sql server upgrades

SQL Server Upgrades: Which Is Right For Your System?

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of planning ahead for SQL Server upgrades. Part of planning is understanding which type of SQL Server upgrade is best for your needs. Here, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of in-place versus side-by-side upgrades. 

If you have been following our blogs, you know the importance of paying attention to end of life dates for your SQL Server support and then seizing the opportunities that come with upgrading to the latest version to keep your system functioning properly. Here, we discuss the different options available to you and how to make an informed decision before you upgrade SQL Server.

The best approach for your organization will depend on several factors, including the size of your database, the complexity of your environment, and your organization’s downtime requirements. Here, we’ll explore the differences between in-place and side-by-side SQL Server upgrades and help you determine which approach is right for your organization.

In-Place vs. Side-by-Side SQL Server Upgrades

An in-place upgrade involves upgrading the existing SQL Server to a newer version without creating a new instance. In other words, the new version of SQL Server is installed on the same server as the existing version, and the databases are upgraded to the new version.

On the other hand, a side-by-side upgrade involves creating a new instance of SQL Server and migrating the databases to the new instance. This approach requires more planning and preparation than an in-place upgrade but can be less risky.

In-Place SQL Server Upgrades: A Deep Dive

One of the main advantages of an in-place upgrade is that it is a relatively straightforward process that requires minimal downtime. By upgrading the existing SQL Server instance, you don’t need to migrate the databases to a new server, which can save time and resources. In-place upgrades also tend to be less complex than side-by-side upgrades, as you’re not dealing with two different instances of SQL Server.

Another advantage of an in-place upgrade is that it can be a more cost-effective option. Since you’re not creating a new instance, you don’t need to purchase new hardware or licenses. This can be particularly appealing for small to medium-sized businesses that are looking to upgrade their SQL Server environment on a tight budget.

While in-place upgrades can be relatively simple and cost-effective, they can be risky. Since you’re upgrading the existing SQL Server instance, any issues that arise during the upgrade can affect the existing databases. This can lead to downtime and data loss, which can end up being costly for organizations, wiping out any cost savings you gained by choosing the lower-cost upgrade option.

Further, in-place upgrades can be limited by the hardware and software requirements of the new version of SQL Server. If the existing server doesn’t meet the minimum requirements of the new version, you may need to upgrade the hardware or software before upgrading the SQL Server instance. This can add additional complexity to what initially seemed like a simple upgrade process.

Another consideration around hardware is the support lifecycle and CPU generation of the server. If the server is between three to five years old, it will need to be migrated in order to not only upgrade the server but replace it altogether. The other disadvantage of staying on the same hardware is your server will not be able to take advantage of improvements to later editions, such as faster processing speeds, which could ultimately help reduce your licensing costs.

Side-by-Side SQL Server Upgrades: A Deep Dive

One of the main advantages of a side-by-side upgrade is that it is a more flexible approach. By creating a new instance of SQL Server, you can configure the new environment to meet the specific needs of your organization. This can include upgrading hardware, software, or other components to improve performance and scalability.

However, it does require more planning and preparation to implement a side-by-side upgrade. You’ll need to configure the new environment, migrate the databases, and test the new environment before going live. This can take more time and resources than an in-place upgrade.

It’s also important to consider that a side-by-side upgrade can be more costly than an in-place upgrade. Since you will be decommissioning the legacy server post-migration and creating a new instance of SQL Server, you’ll need to purchase new licenses, hardware, and software. This can be particularly expensive for larger organizations with complex SQL Server environments.

Still, this added preparation and cost may be a small price to pay when you consider that the side-by-side upgrade is far less risky than an in-place upgrade. By creating a new instance of SQL Server, you can test the new environment before migrating the databases. This can help you identify any issues or compatibility problems before going live, reducing the risk of downtime and data loss.

Choosing the right approach for your SQL Server upgrades

When it comes to choosing the right SQL Server migration approach, we recommend a side-by-side migration to most of our clients due to its increased flexibility, improved database performance, reduced risk, and easy rollback option. Rollback allows you to return the configuration to the state it was in prior to migration – in other words, start over if circumstances dictate. This is especially relevant for any mission-critical SQL Server environment.

If time permits, we also recommend executing a dry run of the migration plan. By performing the actual database migration, you can bring up the application, test some core processes and identify any gaps in your migration plan. By performing a dry run, you minimize the risk of having any major issues upon deployment, as these will be captured and solved before the actual upgrade.

Opting for a side-by-side migration allows you to upgrade any operating system or hardware that would benefit from the latest features. Simply put, if you choose to remain on your existing hardware, you forgo these enhancements and can only hope that making do with the same old, same old will be sustainable.

Ensuring an optimal side-by-side migration

There are many considerations for your new SQL Server environment including tier of service, environment type and size, and service offering. Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you’re ready to identify the ideal SQL Server instance’s location for your database’s new home. Using a side-by-side approach, here are some important options available to you to ensure a successful migration.

  • Backup and Restore: One of the simplest migration options is to back up the databases on the old server and restore them to the new server. This method is easy to perform and can be completed quickly for small databases. However, it can be time-consuming for larger databases and may require additional steps to transfer logins and other settings.
  • Detach and Attach: Another option is to detach the databases from the old server and attach them to the new server. This method is faster than backup and restore, but it requires that the databases are taken offline during the migration process, which can disrupt operations.
  • SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS): SSIS is a data integration tool that can be used to move data between SQL Server instances. It can be used to move large volumes of data and automate the migration process, making it a good option for complex environments.
  • Log Shipping: Log shipping is a process that involves automatically sending transaction logs from the old server to the new server and applying them to a copy of the databases on the new server. This method can be used to minimize downtime and data loss during the migration process.
  • Replication: Replication is a process that involves copying data from one SQL Server instance to another. It can be used to move data between servers in real time and can be useful for environments that require high availability.
  • Always On Availability Groups: Always On Availability Groups is a high-availability feature in SQL Server that can be used to move databases to a new server with minimal downtime. It allows organizations to create a replica of the databases on the new server and synchronize the data between the two servers.

Regardless of the approach you choose, careful planning and testing are critical to ensure a successful migration. It’s also important to involve all stakeholders in the process, including end-users, application owners, and database administrators, to ensure that all aspects of the migration are considered and addressed.

If the idea of migrating or upgrading your SQL Server has your head spinning (despite our best attempts to break it down for you here) you’re in luck. Fortified is here to help with any of your SQL Server upgrade needs. We are experts in preparing you for the end of your server’s lifecycle and helping you maximize the opportunities an upgrade can bring to your environment.

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