Almost every agency business function relies on at least one database. These range from complex web applications that facilitate citizen interactions to internal applications that help agencies operate. But as SQL Server 2005 reaches its end of support, many IT managers realize their databases run on outdated technology. While IT leaders acknowledge an update is due, many are hesitant to make major investments in on-premises technology due to the increasing use of cloud computing platforms.
Later this year, Microsoft will release SQL Server 2016. For agencies coming off SQL Server 2005 or simply seeking a technology upgrade, SQL Server 2016’s arrival offers agencies the opportunity to leverage cloud resources suited to their culture and risk tolerance.
SQL Server 2016 will integrate tightly with Microsoft Azure, providing technology to seamlessly shift database content between on-premises infrastructure and the public cloud. State and local governments don’t commonly require certification of cloud computing platforms but may rest easier knowing that the federal government has certified Azure through its Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP).
Agencies that aren’t ready for an all-in cloud database migration will benefit from SQL Server 2016’s phased migration approach. This allows agencies to migrate at their own pace. They can start with low-risk, high-reward options and then gradually progress to a stretched database approach.
SQL Server 2016 offers migration assistance that provides a straightforward method for migrating on-premises databases to the Azure cloud platform, making an easy transition for agencies ready to move to the cloud.
State and local governments create and store many records critical to the effective functioning of government. From property ownership records to parking tickets, the records that agencies maintain provide lasting value for operational, strategic and historical purposes.
Public sector IT professionals must design highly resilient disaster recovery programs that restore data and operations in the aftermath of a catastrophe. Until the advent of cloud computing, resiliency solutions required significant investments in physical facilities that were geographically separated.
SQL Server 2016 will provide an integrated capability that allows database administrators to back up on-premises databases to the Azure cloud with minimal configuration. After walking through a wizard-based interface, administrators may configure their on-premises SQL Server instances to send both full database and transaction log backups to Azure BLOB Storage for preservation.
Agencies may choose from a variety of storage options that provide up to 99.9 percent availability. Azure also features enhanced durability, where up to six copies of data can be written to one or more cloud data centers. Of course, higher durability options come with higher storage costs.
Database tables continue to increase in size, creating new challenges for government. Agencies must balance access to large amounts of data with the limitations of data storage infrastructures.
To combat this, SQL Server 2016 will offer stretch database technology. This allows agencies to keep current data on-premises while archiving historical data to Azure. SQL Server will allow bidirectional data transfer between the two environments in a fully encrypted format. The result is a highly scalable database platform that retains the high performance of an on-premises database while providing the near-infinite long-term storage capacity of the cloud.
Stretch databases use Microsoft’s Transparent Data Encryption technology to fully encrypt database content, both at rest and in transit between on-premises databases and the cloud.
Agencies may add an additional layer of encryption for particularly sensitive database columns that use encryption keys available only to the agency. The use of these security technologies addresses many of the data confidentiality concerns that might make agency administrators hesitant to adopt cloud technologies.
Cloud providers recognize that government computing needs differ from those of the private sector, building dedicated environments that meet the government’s specific security and reliability standards. Microsoft’s Azure Government remains the gold standard in this domain.
Some agencies, such as the Los Angeles Police Department and King County, Wash., already use cloud technology to meet growing computing and storage needs. As other agencies consider this type of move, they may decide to fully migrate some or all their database operations to a cloud platform.
Agencies running Microsoft SQL Server 2016 will be well suited to migrate from an on-premises database approach to government cloud offerings. SQL Server 2016 will provide a migration wizard that helps administrators select and configure database instances in Microsoft Azure and then move system objects and SQL Server settings along with their data.
Cloud platforms are clearly the future of state and local government computing. The scalability, agility and resiliency they offer present tremendous benefits over on-premises deployments, while harnessing unprecedented economies of scale.
Until now, enterprise database platforms moved to the cloud at a slower rate than many other services, but emerging technology promises to accelerate migration efforts.