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The Upgrade Dilemmas

Pros and cons of upgrading to SQL Server 2012, Windows Server 2012, and Windows 8

Talk about an embarrassment of riches. Calendar year 2013 is shaping up to be a year when many businesses will be faced with upgrade decisions about core components of their IT infrastructures. For Microsoft customers, 2013 might as well be called the year of the upgrade. Database professionals are potentially faced with upgrades at virtually every significant level in the IT infrastructure. The new SQL Server 2012 release is undoubtedly the core release that almost all SQL Server database professional will be interested in. But the dilemma only begins there. There are also potentially significant upgrades at both the Windows Server OS level and the client OS level with the pending releases of Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8.

What are some of the key pros and cons for upgrading to SQL Server 2012? The number-one feature in SQL Server 2012 is AlwaysOn Availability Groups. This feature enables both high availability and disaster recovery, and the replicas can be used for backup and reporting—giving you a higher return on your server investments. The new AlwaysOn Availability Groups would be valuable for any organization using failover clustering or database mirroring. Another tangible benefit of upgrading to SQL Server 2012 is the ability to run on Server Core, which reduces the need to patch your database servers. Other SQL Server 2012 features, such as Power View, tend to be more business-specific. Yet another big consideration in moving to SQL Server 2012 is its new core-based licensing (which in some cases could make upgrading more expensive).

The pros of upgrading to Windows Server 2012 can be pretty compelling, but there are important considerations here as well. If you're using Hyper-V for virtualization, or considering it, then a Server 2012 upgrade is almost a done deal. Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V supports up to 320 cores and 4TB of host RAM. It also supports virtual machines (VMs) with up to 64 vCPUs and 1TB of RAM. This clearly brings Server 2012 Hyper-V on par with VMware and in some cases it exceeds vSphere. In addition, Server 2012 provides support for 64-node clusters and built-in support for Hyper-V Replica, Shared Nothing Live Migration, and NIC teaming—all huge advancements. Even if you’re not into Hyper-V virtualization, the new SMB 2.2 support lets you install SQL Server to SMB shares and provides much better performance and availability for file share access. But again, you need to look out for cost changes, because Server 2012 is moving to a processor-based licensing model. Plus, if the release candidate (RC) is any indication, Server 2012 will force most users to cope with the Metro interface—and there will be a learning curve.

 Finally, the pros and cons of moving to Windows 8 are quite a bit more complex. Windows 8 comes with the new Metro interface and brings forward a set of enterprise features that were mainly carried over from Windows 7—features such as BitLocker, BranchCache, and DirectAccess. The big push for Windows 8 seems to be the touch-enabled interface. The price certainly seems right, with early upgrade pricing set at $39.99. There's no doubt that the Metro interface will require training. Plus, the market for touch-enabled devices and monitors is really just emerging. To me, this decision boils down to whether you expect to adopt Windows 8 tablets (e.g., the Surface) in the coming year. If not, then this might be an upgrade you'll want to postpone for a while—especially if you’ve recently made the move to Windows 7.

Where are you in the upgrade dilemma? Share your thoughts and drop us a line at [email protected].

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