A survey of articles from ITWC’s news archives

Amazon Web Services eyes opportunity to scoop up more Windows workloads

Brian Jackson Brian Jackson Published: 12/14/2018
Terry Wise - AWS ReInvent partner keynote

On stage at Amazon Web Services’ re:Invent conference, Terry Wise, vice-president of global alliances, ecosystem, and channels for AWS, stands in front of a giant pie graph showing yet another market segment where AWS is taking the largest slice – Windows workloads running in the public cloud.

“We’re very passionate about helping customers and partners run their workload on AWS and we’ve invested a lot to make that happen,” he says during the global partner keynote. “It may surprise some folks when you discover who the number two provider is in this space.”

Though he didn’t name Microsoft Azure, he didn’t have to as its logo was clearly visible just behind him, on the second-larger slice of market share, much smaller than the mega-portion that AWS is having for breakfast.

With end-of-support dates approaching for some key parts of the Microsoft on-premises stack, including SQL Server 2008 on July 9, 2019 and Windows Server 2008 on Jan. 14, 2020, many Microsoft shops will have a new incentive to consider a cloud migration. While Microsoft is offering incentives to those customers to transfer Windows licences to the Azure cloud, that’s not the choice that most are making. According to an estimate from analyst firm IDC, AWS hosts 58 per cent of Windows workloads in the public cloud, followed by Azure at about 31 per cent.

In an IDC infographic sponsored by AWS, more of the picture is painted. While it forecasts that Windows Server licences will decline slowly to 2022, it also acknowledges that Windows Server still hosts the majority of commercial application software for years to come. So it’s no wonder that AWS is actively marketing to customers that find their servers are nearing end of life, and encouraging partners to help migrate those users to AWS.

It’s not exactly a risky new approach either. Both Windows Server and SQL Server have been available on AWS for 10 years as of October. In a blog post celebrating that anniversary (I don’t think Microsoft got a card), Sandy Carter, vice-president of Windows on AWS and enterprise workloads highlighted some customers in a blog post. The family history website Ancestry runs 6,000 Windows workloads on AWS. NextGen Healthcare runs its SQL Servers there, as does market research firm eMarketer.

So why do so many companies opt to run their Windows workloads on AWS when Azure is an option? The answer is the same as why customers were buying other vendors server hardware to run Windows workloads back in 2008. They just don’t see the underlying infrastructure and the software layer as being important to unify. What’s important is that the support for the software layer is in place, there are controls for licencing costs, and that the performance is good.

With a vast partner network certified on supporting Windows on AWS, the support for this service is now quite mature after being introduced a decade ago. AWS offers many of the same incentives that Azure is using as a carrot to convince customers to come to its cloud – for example, there are options to bring the licence you already have to the cloud environment. Additionally, AWS allows customers to simply “pay as you go” turning on the appropriate number of server instances as they’re required, and scaling back down when they’re not. Measuring performance on the platforms is complicated and has to be done with specific client requirements in mind. Perhaps intentionally, AWS and Azure offer different tiering options for their SQL services and have different approaches on how to charge for their services.

Outside of a direct comparison between AWS and Azure for hosting Windows workloads, it’s possible AWS is attracting the larger market share simply because it offers more choices to the customer. Just at the database level, for customers that are using more types of databases beyond SQL, AWS will be more appealing for offering those options. With Azure, there is more incentive to offer up software that results in the sale of more Microsoft licences, so there are fewer database engines available.

Microsoft offers incentives to migrate to cloud for SQL Server 2008 users as end-of-life date approaches

Lynn Greiner Lynn Greiner Published: 12/11/2018

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.

How to migrate away from Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008

Tom Li Tom Li Published: 11/28/2018

Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 were Microsoft’s most popular server and database management operating systems to date. Now, they are encroaching the tail-end of their 10-year lifecycle. Security updates will end on July 9, 2019 for SQL Server 2008, and on Jan. 14, 2020 for Windows Server 2008. This article covers a few upgrading and migration options for organizations looking to move to a newer platform.

Upgrade and migration options

Update to a newer version of Windows Server and SQL server

For applications that need to remain on-premise, installing a newer version of Windows Server/SQL server may be the best option. Out of all the installation choices, upgrading is the easiest way to preserve system settings.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a direct upgrade path from Windows Server 2008 directly to Server 2016 without performing a clean install. If you want to preserve your settings, the server must be upgraded to Windows Server 2012 before installing Windows server 2016 and newer. Before committing to any software change, back up the existing environment and ensure both the hardware and software vendors fully support the new OS.

Enroll in the Extended Security Update program

Upgrading or migrating all the servers at once may be impossible for larger clusters. For scenarios where only a portion of the hardware can be updated at a time, Microsoft offers the new Extended Security Update program.

Extended Security Update is the replacement for the old Premium Assurance program. Whereas Premium Assurance once offered six years of support, Extended Security Update offers three years at a reduced cost. The license can be purchased on a per-device basis to cover only machines that need the added protection.

Each Extended Security Update license can be purchased for 75 per cent of the full license cost of the latest version of SQL Server or Windows Server. The service is billed annually and can be canceled at any time.

Migrate to Azure Cloud

If network bandwidth isn’t a concern and applications do not to be kept on-premise, then migrating to the cloud stands as a solid option.

The most immediate choice is Microsoft Azure. As with all cloud computing platforms, Azure offers a vast array of performance plans. Initial operating system setup is nearly instantaneous, enabling devs to set up quick developer test environments. High-redundancy and high-availability make Azure (and most major cloud computing platforms) perfect for disaster recovery and backup as well.

Azure isn’t the only cloud computing platform available, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform are equally capable options and have their own advantages. With that said, Azure distinguishes itself by offering Extended Security Update for free. In the context of this article, Azure is the best choice for cost saving.

Even for organizations that must have on-premise hardware,  extending certain workload onto cloud have tangible benefits. A few good use cases include deploying developer test environments, exapnding the mail server, and improve backup redundancy.

Microsoft will be releasing SQL Database Managed Instance to help users transfer SQL databases on Azure. In its upgrade guide, Microsoft promises zero-downtime migration for existing SQL servers.

Alternatives and where to host them

Microsoft’s dominance in the enterprise market is significant, but many other Linux-based operating systems exist outside of it. Notable distributions include Debian, SUSE, CentOS, Fedora, Red Hat, Ubuntu, and Amazon Linux just to name a few.

Linux enterprise operating systems provide a number of advantages. First is stability. Linux is known for being reliable and has fewer unexpected failures. This truth applies to all Linux machines from desktop to large-scale servers.

One of Linux’s key principles is to have many specialized modular components that each does one thing very well. Its modularity makes them exceptionally pliant. Users can configure it to build them to have only the feature they need while keeping the option of attaching additional functions later on. This not only translates to cost savings, but also reduces attack surface and increases performance.

Then there’s license cost. Linux itself is open source, which means that anyone can use the code to create their own Linux version. Due to this, enterprise operating systems based on Linux are often far cheaper, with most of the money going towards maintenance and support. On the topic of support, many Linux distros have grown to carry extensive support. Companies like Red Hat, SUSE, and Ubuntu all offer frequent patches, feature enhancements, and security updates.

The caveat to all of this that because of their flexible nature, they’re harder to operate and maintain. Though cloud computing service vendors provide hardware maintenance, on-premise personnel could be just as costly as Microsoft Server admins.

Also, Microsoft’s overwhelming presence in the server is not unjust. For organizations already well-versed with Windows, transitioning to a newer version requires minimal training. Setup is fast and easy, and the OS is fully equipped to service immediately after deployment. It’s also extremely feature-rich, simple to operate, and have exhaustive documentation.

Hosting options are abundant. Most established cloud computing platforms can either directly install or virtualize nearly all major Linux distributions. AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud all have extensive support for operating systems including Amazon Linux, CentOS, Debian, Kali, Red Hat, SUSE, and Ubuntu.

Find out more about transition strategies on Microsoft blog, or download the comprehensive assessment guide here.

Microsoft launches new cloud, data & AI capabilities in Canada

Published: November 20th, 2018

Three new Azure services are now available for Canadian data centres, Microsoft announced last week: M-Series Virtual Machines, NC-V3 Series (GPU series) Virtual Machines and SQL Managed Instances.

“Canadian businesses are starting to truly recognize the value and business impact that comes along with adopting AI and cloud capabilities,” Khalil Alfar, general manager of Azure Cloud and enterprises business division for Microsoft Canada, wrote in a blog post.

Global AI spending is expected to reach $47 billion by 2020 thanks to AI and cloud computing changing the way industries think. Microsoft says the M-Series virtual machines offer the highest vCPU count (from eight to 128 hyper-threaded vCPUs) and largest memory (from 192 GB up to 4 TB) of any VM in the cloud, all powered by Intel Xeon 2.5 GHz E7-8890 v3 processors. Alfar wrote customers who have their data in Azure allows them to leverage Platform-as-a-Service offerings to run SAP workloads.

“With the capabilities and infrastructure to handle large in-memory workloads involving big datasets, companies are already maximizing its high-performance potential by moving SAP HANA applications to the cloud, since M-series VMs are SAP certified for all SAP workloads,” he said. “The move provides cost efficiencies, reduces commercial and technical risks, offers economies of scale, and allows customers greater access to their data.”

Microsoft says organizations still running SQL 2008/R2 can extend their legacy database’s life after the end of support date (July 9, 2019) by moving it to Azure SQL MI.

Turbonomic unveils new cloud assessment and migration capabilities for Microsoft Azure

Published: November 20th, 2018

As Microsoft’s aging server operating system and a database management system face an impending end, Turbonomic is using the opportunity to unveil its latest cloud assessment and migration capabilities for Azure.

Microsoft has announced plans to discontinue technical support for Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008, meaning anyone still on those systems will need to migrate over to Azure. Turbonomic has attached new reserved instance (RI) – also known as pre-paid capacity – purchasing capabilities for Microsoft Azure Hybrid Benefit and Azure Site Recovery (ASR) integration, meaning customers’ journey to the cloud can be completed with precision.

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make when migrating to the cloud is allocating more free space to improve performance than actually required, which leads to exorbitant costs, said Bob Wambach, Turbonomic’s vice-president of product marketing. Figuring out what kind of RI one should purchase is complex and usually takes months, and if the wrong investments are made, an organization can end up spending way more than needed due to pre-paid RIs going to waste.

“This is one of the big shocks that customers get when they migrate to the cloud. They suddenly realize the cloud is far more expensive than they had anticipated,” he told CDN.

Turbonomic’s latest RI capabilities for Azure uses an algorithm that produces a detailed analysis of what an organization’s requirements are on premises first, and then calculates the best way to run those workloads, and minimize those costs, on the cloud.

Wambach says Turbonomic is now one of Microsoft’s preferred partners for helping customers migrate to Azure.

“Microsoft is really applying policies to direct customers to Azure,” he said, adding the tech giant is leaning on its partner community to facilitate that goal. Wambach pointed to Canadian partners Long View Systems, Quisitive and Softchoice as examples of companies helping customers migrate to Azure in Canada.

“Canada has been fairly aggressive when it comes to adopting cloud and container technologies,” he said. “We are fortunate enough to not only have strong partners there, but a lot of our technical leaders are located in Canada.”

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