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SQL Server 2005: 10 steps to justify and plan your upgrade

Your decision to upgrade to SQL Server 2005 may come down to upgrade cost and time versus business improvement and competitive advantage. Edgewood Solutions' Jeremy Kadlec walks you through 10 steps to help you determine if an immediate upgrade is right for your organization.

The following tip is one of a two-part series on preparing for SQL Server 2005. Click for the other installment on our sister site, To be or not to be an early adopter.

In light of the impending SQL Server 2005 launch, many organizations are considering the upgrade but they don't know where to start or how to get from point A to point B in a timely manner. This tip outlines the top 10 high-level steps to get you on the right path to a SQL Server 2005 upgrade.

1. Upgrade justification
Finding your company's hot button to launch a SQL Server 2005 upgrade may be simple, but pushing it for technical and business management can be a challenge. Research and education is a good place to start. Consider all the issues you have experienced with your current platform and decide if SQL Server 2005 alone -- or with additional products -- will solve your business and technical challenges. Present your findings to upper management.

2. Cost and return on investment (ROI)
A portion of your upgrade decision will inevitability boil down to cost and time compared with business improvements and competitive advantages. Finding the true costs and benefits of upgrading is difficult because they are both tangible and intangible. Define them as such from business and technical perspectives. Create a list comparing tangible costs, such as licensing, estimated project hours and hardware, with improvements like decreased transaction costs, lowered support costs and time savings for processes. This can be a daunting undertaking, but for a pure financially driven decision, this information is priceless.

3. Project plan
Once you have invested time and energy into selling SQL Server's upgrade benefits to management, you must then prove your findings. Start with a project plan outlining the high-level upgrade phases, including delivery dates and necessary roles and responsibilities. Then you must determine which department will own the upgrade project and which will allocate budget for the project. Set expectations so your team understands that this technology is not only new to your organization, but new to the industry, and they will need time to get up to speed, properly test and complete the project to benefit the organization. Start with a simple pilot, learn from your mistakes to make future improvements and then begin to upgrade larger, more business-critical systems.

4. Project team
The project plan should define high-level tasks, but it will take time to educate your team members and balance expectations on existing projects. Your team must include a project champion, project manager, DBAs, developers, network administrators, testers, users, etc. Be sure not to leave out any groups at the early stages of the project. Even if the team members do not need to get involved immediately, get their input and schedule time on their calendars for when they will be needed.

5. Training
In order to properly develop and administer SQL Server-based applications, schedule training for team members, whether it is online, self paced or in a class room. Stress the importance and benefits of training to managers; without proper knowledge it is not possible to meet business needs. Visit Microsoft's free SQL Server 2005 training resources.

6. Evaluate new features
I consider SQL Server 2005 the most innovative version of SQL Server ever released. The upgrade project plan should leverage new features in later stages. For an introduction to these features, check out my recent tip: Top 10 new features in SQL Server 2005.

7. Evaluate the current environment
With the September SQL Server 2005 Community Technology Preview (CTP) Microsoft offers the SQL Server 2005 Upgrade Advisor. This application will scan SQL Server 7.0 and 2000 environments to identify deprecated features and configuration changes that should be rectified prior to upgrading.

8. Test the environment
With the vast number of changes made from SQL Server 7.0/2000 to 2005, you must conduct functional, load and regression testing: Functional testing will verify that applications will not break after the upgrade, continuing to function as normal. Load testing will ensure that application performance is acceptable with the same number of users or more after the upgrade. Regression testing will ensure that applications are backward compatible and won't break any external interfaces. Download the SQL Server 2005 September CTP to begin the process prior to the production release on Nov. 7, 2005.

9. New production hardware
If your servers are dated, no longer under warranty or require stringent uptime -- making your upgrade difficult -- consider a two-for-one upgrade: Upgrade the hardware with SQL Server 2005. By moving to a new hardware platform, you could see many benefits. For instance, the existing hardware platform could become a backup server or a development/test server once the upgrade is complete. More importantly, the existing hardware platform could serve as a worst-case scenario for the rollback plan if a severe and unexpected issue occurs during the upgrade. The original platform can support the business until the upgrade is corrected and re-executed. One last thought, check out the Windows Hardware Compatibility List to make sure your hardware purchase meets Microsoft standard specifications.

10. How to upgrade
I think all upgrades, especially database upgrades, call for two implementation plans. The first is to upgrade once the design, development and testing have completed. The second is a rollback plan to be used in case the implementation plan experiences unexpected errors, ensuring business operations continue without extended downtime. For more information about upgrading to SQL Server 2005 visit Microsoft's SQL Server Setup & Upgrade Forum.

Click for another installment on preparing for SQL Server 2005 at our sister site, To be or not to be an early adopter.

About the author: Jeremy Kadlec is the Principal Database Engineer at Edgewood Solutions, a technology services company delivering professional services and product solutions for Microsoft SQL Server. He has authored numerous articles and delivers frequent presentations at regional SQL Server Users Groups and nationally at SQL PASS. Jeremy is also the Performance Tuning expert. Ask him a question here.

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