Azure SQL Database vs. SQL Server: Rent or Own?

Azure SQL Database
Azure SQL Database Continuum (image courtesy of Microsoft Channel 9)

Do you own your own home or do you rent? Most of us have faced this choice and the decision depends on your individual needs at a particular time. Selecting a version of SQL Server is similar, with some of the same considerations. Your choices in the market are Azure SQL Database, SQL Server on an Azure Virtual Machine, and traditional on-premise SQL Server. Azure SQL Database is like renting an apartment, while on-premise SQL Server is like buying your own home. SQL Server on an Azure VM is more like buying a condo. Rent or own – the decision depends on your requirements.

Azure SQL Database

Azure SQL Database is a cloud-based database service that provides low-maintenance access to relational database functionality. The hardware and software infrastructure is owned, hosted and maintained by Microsoft. It does, however, have some limitations. Because it is a virtual database instance with shared physical resources, Azure SQL has restrictions on what users can do.

When you create a database, for example, you have no control over database files and disk placement. The service imposes resource thresholds so that any bad behavior doesn’t upset the neighbors. With Azure SQL Database, you can move in quickly, but you can’t play music too loud or tear down any walls. If you need a low-maintenance environment with basic functionality, Azure SQL Database may be right for you.

SQL Server

SQL Server, on the other hand, is like owning your own home. It offers full functionality and the freedom to build your environment any way you like.   You have full control over your property; you can renovate the kitchen, paint the walls red, plant tomatoes in the garden. With that freedom comes responsibility, however. IT staff must administer all infrastructure, including the physical hardware, network, disk configuration, SQL Server configuration, backups, security and disaster recovery. If your organization requires a high degree of control and has the expertise to do it, traditional SQL Server may be your best choice.

SQL Server on Azure VM

Want to eliminate some of the hassle of upkeep and maintenance? SQL Server on an Azure VM offers a hybrid solution. The hardware and operating system provisioning and maintenance is done for you, but the SQL Server itself is fully under your control. Like owning a condo, you can paint the walls and renovate the kitchen, but never have to worry about mowing the lawn or fixing the roof. For those that want the best of both worlds, SQL Server on an Azure VM offers a viable solution.

So which database solution is the best fit for your organization?

Rent or own – each offers its own benefits and limitations. The choice depends on what you need, when you need it, and how much you are willing to invest. Azure SQL Database, on-premise SQL Server, or SQL Server on Azure VM: one of them will work for you.

In a future post, I’ll elaborate on the specific limitations of Azure SQL Databases and possible work-arounds.

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