In just under six months, Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 R2 will reach the end of free extended support. That means no more updates of any kind from Microsoft and potentially major headaches for your chief information security officer (CISO). There’s nothing like unsupported enterprise software to excite busy hackers who have unpatched vulnerabilities in their pockets and the urge to profit from companies who persist in running software that’s past its best-before date.

With so little time left, organizations with large numbers of databases may not have the time or resources to upgrade before the July 9, 2019 deadline. But all is not lost. Microsoft offers several options to bridge the pre-upgrade gap – though its recommendation, according to Microsoft Canada’s general manager, cloud and enterprise, Khalil Alfar, is to update to the latest version of SQL Server, currently SQL Server 2017.

If that’s not possible, there are two ways to keep SQL Server 2008 intact and still receive support (well, three if you count paying 75 per cent of the cost of a new license for paid extended support of an on-premises instance).

The first one is an Azure SQL Database Managed Instance. It’s a platform as a service (PaaS) offering that provides a secure managed environment, including operating system, patching, hardening, and performance management; all the customer needs to worry about is the database admin (and, with Software Assurance, they can bring their own SQL Server licenses if they so choose). Now available in Microsoft’s Canadian Azure datacentres, it satisfies data residency requirements as well as providing an instance of SQL Server 2008 (or even SQL Server 2005, should it still be knocking around) with three years of free security updates. Microsoft claims near 100 per cent compatibility with the on-premises Enterprise Edition database engine, minimizing tweaking.

The biggest benefit for time-pressed IT staff about the Azure SQL Database Managed Instance is that by rehosting their databases on Azure, they hand over operating system and security maintenance and updating tasks, as well as performance management, to Microsoft, with a 99.99 per cent availability service level agreement (SLA.) Alfar said that if customers can move to Managed Instances, they will see lower total cost of ownership, as well as enjoying the security and management benefits.

However, for workloads that use additional SQL Server capabilities such as SQL Server Analysis Service or SQL Server Reporting Service, a Managed Instance is not an option. Instead, Microsoft suggests running SQL Server on Azure Virtual Machines (an Infrastructure as a Service – IaaS – offering which also receives three years of free security updates with Software Assurance). It leaves the Windows/Linux and SQL server management work with IT but gives complete control over the database.

The biggest challenge, Alfar said, is actually finding the databases that need attention. “We’re starting to realize that a lot of customers don’t understand what they have,” he said. “Getting a good handle on what they have is the most important step of the process.” He suggests that customers work with Microsoft or a partner to assess their environments and discover the challenges and opportunities in front of them, noting that any customer with access to Azure can use tools like the Data Migration Assistant, which examines a database and flags any issues.

There are plenty of resources available to help expedite the process. Microsoft presents an overview of the two options, with appropriate use cases and details of the pricing structures for each, to help customers select the best one for them. Once they’ve decided, a migration guide walks them through the entire process in five stages; customers can do the work themselves or engage a partner to handle it.

For more information about SQL Server 2008 end of life, check out this on-demand webinar: SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 End of Life: Time to Think About the Future.