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Dizzying Array of Landing Places for SQL Server 2005 Customers

When support for Microsoft SQL Server 2005 expires on April 12, Microsoft partners will have more choices than ever as far as Microsoft-approved migration paths for their customers. Many of those choices would seem very strange to those partners' 2005 or 2006 selves, who moved those customers onto SQL Server 2005 in the first place.

The first option is an old-fashioned approach -- upgrading customers to SQL Server 2014 or getting them ready for SQL Server 2016 when it is generally available later this year. Also familiar from the old Microsoft playbook is a parallel campaign to attract Oracle customers to the SQL Server platform.

Different, more timely and more interesting approaches available this time, or in the near future, are shifting customers' SQL workloads into the Azure cloud and, most notably, allowing them to run SQL Server on Linux.

Al Hilwa, an IDC analysts covering software development, contends no one should be surprised by now to see Microsoft separate SQL Server from its Windows Server dependency. SQL Server support for Linux is expected in mid-2017.

"At this point of the game we should understand that Microsoft means business as a multi-platform and open source player and begin to be less surprised by these 'hell freezing over' announcements," Hilwa said in an e-mail sent to reporters about the SQL-on-Linux move earlier this month.

"Azure is a full-service cloud that is intended to compete at the highest level of the market and competing on Linux is a must, not a choice. That Microsoft products like SQL Server have to come to Linux over time is also a business must," Hilwa said.

Beneath the headline-level surprises, such as SQL on Linux, are more significant changes in what Microsoft is asking its partners to do.

In the old days, it was enough for partners to handle the forklift upgrade project. Customers on an old version of SQL Server? Great, get trained on the differences in the next few versions and the vagaries of the migration process, and move them over. Project done.

More recently, Microsoft is showing a lot less love for partners who do that kind of straightforward work -- be it SQL upgrades, Exchange upgrades, SharePoint upgrades or Windows Server upgrades. Partly that's because Microsoft has made such big investments in its cloud infrastructure. Mostly it's because fewer customers seem to want that infrastructure on-premises, and they're getting more comfortable every day with moving vanilla infrastructure into the cloud.

There's still training and a need for partners to do the straightforward on-premise-to-on-premise SQL upgrade, as evidenced by one of the opportunities highlighted this week in a blog post by Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group.

But look carefully at Sorgen's statement about where he's hoping partners will head.

"Beyond any single launch or feature release, we want to make sure you're ready to support your customers with a long-term data strategy, helping them become modern, data-driven businesses. In the past, making sense of data was a task reserved for experts and dedicated data scientists. With our new data platform and analytics capabilities, it's easier than ever to crunch the numbers and turn data into actionable intelligence," Sorgen said.

That's consistent with the "tackle Big Data projects" mantra Microsoft has been repeating to partners over the last few years. Microsoft senior executives have been trying to get partners to move up the value stack into helping customers with business intelligence, data analytics and machine learning projects to wring value out of the ever-expanding piles of business data they've been collecting.

What Microsoft wants now are partners who understand how to move workloads and customers to Azure or hybrid cloud deployments. They want partners who not only understand the technology but also understand their customers' businesses at a deep level.

The favored Microsoft partner of the near future is the one who can show a customer how to use Big Data to achieve business insights in their vertical, not just the one who can get the SQL Server database up and running.

Sorgen noted that Microsoft's latest tools, like Power BI, make it easier than ever to crunch the numbers. That's undoubtedly true, but that doesn't mean it will be easy for partners to make a business of it. The skillset required to handle a SQL Server upgrade is very different from the one that can help a customer leverage data for business insights. It used to be that partners could succeed by just understanding the technology of SQL Server. Now business expertise is becoming table stakes, as well.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 24, 2016


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