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How to Migrate SQL Server to AWS

Cloud technology is the foundation for a company’s digital transformation, providing a low-cost, accessible platform for improved collaboration, information sharing, data analytics, and more. Moving database management systems to the cloud allows a business to control costs, enhance security, and improve scalability, agility and performance.

Microsoft SQL Server is a relational database system that can be moved from an on-premise environment to the AWS cloud, to be run on the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) or using the Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS).

SQL Server on EC2 works just as if it were located on-premise, giving an organization total control and responsibility over the SQL database and all workflows and processes.

Amazon RDS, on the other hand, is a managed service; Amazon takes care of all backups, updates and patches while providing improved reliability, security, monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Moreover, migrating SQL Server to AWS RDS benefits a company by providing automated backups, included licensing, point-in-time recovery, and HA/AZ (high availability / multi-availability) deployment in a fully-scalable solution.

To migrate SQL to AWS, and take advantage of the numerous benefits the cloud offers, a company should:

1. Evaluate current environment.

Understanding the current database, infrastructure technology, and interactive workflows is the first step to planning your SQL migration. Analyzing the processes, workflows, and the ways that different applications and reporting functions interact with SQL Server will provide the foundation for the migration plan. Focus on the systems where data is generated, software versions, resources required, and minimum acceptable performance indicators. It should also be clearly outlined what individuals are responsible for different processes, to be sure that you have comprehensive information - and buy-in from key stakeholders.

2. Take account of resources.

The database workflows don’t end when the migration does. Accounting for the resources that are required during the pre- and post-migration stages will help to inform the long-term plan for the database, and will also help to determine whether EC2 with internal management and support, EC2 with a third-party support provider, or RDS, is the best choice for the enterprise.

Moreover, a clear understanding of the organizations HA/DR (high availability / disaster recovery) requirements can drive the decision on whether EC2 or RDS is the best fit.

3. Decide and strategize.

Based on the organization’s requirements and resources, a decision must be made whether to migrate the SQL server database to EC2 or RDS. Once that decision is made, a company may decide to manage the migration on their own, to use the AWS Database Migration Service (DMS), or to enlist a third-party migration expert to strategize, execute, resolve, and support the migration.

There are several different approaches to execute a migration. Typically, an enterprise will conduct a simple backup and restore – backing up the database on-premise or to an Amazon S3 bucket, then restoring it in the AWS cloud environment. However, the AWS DMS can be a useful tool for those attempting to minimize downtime by replicating data during the transition from on-premise to cloud. Again, managing either of these strategies requires a significant level of skill and expertise, and a third-party migration service is an excellent option for an organization that lacks the necessary internal resources.

4. Test and execute.

Testing is a necessary component pre-migration, to ensure that all related reports, processes and workflows are accounted for, and disruption to the enterprise is minimized. Once the system and the transition has been thoroughly planned and tested, the database may be migrated to AWS.

5. Optimize and support.

Transitioning to the cloud does not end with the migration. First, most migrations are completed in stages, with several small projects comprising the overall migration. Second, and perhaps most importantly, managing a database in the cloud requires a post-migration strategy that includes preparing all the resources that will be needed to manage, optimize and maintain SQL Server on AWS.

Optimizing SQL Server on AWS means balancing performance, storage, pricing, security and availability of data, applications and workflows. This can be complicated, supporting different and often competing priorities, including maximizing performance while controlling costs.

It is critical that a company understands the expertise that will be needed to manage cloud computing on a long-term basis. Strategies for meeting this need include hiring full-time staff, training existing staff, or engaging a third-party partner that provides cloud management and support.