose Balanced CPU-to-memory ratio. Ideal for testing and development, small to medium databases, and low to medium traffic web servers.T2, M3, M4DSv2, Dv2, DS, D, Av2, A0-7
Compute OptimizedHigh CPU-to-memory ratio. Good for medium traffic webservers, network applications, batch processes, and application servers.C3, C4Fs, F
Memory OptimizedHigh memory-to-core ratio. Great for relational database servers, medium to large caches, and in-memory analyticsX1, R3, R4GS, G, DSv2, DS
Storage OptimizedHigh disk throughput and IO. Ideal for Big Data, SQL, and NoSQL databasesI2, I3, D2Ls
GPUSpecialized virtual machines targeted for heavy graphic rendering and video editing.F1, G2, P2NV, NC
High Performance ComputeFastest and most powerful CPU virtual machinesP2, R3, R4, X1, C3H, A 8-11

 

Recommended Virtual Machine Configuration Type(s) by SQL Server Edition

Recommended Virtual Machine Configuration Type(s) by SQL Server Edition
SQL Server EditionVirtual Machine Types (both AWS and Azure)
SQL Server ExpressGeneral Purpose
SQL Server WebGeneral Purpose / Compute Optimized
SQL Server StandardMemory Optimized / Storage Optimized
SQL Server EnterpriseMemory Optimized / Storage Optimized / High Performance Computer

 

Azure Managed Instances

Manages Instances are a fully managed SQL Server Database hosted by Azure and are simply placed in your network. This means you do not have to worry about security, updates, or patches — all of which are handled by Microsoft. This solution is the next best option after VMs, since it has all of features listed above except for detaching and attaching, mirroring, and log shipping. It is fairly compatible with most strategies and a migration can expect few hiccups.

 

Azure SQL Server Database

Azure SQL Server Database is perhaps the most limited solution of the three, since this option doesn’t provide you with backups or restoration, detaching and attaching, mirroring or log shipping, it is also the solution where you are most likely going to run into issues. There are often issues surrounding security and infrastructure incompatibility which can halt the operation.

To assist in this migration, Microsoft has created the Data Migration Assistant, which is specifically designed to help you move your SQL to Azure by comparing feature parity and database compatibility, allowing you to better understand your unique deployment options.

SQL Server in AWS

Microsoft SQL Server is flexible enough that it can be moved to a host that is not owned by Microsoft, including AWS. There are a few advantages to picking AWS over Azure: AWS is larger, has more options, and it may already be the primary platform that your company is using, and keeping your operations on a single Cloud host will make your management of it that much easier.

AWS has two options when moving your SQL Server: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS).

Amazon EC2

Amazon EC2 allows you to maintain control over every aspect of your SQL environment and it will run very similar to when your SQL Server was on-prem. This means that you can have your own database administrators and set up your own architecture. Availability, configuration, and backups with the EC2 will be up to you since you will be setting up your own database. Despite the fact that, in general, the RDS is more attractive, the EC2’s main appeals come from its full control, its greater variety of features, and its ability to exceed the maximum database size and performance needs of the RDS.

Amazon RDS

Where the EC2 offers an experience as close to on-prem as possible, the RDS is much more akin to your typical Cloud services, with pre-configured parameters and settings that are best suited for the SQL Server edition and DB Instance you select upon installation. RDS also provides you with additional features such as CloudWatch and AWS Management Console to provide you better control over your compute, memory, and storage capacity utilization. RDS takes care of things like patching, backup, disaster recovery, and event notification to ensure you’re up to date and running at peak performance while enjoying a hands-off experience.

Virtual Machines
FeaturesAWSAzure
Product NamesEC2 – Elastic Compute Cloud – Virtual MachinesVirtual Machines
Commitment TypesPay as you go (on demand),
Reserved Instances (1 or 3 year terms for discounted rates compared to On-Demand pricing)
Pay as you go
Instance TypesStandard (no control over which physical server hosts VM, Dedicated HostsStandard (no control over which physical server hosts VM)
Operating SystemYesYes

Managed SQL Server Database(s)
FeatureAWSAzure
Product NameRDS – SQL ServerSQL Database
AvailabilitySingle AZ (one server), Multi AZ (SQL Server mirror across multiple servers)Standard, Premium (High Availability)
EditionsExpress, Web, Standard, Enterprise
Versions2008, R2, 2012, 2014, 2016
Max Databases Per Instance30Single – 1
Elastic Pool – 50-500 depending on level
Max Storage4 TBSingle – 2 GB to 4 TB depending on level
Elastic Pool – 156 GB to 4 TB depending on level
Ease of Importing DatabasesDifficult/Complicated
No access to underlying OS so accessing the database can be challenging
Requires AWS S3 or Azure Storage Container (cloud storage)
Relatively straight forward
No access to underlying OS
Features/LimitationsSupport for native capabilities of SQL Server Edition (seamless migration)
No support for SSAS, SSIS, SSRS, DQS, MDS. These require SQL Server in Virtual Machine
Not all native capabilities of SQL Server edition supported (may require code modification and/or loss of functionality)
No support for MDS, DQS, or SSIS. These require SQL Server in Virtual Machine
Benefits Over VM & SQL Server ApproachNo overhead management required (OS/SQL Server patched, service packs, maintenance all handled by provider)

What Type of Licenses Will You Need to Move Your SQL Server to the Cloud?

SQL Server Licensing
FeaturesAWSAzure
Provided by Service ProviderYesYes
Client Provided
(with SA)
Yes with SA using Licensing MobilityYes with SA using License Mobility
Client Provided
without SA
Yes (EC2 Dedicated Hosts only)No

How Much Does SQL Server in the Cloud Cost?

The question on everyone’s mind always circles back to price and how much it will cost you. As pressing as this question is, it is also difficult to answer since there are so many factors to consider that will be unique to your individual environment. Luckily, both AWS and Azure have tools to help you come to an estimate:

Related: SQL Server is one of the Most Confusing Licensing Models out there.
Check out our SQL Server Licensing Guide for an Explanation that makes sense.

 

Need Help Moving to the Cloud?

SQL Servers can be such a headache that simply getting them to work properly on-prem and ensuring they are licensed accordingly can be a task and a half. So, moving to the Cloud can be an intimidating process to say the least. If you find yourself in this situation of wanting to move your SQL Servers to the Cloud, know that it is possible, and you don’t have to go through it alone. At MetrixData 360, we have helped many of our clients get ready for the Cloud by ensuring your licenses will permit you to move safely and in a manner that will ensure your transition is compliant and cost-effective. If you would like to learn more about our Cloud Services, you can click the link below.

About Mike Austin

Mike AustinMike Austin is the CEO and team lead here at MetrixData 360. Mike brings more than 15 years of Microsoft licensing experience to his clients’ projects. He assists companies with negotiations of Microsoft Enterprise Agreements (EA), Premier Support Contracts, and Select Agreements, from Fortune 500 to organizations with as few as 500 employees. Mike's vast experience across multiple industries including financial services, high tech, manufacturing, media, health care, government, and retail give him an edge in any business environment. In addition to helping negotiate contracts, he assists clients with creating and implementing software asset management processes to prevent over-purchasing of licenses and ensures terms and conditions reflect actual usage.