A huge chunk of my career has been in the SQL Server realm – developing Crystal Reports that consume SQL Server results, learning SQL Server administration so that I could ramp up as the sole DBA, building SSIS packages for ETL, standing up SQL Server Reporting Services for another client, teaching a SQL Server Admin course for the local community college, and writing SQL curriculum. I lived in on-prem SQL Server, one foot in data administration and another in the data developer realm. When things started moving to “the cloud”, I worried about how things could change with Azure SQL. Thankfully, the docs back then had a lot of guidance on getting started. Nowadays, there are EVEN MORE DOCS and Microsoft Learn. So let me show you some of the resources for you to get started with Azure SQL TODAY!
What is Azure SQL?
Azure SQL is a collection of Microsoft’s offerings of SQL Server in their cloud. There’s more to it than just a database platform, so let me break it down further.
There are a few paths to be aware of:
- SQL Server in Azure Virtual Machines – the infrastructure-as-a-service solution
- Azure SQL Managed Instance – the platform-as-a-service solution
- Azure SQL Database – the database-as-a-service solution
If you prefer to compare these options, Microsoft has a comparison table to show how these three offerings compare.
SQL Server in Azure Virtual Machines
When moving from on-prem to the cloud, you might want to consider the possibility of moving your on-prem setup to a virtual setup using Azure networking and virtual machines. If you need to manage your infrastructure, consider virtual machines for SQL Server. SQL Server can run in both Windows and Linux. The docs have great quickstarts to assist with getting started:
- SQL Server on a Windows Virtual Machine
- SQL Server on a Linux Virtual Machine via the Azure portal
If you have questions about SQL Server on VMs, check out their frequently asked questions. The FAQ includes topics such as licensing, images, administration, and general questions.
Azure SQL Managed Instance
If you need to manage a SQL Server application at scale but don’t need to manage infrastructure, the Azure SQL Managed Instance (MI) platform may be the offering for you. Azure SQL MI has near 100% compatibility with the latest SQL Server engine, making it another option for lifting on-prem SQL and shifting to Azure. SQL MI means that the automatic patching, automated backups, and hardware for high availability are all managed on the Microsoft-side of things. You do not need to have hardware ready to swap in case of failover.
There are some T-SQL differences to be aware of between SQL Server on-prem and Azure SQL MI. Check out this article on Azure SQL Managed Instance vs SQL Server differences.
If you want to get started today with using Azure SQL MI, check out their quickstart for creating an Azure SQL Managed Instance.
Azure SQL Database
The relational database-as-a-service offering the Azure SQL collection is known as Azure SQL Database. Azure SQL Database does have some differences compared to Azure SQL MI.
- Azure SQL Database supports the change data capture on tiers S3 and above, whereas Azure SQL MI supports it on all SKUs.
- Azure SQL Database always uses the default server collation of
SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS, whereas Azure SQL MI allows you to set a collation at instance creation time.
- Azure SQL Database has Ledger support. Azure SQL MI does not.
- Machine Learning Services are available for Azure SQL MI, but not for Azure SQL Database.
For more comparisons between Azure SQL Database and Azure SQL MI, check out this table of comparisons between them.
Like Azure SQL MI, there are T-SQL differences between Azure SQL Database and SQL Server. Check out this article on T-SQL differences between SQL Server and Azure SQL Database.
Migrating to Azure SQL
If you’re in a position of needing to migrate to Azure SQL, Microsoft has you covered! Check out the articles in Migrate to Azure SQL.
Is there a free tier?
Learn More about Azure SQL
These are some additional resources for getting started with Azure SQL:
- Azure SQL video series
- Microsoft Learn: Azure SQL fundamentals (learning path)
- Microsoft Learn: Work with relational data in Azure (learning path)
- Microsoft Learn: Automate database tasks for Azure SQL (learning path)
- Data Exposed – a show on Microsoft Learn about all things data – cloud and on-prem, big and small