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Managing SQL Azure database isn’t no-fuss, but it’s close

It takes work to manage a SQL Azure database, but not much, according to consultant Don Jones. Find out what tasks DBAs need to perform to keep Microsoft’s cloud service running smoothly.

If your organization is considering moving some of its databases to a cloud service like Microsoft’s SQL Azure database platform, you might wonder what that means for you as a database administrator (DBA) -- however “reluctant” you are in taking on those duties.

The good news is that the answer is “pretty much the same thing.”

At the server level, you’ll actually have a bit less to worry about. Performance won’t necessarily be your problem (though keep reading; you’ll still have a role to play). Backing up the database and ensuring reliability become Microsoft’s problem, too, not yours. Replication isn’t something you’ll need to worry about, and the physical servers are also out of your control. You won’t need to worry about file groups, defragmenting hard disks or any other physical-level stuff.

Everything inside the database is still your problem, and performance will still be a concern. Microsoft’s charges for SQL Azure are based, in part, on the amount of computing power you use. Poorly written queries run against poorly maintained databases will require more computing power, making your database more expensive. It’s therefore more important than ever that your indexes are well-maintained and well-tuned, so a regular maintenance plan that includes index reorganization is a good idea.

Don’t overdo it, of course; indexes with a low fill factor will take more disk space in the cloud, and you’ll pay for that, too. The computing power needed to reorganize or rebuild an index is also something you’ll pay for. So you’ll have to pay closer attention to the health of your indexes: Are they defragmented and do they have a lot of page splits? Then a reorg or rebuild is probably called for.

You won’t rely on Performance Monitoring to watch performance, but rather SQL Azure’s Dynamic Management Views. You’ll pick up a new administrative task, too: SQL Azure’s firewall, which is how you control access to your SQL Azure instance. You can still back up your database, and it’s not a bad idea to do so regularly; that way, you’ll have a local copy in case something terrible happens to your data. Remember, Microsoft is responsible for ensuring its availability, but the company’s not responsible for protecting the data against accidental, unwanted changes -- so you’ll need your own backup to protect against that.

Many of your tools will remain the same, since SQL Azure responds to the same management console, PowerShell commands and other management tools that an on-premises SQL Server instance would use. There are a few differences, of course, but Microsoft has good guidance on those differences, such as when running Sqlcmd.exe or Bcp.exe.

All in all, managing a SQL Azure database isn’t much different than managing an on-premises database. Many of your tasks will be the same, although you’ll need to run them through the filter of how Azure charges: disk space, computing power, bandwidth, and transactions. Some tasks, such as those associated with physical server administration, are Microsoft’s problem, making your job just a bit easier.

Don Jones is a Microsoft Most Valued Professional and a senior partner and principal technologist at Concentrated Technology, an IT education, strategic consulting and analysis firm. Contact him at

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