Migrate SQL workloads to Microsoft Azure: Databases Trip to Azure SQL Database

In the previous article of this series, Migrate SQL workloads to Microsoft Azure: Databases trip to SQL Server on Azure VM, we went through the methods that
can be used for assessing your on-premises SQL Server databases before the migration process then migrating it to a
SQL Server instance hosted in a Microsoft Azure VM.

In this article, we will discuss how to migrate an on-premises SQL Server database to Microsoft Azure SQL Database.

Why Azure SQL Database

When migrating your SQL Server database to Microsoft Azure SQL Database, you will enjoy several benefits on the
target database platform. These benefits include:

  • Being categorized under Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) platform, Azure SQL Database removes the need to administer
    and manage the infrastructure of the hosting machines
  • Azure SQL Database provides us with an automatic backup process, with long retention period up to 10 years and
    restore the backup to a specific point in time
  • Azure SQL Database comes with built-in high availability that consists of three secondary replicas, leading to a
    99.99% availability guarantee
  • Azure SQL Database allows you to replicate your database between Azure regions, using the Active-geo replication
  • The ability to scale your Azure SQL Database up and down automatically
  • The ability to scale out your Azure SQL Database using multiple shards
  • The ability to share the compute resources between different Azure SQL Databases using the Elastic Pools model
  • Azure SQL Database provides support for Transparent Data Encryption (TDE), which is enabled by default, Dynamic
    Data Masking, Row-level Security and Always Encrypted security features
  • Azure SQL Databases provides you with two purchasing models, the DTU model for predictive costing level based on
    the provided tiers and vCore model that allows you to scale the storage and the compute individually
  • Read Scale-Out that provides you with the ability to direct the read-only SQL workloads to the secondary replica

Planning to Migrate

Before migrating your database that is hosted in an on-premises SQL Server instance to Azure SQL Database, you should prepare a pre-migration plan that contains:

  • The tools that should be used to discover and assess the current on-premises database, such as the
    Microsoft Planning and Assessment tool that can be used to review the on-premises resources and
    configurations, the Data Migration Assistant that is used to assess the on-premises database
    for any compatibility issue that may affect the migration process and provide enhancement recommendation for the
    new setup in Microsoft Azure, and the Database Experimentation Assistant tool that helps in
    assessing the current workload in the target database platform
  • The alternatives that will be used to replace some of the features and functionalities that are not supported in Azure SQL Database. For example:

    • The SQL Server Agent Jobs, that can be replaced by the Azure Automation and Elastic Database jobs
    • The Windows Authentication logins that can be replaced by Azure Active Directory Authentication

    And other features and functionalities that are no longer available in Azure SQL Database. Check the Features Comparison documentation for your reference

  • Consider performing some changes on the source or target database that may speed up the migration process. For
    example, you can disable the auto-statistics, partition the database tables and indexes, drop the indexed views
    and move the historical data to another database and migrate it separately. Once the migration completed, you
    can update the statistics and recreate all the dropped objects

Create Azure SQL Database

In order to migrate the database to Microsoft Azure SQL Database, we should prepare the target Azure SQL Database.
To achieve that, search for SQL Databases in Azure Portal and click on Create SQL database option,
as shown below:

Create SQL Database

In the Create SQL Database window, provide the subscription under which the database will be created, specify an
existing Resource Group to host that database or create a new one, provide a unique name for the Azure SQL Database
and choose the logical SQL Server where the database will be hosted from the existing SQL Servers or create a new

When creating a new SQL Server to host that Azure SQL Database, provide a unique name for that server, the region
where the server will be created and the credentials that will be used to connect to and administer that server.

You will be asked also to specify whether to create a single database or use an elastic pool to host that database,
with other databases that share the same resources pool.

Finally, configure the resources that will be assigned to the created database. It is highly recommended to assign
the highest possible service tier and compute size based on the planned budget to get the best transfer performance,
with the ability to scale the Microsoft Azure SQL Database down when you finish the migration process to lower the

After configuring the new Azure SQL Database, click Review + Create to proceed with the Azure SQL
Database creation, as shown below:

Create SQL Database page

Take into consideration that, we may need only to create an Azure SQL Server for some migration methods, while we
need an empty Azure SQL Database to migrate using other methods.

Once created, open the Azure SQL Database then review and edit the configurations of that database to meet your
requirements, before migrating the on-premises SQL database to Azure, as below:

Azure SQL database created

To be able to connect to the Azure SQL Database from your machine, click on the Set server firewall
option and choose to Add Client IP from the firewall settings page, as shown below:

Set Server Firewall

After that, copy the FQDN name of the SQL Server that is hosting the Azure SQL Database from the portal, and use the
SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) to connect to that server from your machine, providing the previously defined
administrator account credentials, as shown below:

Connect to SQL Server

If your IP address is not added yet to the Azure SQL Database Firewall Settings page, SSMS will notify you to sign
in to Azure in order to create the firewall rule that allows access to the IP address of your machine, as shown

Sign In and add Firewall Rule

When the firewall rule is created, you will be able to connect to the Azure SQL Database, review the database
configurations and apply any changes required before the migration process, as shown below:

Connected to Azure SQL DB

Migrate to Azure SQL Database

SQL Server provides us with three main methods that can be used to migrate your database from your on-premises SQL
Server to the Microsoft Azure SQL Database, taking into consideration that you already performed all compatibility
checks and assessments and confirm that the database can be migrated to the Azure SQL Database with no blocking
issue. The decision of choosing the migration tool depends on your migration requirements and the downtime confirmed
in the migration plan. These methods are:

  • The Data Migration Assistant tool, which can be used to assess your SQL database hosted in an
    on-premises SQL Server instance for any compatibility or migration blocking issue, fix the identified issues
    then migrate the consistent database to a single or pooled Azure SQL Database. You can use the Data Migration
    Assistant tool if your database is not very business-critical and can tolerate downtime
  • Using BACPAC, by importing the on-premises SQL Server database into the Azure SQL Database
    using a BACPAC file generated from the source database and stored in an Azure Blob Storage. Again, you can use
    this method to migrate your database if your database is not very business-critical and can tolerate downtime
  • Using SQL Server Transactional Replication, where you can take snapshot from your on-premises
    database then apply it to the Azure SQL Database and keep the publisher and the subscriber in sync state until
    the planned migration point where you need only to point the users to connect to the Azure SQL Database then
    remove the replication. This method is the best migration method for the business-critical databases, as it
    migrates the database with minimal possible downtime

In this demo, we will use the BACPAC method to migrate our database from an on-premises SQL Server instance to the
Microsoft Azure SQL Database.

First, we need to generate a BACPAC file from the database that we plan to migrate to Microsoft Azure. To achieve
that, right-click on the database to be migrated, and choose the Export Data-tier Application…
option, under the Tasks list, as shown below:

Export Data-tier Application

In the Export Settings window, choose to save the BACPAC file to Microsoft Azure by connecting to
the Azure Storage account and the blob container where the BACPAC file will be saved, then click
Next to proceed, as below:

Export Settings

Review the Summary page then start the BACPAC file generation. Monitor the file generation and make sure there is no
blocking issue during the file generation, then click Close when the file is generated
successfully, as shown below:

File generated

You can also connect to the target storage account to verify that the file is generated, as below:

Blob verification

Now, connect to the Azure SQL Server that we created previously and click on Import Database option:

Import Database option

From the Import Database window, connect to the storage account where the BACPAC file is stored and select the
previously generated BACPAC file, provide a unique name for the database and the administrative credentials to
connect to the SQL Server and import the database, then click OK to import the database to the Microsoft Azure SQL
Server, as shown below:

Import Database window

Monitor the progress of the database import process and make sure that there is no issue faced during the import
process. Once imported, you can verify by refreshing the databases lists hosted under that Azure SQL Server or by
connecting to the Microsoft Azure SQL Server from your machine using SSMS, as shown below:

Verify database creation


In this article, we discussed the benefits that we can gain from hosting our databases in the Microsoft Azure SQL
Databases and the different methods that can be used to migrate your on-premises SQL Server database to Azure.

In the next article, we will see how to migrate an on-premises SQL Server database to Microsoft Azure SQL Managed
Instance. Stay tuned!

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Ahmad Yaseen
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