What is Azure SQL Database Managed Instance?

Even with the prominence of cloud computing, it’s not hard to remember a time when enterprise IT applications and processes only ran on inflexible on-premises systems.

Whether it’s SQL Server 2005 or 2017, plenty of businesses are still operating with their long-term investments in local hardware. Several more have since modernised their infrastructure and enjoy the cloud's benefits.

With Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) set to become the second and third largest categories of public cloud spending in 2018, many businesses have felt the pressure to migrate to on-demand, scalable services - or risk getting left behind.

But what about companies without IT expertise or budgets who aren’t yet ready to make such a big jump forward? Is there a transition point for them to keep competitive? On Microsoft Azure, there is - and it's currently in preview.


Azure SQL Database Managed Instance overview

Azure SQL Database Managed Instance is a new capability of Azure SQL Database presently in general availability.

Managed Instance offers businesses who wish to migrate to the cloud an attractive middle-ground option between Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS).

This new service gives you a way to migrate database environments (on-premises servers, virtual machines) to the cloud without having to re-engineer legacy applications. It achieves this by providing near-complete SQL Server engine compatibility with the latest SQL Server on-premises (Enterprise Edition) Database Engine.

Currently, Managed Instance boasts most of SQL Server 2017's features, and grants network administrators full control over access and configuration using firewalls and security groups. Every instance you set up with the service is fully isolated from the other customer instances and placed in your dedicated subset, and only apps in your private network can access your Managed Instance.

Essentially, you can lift and shift your on-premises SQL databases into Azure no matter the SQL license, without the level of organisational change IaaS and PaaS demand - while reaping the full benefits of platform as a service.


Azure Managed Instance vs IaaS and PaaS

IaaS is a hybrid environment for your business that runs SQL Server on a virtual machine, while PaaS provides fully managed Azure SQL databases. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and both require significant cost and re-engineering to migrate to successfully.

  • IaaS costs are generally higher than traditional on-premises setups; while you have some of your database in the cloud and enhanced control over your environment, you still have to spend time and money maintaining and managing the infrastructure you’re renting - and it requires relevant expertise to keep applications patched.
  • PaaS is the most recommended cloud option for consolidating licensing costs and moving to a cloud-first business model, but it demands plenty of preparation and investment, extensive application re-engineering, and a willingness to let go of business-critical legacy apps that might not be compatible even after updating.

Simply put, plenty of businesses just want to move databases away from aging on-premises infrastructure and into the cloud, but don’t want to have to re-engineer their enterprise applications or face the high costs. Using Managed Instance, you can achieve this previously unavailable outcome, and access the many advantages of PaaS faster.


How does Azure Managed Instance benefit my business?

Azure SQL Managed Instance


With Managed Instance, you can leverage several operational benefits of scalable infrastructure and enterprise-grade security without the higher cost of entry of IaaS or PaaS.

Microsoft effectively operates SQL Server for you, significantly reducing your management overhead and giving you a way to experiment with what the cloud can offer your business at your own pace.

If you are unfamiliar with some of the major benefits of hosting SQL databases in the cloud, you can expect:

  • 99.99% uptime Service Level Agreement (SLA)
  • Azure AD authentication and single sign-on support (SSO)
  • Automated back-ups and backup retention
  • Automated patching and and version updates
  • Built-in high availability (HA)
  • Point-in-time database restore capability
  • Threat detection (alerts)

For companies with disparate data sources and who want to consolidate their big data for more efficient transformation and analysis with BI tools, you can further lower your total cost of ownership (TCO) by migrating your SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) packages into a managed SSIS in Azure Data Factory (ADF) environment, hosted by Managed Instance.

Managed Instance also can help companies who still run databases on end-of-life versions like SQL Server 2005 or 2008, as migrating these databases to a Managed Instance effectively extends your Microsoft support.


Cost-effective licensing with Managed Instance

The licensing model for Azure SQL Database Managed Instance is a monthly fixed cost, which is further reduced if you have Microsoft Software Assurance as part of the Azure Hybrid Benefit for SQL Server. 

Without the expense associated with application re-engineering, using Azure Managed Instance to get your databases into the cloud is great if you can’t quite invest the time and money into right-sizing your existing SQL real estate for a full dive into an Azure IaaS or PaaS environment just yet.  


Why use Azure SQL Database Managed Instance?

Azure SQL Managed Instance best suit businesses running on-premises databases on SQL Server, or running a hybrid IaaS environment, who want to move legacy apps and databases with zero need to re-engineer them, while leveraging the benefits of a fully managed service.

Ultimately, it's a helpful pathway for an eventual transition into a full hosted cloud service, as its features and capabilities are limited to the database engine. If you need more time to prepare your apps and workloads before a full move into PaaS, however, it’s a flexible option that can suit you now.

Need help assessing or migrating your on-prem SQL Servers to Azure Cloud? Find out more information about our SQL Server Migration solutions and speak to our expert consultants for a free assessment of your current estate.