Legacy Limits

We are seeing changes to the SQL Server platform every month in Azure. Since that’s the same codebase used to product SQL Server on premise, that means the enhancements are not only being tested in the cloud, but they are available for release on a regular basis. SQL Server has been on a two year release cycle for major versions, but things are speeding up and I expect a new version (SQL Server 2017?) around a year after the last version (SQL Server 2016) was released.

My thoughts are that this cadence will mean that many of us with more than a dozen servers will end up supporting more versions of SQL Server in the future. New applications will want newer versions, as do the employees, but there isn’t always a business case to upgrade all the older instances. If we were to see new versions every 18 months, given a 5-7 year life cycle (the standard support time frame) for database servers, I would expect that many of us would be always supporting the last 4-5 versions of SQL Server. If we go to a ten year life cycle (may be more realistic to me), then we would be looking at 6-8 versions.

If you think ten years is too long, SQL Server 2005 is just over 11 years old. How many of those instances do you support? SQL Server 2008 is almost 9 years old and I bet a few of you have those instances around. Certainly if you have a support agreement and you have applications that use fairly core SQL Server features you can upgrade, but certainly keyword and language behavior changes might limit your flexibility.

I read a piece recently noting that many organizations still use Windows XP for various systems. A number of the reasons given are to support legacy hardware or software. Some don’t have replacement versions of the hardware/software, or can’t find any value in managing an upgrade. The same issues hold true for SQL Server. I did some work for a company in 2008 that was still running a SQL Server 6.5 instance to support their keycard system. The database was virtualized, worked fine with Internet connectivity, and essentially cost a few hundred dollars a year for consulting fees. An upgrade to newer software, which would support SQL Server 2005+ would have cost over $50,000. Plus support.

For no new useful features. No wonder they didn’t want to upgrade.

This week I’m wondering how many of you are tied to older versions of SQL Server because of compatibility issues with software (or hardware). Are there reasons you maintain old database platforms? Any plans to upgrade, or is the cost not worth the benefits?

I find legacy software and hardware to be a problem with the technology paradigm. While vendors want to move to new versions and reduce their support burden, many people feel that the cost of regular upgrades every few years is too high. Perhaps we could move to renting software, and getting constant development, but developers seem to be loathe to just constantly develop one version of the software for decades, preferring to fundamentally change the architecture at some point. Certainly that may make sense for some customers, but others who don’t need new features might wish for software to just work.

I don’t have a great solution, but I would like to see options for software like we have with many other products. An example might be autos, where there are companies manufacturing parts that repair or upgrade older models, without the need to purchase a new vehicle. Maybe older software can be licensed in some way to allow independent developers to produce patches, security or otherwise. The vendor could continue to sell new versions, but a licensee could support old ones. I know there are times I’d prefer to have an older version of software work well, and continue to work for the foreseeable future.

Steve Jones

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Editor, SQLServerCentral
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