Upgrading SQL Server: How much technological debt do you owe?

Many organisations avoid or delay upgrading their SQL Servers, as they often consider the task a challenging and potentially risky proposition. It is important to understand that upgrading is almost certainly the less risky option in the long run!

Technology is always improving; it stops for no-one. The longer we wait to upgrade to new technology, the more “technological debt” we incur, making upgrading even more challenging and risky.

Consider this example:

  • Person A has steadfastly held on to their Nokia 5110 cell phone that they purchased in 2000, last week it stopped working.
  • Person B also bought a Nokia 5110 in 2000, but upgraded every couple of years. They currently own a Microsoft Lumia 650 that they bought two years ago, last week, it too stopped working.

Person A has incurred 16 years of technological debt; no-one supplies spare parts, and no-one knows how to fix the phone. Person A will have to purchase a new phone; it is going to be a significant learning curve for them to learn how to use a modern smartphone effectively.

Person B has many more options, there are almost certainly spare parts available, and people who understand how to service these phones. If they need to purchase a new smartphone, the learning curve will not be significant.

So how does this concept of technological debt relate to SQL Server? Well like cell phones, Microsoft continuously upgrades SQL Server, then deprecates, and eventually removes antiquated features from the product, which are often replaced by superior functionality. Some risks identified by delaying upgrading and thus incurring technological debt with SQL Server include:

  1. A greater chance that you are using features that no longer exist in the upgraded versions of SQL Server. As time goes on, fewer and fewer administrators will have the skills to support the legacy version of the product. The longer you leave it; the more challenging and expensive it gets to support.
  2. Your version of SQL Server may no longer be supported by Microsoft, so if an issue occurs, it may be expensive if not impossible to resolve.
  3. Your administrators are being left behind, supporting a version of SQL Server that is no longer relevant in the “real world”. Those few administrators with skills relevant to legacy versions of SQL Server become silos of knowledge, and thus single points of failure.
  4. You are not leveraging functionality available in the new version of SQL Server that may improve the performance, availability and/or security of your databases.

All well and good, but what if you’ve already incurred the technological debt, how do you pay the piper and upgrade your SQL Server environment? Well there are three questions that need answering in detail:

  1. Where are you coming from?
  2. Where are you heading to?
  3. How will you get there?

Over the next couple of weeks, over several posts, I’ll describe the process that I use to answer these questions, to successfully upgrade SQL Server and pay off your technological debt!


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