Best Practices to Accelerate SQL Server Modernization (Part II)

In Part I of this blog series, I discussed issues concerning EOL SQL Server and Windows Server running on aging hardware, and three pathways to SQL Server modernization. In this blog, I’ll discuss how a combination of Dell Technologies Consulting Services and free tools from Microsoft can help you get started on your SQL migration journey and how to meet your SQL Server data modernization objectives.

Beginning Your SQL Migration Journey

During my client conversations, I hear three repeating pain points: (1) they would love to modernize, don’t have the cycles or staff to drive a solid iterative SQL migration approach through to completion, (2) they still need to “keep the lights on” and (3) despite having the skills, they lack the team cycles to execute on the plan.

This is where Dell Technologies Consulting Services can help you plan a solid foundational set of goals and develop a roadmap for the modernization. Here are the key points our SQL modernizations teams address:

  • Discover the as-is SQL environment including the current state of all in scope SQL servers, associated workloads and configurations.
  • Inventory and classify applications (which align to SQL databases) and all dependencies. Critical here to think through all the connections, reporting, ETL/ELT processes, etc.
  • Group and prioritize the SQL databases (or entire instance) by application group and develop a near-term modernization plan and roadmap for modernization. Also an excellent time to consider database consolidation.
  • Identify the rough order of magnitude for future state compute, storage and software requirements to support a modernization plan. Here is where our core product teams would collaborate with the SQL modernization teams. This collaboration is a major value add for Dell Technologies.

Additionally, there are excellent, free tools from Microsoft to help your teams, assess, test and begin the migration journey. I will talk about these tools below.

Free Microsoft Tools to Help You Get Started

Microsoft has stated they will potentially assist if there are performance issues with SQL procedures and queries. It is best to utilize the Query Tuning Assistant while preparing your database environment for a migration.

Microsoft provides query plan shape protection when:

  • The new SQL Server version (target) runs on hardware that is comparable to the hardware where the previous SQL Server version (source) was running.
  • The same supported database compatibility level is used both at the target SQL Server and source SQL Server.
  • Any query plan shape regression (as compared to the source SQL Server) that occurs in the above conditions will be addressed (contact Microsoft Customer Support if this is the case).

Here are a few other free Microsoft tools I recommend running ASAP that will enable you to understand your environment fully and provide measurable and actionable data points to feed into your SQL modernization journey. Moreover, proven and reliable upgrades should always start with these tools (also explained in detail within the Database Migration Guide):

  • Discovery – Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAP)
  • Assessment – Database Migration Assistant (DMA)
  • Testing – Database Experimentation Assistant (DEA)

Database engine upgrade methods are listed here. Personally, I am not a fan of any upgrade in-place option. I like greenfield and a minimal cutover with an application connection string change only. There are excellent, proven, migration paths to minimize the application downtime due to a database migration. Another place our Professional Services SQL Server team can provide value and reliability to execute a successful transition.

Here are a few cutover migration options for you to consider:

Feature Notes
Log Shipping Cutover measured in (typically) minutes
Replication Cutover measured in (potentially) seconds
Backup and Restore This is going to take a while for larger databases. However, a Full, Differential and T-log backup / restore process can be automated
Filesystem/SAN Copy Can also take time
Always On Groups (>= SQL 2012) Cutover measured in (typically) seconds – Rolling Upgrade
*Future – SQL on Containers No down time – Always On Groups Rolling Upgrade

A consideration for you — all these tools and references are great — but does your team have the cycles and skills to execute the migration?

3 Pillars to Help You with Your SQL Server Data Modernization Objectives

As I mentioned at the start of this blog, it makes perfect sense to use the experts from Dell Technologies Consulting Services for your SQL Server migration. Our Consulting Services teams are seasoned in SQL modernization processes, including pathways to Azure, Azure Stack, the Dell Ready Solutions for SQL Server, existing hardware or cloud, and align perfectly with a server and storage refresh, if you have aging hardware (will be covered in future blog).

Within Dell Technologies Consulting Services, we support 3 pillars to help you with your SQL Server data modernization objectives.

Platform Consulting Services

Dell Technologies Consulting Services provides planning, design and implementation of resilient data architectures with Microsoft technology both on-premises and in the cloud. Whether you are installing or upgrading a data platform, migrating and consolidating databases to the Cloud (Public, Private, Hybrid) or experiencing performance problems with an existing database, our proven methodologies, best practices and expertise, will help you make a successful transition.

Data Modernization Services

Modernizing your data landscape improves the quality of data delivered to stakeholders by distributing workloads in a cost-efficient manner. Platform upgrades and consolidations can lower the total cost of ownership while efficiently delivering data in the hands of stakeholders. Exploring data workloads in the cloud, such and test/development, disaster recovery or for active archives provide elastic scale and reduced maintenance.

Business Intelligence and Analytics Services

By putting data-driven decisions at the heart of your business, your organization can harness a wealth of information, gain immediate insights, drive innovation, and create competitive advantage. Dell Technologies Consulting Services provides a complete ecosystem of services that enable your organization to implement business intelligence and create insightful analytics for on-premises, public cloud, or hybrid solutions.

We have in place, the proven methodologies with an focus, to drive a repeatable and successful SQL Server migration.

3 Approaches to Drive a Repeatable and Successful SQL Server Migration

Migration Procedures and Validation Approach

A critical success factor for migrations is ensuring the migration team has a well-documented set of migration processes, procedures and validation plan. Dell Technologies Consulting Services ensure that every team member involved in the migration process has a clear set of tasks and success metrics to measure and validate the process throughout the migration lifecycle.

Tools-based Migration and Validation

Our migration approach includes tools-based automation solutions and scripts to ensure the target state environment is right-sized and configured to exacting standards. We leverage industry standard tools to synchronize data from the source to target environments. Lastly, we leverage a scripted approach for validating data consistency and performance in the target environment.

Post Migration Support

Once the migration event is complete, our consultants remain at the ready for up to 5 business days, providing Tier-3 support to assist with troubleshooting and mitigating any issues that may manifest in the SQL environment as a result of the migration.

Considerations for the Data Platform of the Future

There are a number of pathways for modernizing SQL Server workloads. Customers need flexibility when it comes to the choice of platform, programming languages & data infrastructure to get from the most from their data. Why? In most IT environments, platforms, technologies and skills are as diverse as they have ever been, the data platform of the future needs to you to build intelligent applications on any data, any platform, any language on premises and in the cloud.

SQL Server manages your data, across platforms, on-premises and cloud. The goal of Dell Technologies Consulting Services is to meet you where you are, on any platform, anywhere with the tools and languages of your choice.

SQL Server now has support for Windows, Linux & Docker Containers. Kubernetes orchestration with SQL 2019 coming soon!

Additionally, SQL allows you to leverage the language of your choice for advanced analytics – R and Python.

Where Can You Move and Modernize these SQL Server Workloads?

Microsoft Azure and Dell Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack

Migrate your SQL Server databases without changing your apps. Azure SQL Database is the intelligent, fully managed relational cloud database service that provides the broadest SQL Server engine compatibility. Accelerate app development and simplify maintenance using the SQL tools you love to use. Reduce the burden of data-tier management and save time and costs by migrating workloads to the cloud.  Azure Hybrid Benefit for SQL Server provides a cost-effective path for migrating hundreds or thousands of SQL Server databases with minimal effort. Use your SQL Server licenses with Software Assurance to pay a reduced rate when migrating to the cloud. SQL 2008 support will be extended for three years if those IaaS workloads are migrated to Azure or Azure Stack.

Another huge value add, with Azure Stack and SQL Server, is the SQL Server Resource Provider. Think SQL PaaS (Platform as a Service). Here is a quick video I put together on the topic.

The SQL RP does not execute the SQL Server engine. However, it does manage the various SQL Server instances, that can be provided to tenants as SKUs, for SQL database consumption. These managed SQL Server SKUs can exist on, or off, Azure Stack.

Now that is cool if you need big SQL Server horsepower!

Dell Proven SQL Server Solutions

Dell Proven solutions for Microsoft SQL are purpose-designed and validated to optimize performance with SQL Server 2017. Products such as Dell Ready Solutions for Microsoft SQL helps you save the hours required to develop a new database and can also help you avoid the costly pitfalls of a new implementation, while ensuring that your company’s unique needs are met. Our solution also helps you reduce costs with hardware resource consolidation and SQL Server licensing savings by consolidating and simplifying SQL systems onto modern infrastructure that supports mixed DBMS workloads, making them future ready for data analytics and next generation real-time applications.

Leverage Existing Cloud or Physical Infrastructure

Enable your IT teams with more efficient and effective operational support processes, while reducing licensing costs, solution complexity and time to delivery for new SQL Server services. Dell Technologies Consulting Services has experience with all the major cloud platforms. We can assist with planning and implementation services to migrate, upgrade and consolidate SQL Server database workloads on your existing cloud assets.

Consolidate SQL Workloads

Reduce operating and licensing costs by consolidating SQL Server workloads. With the Microsoft SQL Server per-core licensing model in SQL Server 2012 and above, moving workloads to a virtual/cloud environment can often present significant licensing savings. In addition, Dell Technologies Consulting Services will typically discover within the enterprise SQL server landscape, that there are many SQL Server instances which are underutilized, which presents an opportunity to reduce the CPU core counts or move SQL workloads to shared infrastructure to maximize hardware resource utilization and reduce licensing costs.


Some migrations will be simple, others much more complex, especially with mission critical databases. If you have yet to kick off this modernization effort, I recommend starting today. The EOL clock is ticking. Get your key stakeholders involved. Show them the data points from your environment. Use the free tools from Microsoft. Send them the link to this blog!

If you continue to struggle or don’t want to go it alone, Dell Technologies Consulting Services, the only holistic SQL Server workload provider, can help your team every step of the way. Take a moment to connect with your Dell Technologies Service Expert today and begin moving forward to a modern platform.

Blogs in the Series

Best Practices to Accelerate SQL Server Modernization (Part I)

Introduction to SQL Server Data Estate Modernization

About the Author: Robert F. Sonders

Robert F. Sonders has been with Dell Technologies for over 10 years. During his tenure he has been laser-focused on Microsoft workloads, both on-premises, and hybrid, specifically around the entire SQL Server ecosystem, both from an Administrative and Business Intelligence perspective. During this journey, Robert has lead SQL Server delivery project teams as a technical consultant architect and a pre-sales Solution Principal. Throughout his 25+ years of IT experience, Robert has been passionately engaged in implementations that have directly contributed to the advanced performance and productivity of diverse organization verticals in healthcare, financial, and e-commerce. Robert will always begin with understanding the unique challenges of the business verticals with a focus on first learning the client’s perspective (listening first) and then will align the subsequent requirements to formulate a solution that will uniquely fit their needs. He prides himself on staying bleeding edge with his respective “wheelhouse” technologies. His current role now aligns with core Dell Technologies workloads as a “Principal System Engineer – Data-Centric Workloads for Microsoft”, His major focus is on all things SQL Server and Azure Hybrid ecosystem, complementing all Account Teams and Systems Engineering teams for all pre-sales efforts. As an MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer), the opportunity to present innovative Microsoft technologies, allows Robert to insightfully move clients to overcome any roadblocks. These types of engagements and conversations also allow Robert to provide a client feedback loop, back to Dell internal engineering, and even Microsoft product engineering teams. When he is not consumed with reading and learning he is traveling, handling AKC champion Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and vigorously enjoying the outdoors that surround his desert home. He resides in Scottsdale AZ with his wife and Corgis.