T-SQL Tuesday #147 – Upgrade Strategies

Thanks to Steve Jones for hosting February month of T-SQL Tuesday! This month T-SQL Tuesday is all about database upgrades.

When I started my first job as a DBA seven years ago, my project was to migrate several SQL Servers and all the servers were in SQL Server 2000. In my first SQL class at my school, I started my learning with SQL Server 2012. It was a shock to me to work on SQL 2000 databases at the time (as I am not familiar with the SQL Server 2000 yet), especially as it was my first job as a DBA.

My first project was to migrate approximately two hundred and fifty SQL 2000 SQL Servers to SQL Server 2012/2016. It took us a couple of years to successfully migrate all these Servers.

I would like to answer the below questions from Steve Jones for this T-SQL Tuesday:

Why do we wait to upgrade?

Fear! Fear of breaking things or impacting performance, I believe. Especially when you are making a big jump in the versions of SQL Server. The old legacy applications may or may not support the newer SQL Server environments. Rebuilding the application can take years, involve more developers and cost more. I believe, many companies are still using the older versions of SQL Server even after the end of support. Some companies are fine to be on legacy systems if their application works fine.

Strategies for testing an upgrade

When I migrated SQL Server 2000 databases, there was a lot of work that needs to be done before even planning for testing. There was deprecated T-SQL syntax like joins were no longer supported in SQL 2008 version of SQL Server. Legacy DTS packages need to be converted or rebuilt to be compatible with the latest version of SQL Server. By using the upgrade advisor and Migration assistant tool, it is easy to capture the incompatible objects. These objects need to be modified to make them compatible ahead of time. If these lists of objects are modified by developers in between, capturing those changes to the modified objects is important. Testing can be done using the backup and restore. You can skip SQL Server 2005 to upgrade the SQL database from SQL 2000 to SQL 2008. Running the compatible object script on SQL 2000 test database is recommended so the upgrade advisor can be run over the SQL 2000 database to confirm no more compatibility issues. Once the database is in SQL 2008 mode, there are very less T-SQL deprecated changes and so easy to upgrade.

Testing the SSIS packages after being migrated from legacy DTS packages is important. Once the database is upgraded on test environments, vigorous testing for any code breakages and application testing is important.

Smoke tests or other ways to verify the upgrade worked

I believe this depends upon the database and the type of applications. When you have databases having the same schema on several servers with similar environments, testing one database upgrade can confirm the other database upgrades to work. There are always caveats in these cases as well.

Moving to the cloud to avoid upgrades

Many companies are moving to cloud infrastructure as there is less maintenance when compared with on-prem environments and to lower their costs. I believe moving into the cloud is one of the options and the reason may not only be to avoid upgrades but to improve the performance and for lowering the costs.

Using compatibility levels to upgrade an instance by not a database

This can be an option to place the database in older compatibility mode even after upgrading the database to the latest versions of SQL Server like SQL Server 2019 but to use the features that are enabled for the latest compatibility databases cannot be used. Features like Query store can be used on older compatibility mode (up to SQL 2008) even after upgrading to newer versions of SQL Server. Though this is an option available, it is not suggested to place the database in older compatibility mode for a longer time.

Checklists of things to use in planning

  1. Using tools like Migration assistant will help identify the incomptibility objects list that needs to be modified to make the code compatible with lastest versions of SQL Server.
  2. Capacity planning
  3. Gathering the deprecated and unsupported feature list for the version of SQL Server you are moving to is important.
  4. Making sure the SSIS packages are tested properly.
  5. Gathering the logins and associated permissions (I used sp_hexadecimal and sp_help_revlogin)
  6. Making sure to take the backup of the database before migration and to place the copy of the database on source server for quick rollback if needed.
  7. Testing is needed if additional features like replication is being used. Making sure the publisher, subscriber have supportive versions of SQL Server to replicate the data.
  8. Making sure to script out the linked servers.
  9. Capturing performance baseline is an option to chose if you would like to use Query store. After upgrading the database to new version of SQL Server, place the database in the compatibility level similar to the compatibility level prior to the upgrade. This will help capture the regressions caused by any plans after the upgrade. We can easily compare the plan regressions and fix the performance issues quickly. To know more about capturing baselines using Query store, please see my blog post here.
  10. What method you plan to migrate a database is important. It depends on how much downtime is accepted for your database and application. Some of the methods to migrate databases are to backup and restore, detach and attach or using full, differential and transactional log backups for less downtime.

These are a couple of things to consider during planning. This list does not contain all the planning information but gives an overview.

The time it takes to upgrade your environment

I believe the time to upgrade the database depends on how large the database is and how many dependent features needs to be moved like for example, replication, whether the application needs to make any changes, what method is used to restore the database on destination (copy files to destination server can take time if the database is huge).

What do you evaluate in making a decision to upgrade or not?

I believe, checking what new features will be used by your database and application after the upgrade is important. Testing is a crucial part to evaluate the SQL engine, database features, and performance benefits after the upgrade. The latest cardinality estimates provide a better estimate which can help SQL engine to create an optimal plan. There are many other features that have been added to SQL Server over the years in improving the performance of the Queries and workloads.

These are some of my thoughts about the database upgrades. I would like to read and learn from the experiences of other SQL family members.

Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “T-SQL Tuesday #147 – Upgrade Strategies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s