Managing technical debt and legacy investments: Microsoft SQL Server 2012

In our previous blog, Understanding and eradicating your technical debt, we looked at the concept of ‘technical debt’ in software estates. At how, without proper attention to detail or if upgrades have been passed over one too many times, technical debt can accumulate massively. That, if businesses rely on outdated systems which can no longer be supported by Publishers, they will find themselves with a huge bill to pay as maintenance and upgrade costs add up, and the gap between what an infrastructure should be and what it is in actuality continues to widen.

With Microsoft SQL 2012 coming to the end of its long-term support in July 2022 (and both Windows 2012 and Windows 2012 R2 extended support ending in October 2023), we thought it pertinent to revisit the topic and offer our advice and best practices for how organizations can manage such legacy systems to avoid a significant amount of technical debt.

 

The MS SQL debt is back again

When Microsoft SQL Server 2008 went out of long-term support in July 2019, organizations were faced with a range of challenges. Despite the advanced end-of-life communications issued by Microsoft, IT and Procurement teams found themselves in the dark and many hadn’t prepared fully for the overhaul of their Microsoft systems, leaving them facing significant risks and costs associated with the technical debt they had accumulated. 

Organizations are in danger of treading the same path when SQL 2012 support comes to an end, particularly since this version has had a huge impact on the Microsoft landscape for many organizations, with its new attributes and capabilities at the time making it very popular. So much so that it is only now that we are starting to see organizations move to SQL 2016.

The wider business risks – from commercial and compliance perspectives – that come with running unsupported SQL versions and accumulating technical debt in this way should make preparing for the end of 2012’s support a priority. With the cloud-based Azure SQL version now also available, it truly is time to move on.

 

Understanding the cost of MS SQL technical debt

Microsoft SQL Servers come with a 10-year fixed lifecycle policy during which two types of support are provided – five years of mainstream support (functional, performance, scalability and security updates) followed by five years of extended support (essential security updates only). After this, Microsoft is not obliged to provide any further support – immediately introducing technical debt that comes with new security risks and costs for anyone running older versions. Below are our key considerations and reasons why moving away from SQL 2012 (and many other legacy systems for that matter) is a business-critical move:

 

Extended Support Updates are expensive – If you are not ready to upgrade or make a move to cloud, you can purchase an Extended Security Updates subscription to receive critical security updates. However, this is only available for up to three years past the end of the support date, you must have Software Assurance, and it is an extremely costly solution, costing up to 75% of the on-premise license cost annually.

 

The risk factors will increase – Keeping data secure is a fundamental aspect of business today, but by sticking to unsupported software or servers, organizations are opening themselves up to a greater number of threats, and providing cyber criminals the opportunity to infiltrate vulnerable applications and systems. The 2017 WannaCry attack on the NHS is a prime example of the dangers of technical debt, where hackers took advantage of unsupported Microsoft products that were still being used by tens of thousands of NHS devices. Products such as SQL add further complications as it is a database platform creating additional risks in areas such as GDPR.

 

Infrastructure transformation can become more complicated – Legacy technology dependencies are often the major reason migrations, such as cloud, fail to complete on time. Technical debt adds complexity, increasing disruption and management overhead as it takes more time and resources for an organization to remediate the issue. There is also the impact to commercial contract value as transformations cannot by deployed as planned, and deadlines move beyond permitted licensing benefits. If upgrades are continually postponed, and technical debt is accumulated, the scope of transformation moves from one of just infrastructure to the entire application stack.

 

Third-party support will also end – As with all Publishers, if you purchase your Microsoft products through a reseller or other third-party, it is more than likely that most will cease their application support at the same time as the Publisher, leaving you even further exposed.

 

Our advice

We know that upgrading can be a disruptive, expensive and a potentially risky undertaking – for large, complex organizations in particular. But to avoid the risks and costs of acquiring technical debt, it can be a critical move. With the right plan in place and by getting ahead of game, a streamlined, cost-effective and secure transition is more than possible. Here is our advice on how to prepare for SQL 2012’s imminent end and transform your approach to technical debt in general:

 

Have a plan – We know that change is coming, and organizations should take this time to prepare for the disruption the 2012 end-of-life will cause. Look now at how you will tackle an update and don’t make the same mistakes as with 2008 – how much time will you need to migrate over to the new version? Will you require outside expertise to help manage the transition? Will you need to take all the licenses from the previous version with you? Will you move fully to Azure or another cloud platform? Start now to make the change as smooth and as pain-free as possible.

 

Identify out of date software – The first step in your plan should be to identify where exactly you are running unsupported end-of-life software and the dependencies that sit around them. Livingstone’s Hub platform and services can help identify where these instances reside.

 

Identify your business-critical applications – Look at which applications need updating as a priority, especially where there is related database risk e.g., storing valuable customer information. You may even find during this exercise that you don’t even need all of licenses or applications you once had, giving you a chance to make your estate leaner and optimized.

 

Evaluate your options – Cloud is clearly one option available to mitigate technical debt risk. As an example, Microsoft Azure (Virtual Machine or SQL Database service) provides a relatively pain and risk-free process and enables organizations to have access to the newest SQL version and features on a subscription basis. Microsoft also offers Extended Security Updates for free. If Azure is an option, Livingstone’s cloud services can help you plan your move, monitor the migration and optimize your consumption and costs afterwards.

Consider technical debt as part of a continual software portfolio review process – Tracking and assessing technical debt, no matter the Publisher, on an ongoing basis ensures pro-active management information on the implications. By continually assessing your software/cloud portfolio, you can gain a true understanding of the commercial, operational, and technical risks that you may have, and how they can be planned for and mitigated.

 

If you would like any further information regarding any of the points discussed in this blog, please get in touch with one of our experts.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Chris Gough, Chief Strategy Officer

Gemma Walker, Licensing Lead – Lead SAM Consultant

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