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Database upgrade services and channel opportunities

Relational database management system (RDBMS) upgrades pose many challenges to unskilled or time-strapped DBAs. Contributor Hilary Cotter outlines services you must offer to best address database upgrade needs

Hilary Cotter
Upgrading any relational database management system (RDBMS) is a complex undertaking that presents many opportunities for channel professionals like yourself to benefit customers and bottom lines. Services to consider offering include mentoring, training, consulting and management.

Before I discuss those services, let me provide an overview of steps involved in a typical RDBMS upgrade:

  • Creating a baseline on the current database version. This will be used to compare the upgraded version with the new version to ensure that the new version provides comparable performance.
  • Running an upgrade issue and blocker investigation. Prior to the actual upgrade, nondestructive tests must be performed to ensure that the upgraded application will provide identical functionality and behavior to the previous version, and no upgrade blockers will prevent the upgrade from occurring.
  • Preparing a rollback plan. Should there be an upgrade failure it will be necessary to revert back to the previous versions. It will be more difficult and time consuming to roll back from an in-place upgrade. A side-by-side upgrade will work better and is simpler to rollback from.
  • Testing hardware and software compatibility. The new RDBMS version will likely perform better and may take advantages of new hardware. It may also have software dependencies. Prior to the upgrade these dependencies will have to be enumerated and addressed.
  • Database upgrade resources
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  • Planning to provide high availability during the upgrade. All upgrades involve some database downtime. If the system provides highly available services, downtime will have to be anticipated or minimized.
  • Backing up the database and running consistency checks. As part of your planning you must ensure that the databases are checked for consistency and backed up. This is an essential part of the rollback strategy.
  • Performing the actual upgrade. This involves upgrading the binaries and all server objects.
  • Conducting post-upgrade tasks. These tasks may include reconfiguring the server settings for the new version of your customer's environment, setting database compatibility levels, migrating users and jobs, checking all functionality to ensure it is correct, migrating databases and redirecting the client applications to the new version.
  • Bringing the upgraded server under management. This includes developing the backup, maintenance and recovery plans.
  • Mentoring

    By mentoring you will provide temporary staffing services to work with and educate onsite customer employees in best practices. The mentor should be a highly experienced and possibly certified individual who will guide less-experienced staff in day-to-day operations. At its essence it's a consulting service that provides extensive training or knowledge transfer, so the staff can take over after the mentor leaves. Mentoring relationships tend to last longer than a typical consulting assignment, but involve much fewer billable hours than a consulting assignment. A mentor's role may involve training the client's staff on how to conduct an upgrade, assisting with the initial upgrade planning, taking a role in upgrading the first wave of servers, or even troubleshooting upgrade blockers and issues.


    Upgrade training services can be tailored to SQL development, RDBMS administration, upgraded feature development or basic upgrade how-tos. There is always a time lag between the release of a new RDBMS version and users becoming functionally aware of it. The more complex the release, the longer it will take for users to adjust. New releases also bring considerable confusion about how to use the product; you will see implementations that are not scalable and do not follow best practices. Training can help developers and administrators get up to speed quickly and help them do things right the first time.


    In most environments the DBA staff is already stretched thin and would welcome an outside team to come in and provide specialized technical services in upgrading. The consulting services provided can take many forms: performing the upgrade, upgrading client applications and database code for optimal performance in the new environment, validating plans, and providing architectural services to ensure the client is designing the correct solution.

    In one of my company's engagements our team was tasked with validating a client's plan to redesign a main application around the new SQL Server 2005 XML data type. We were quickly able to show them that this data type would not be optimal for the heavy update operations they would be doing. We saved them hours of costly development time that would have been lost had they not run a stress test.


    Upgrading is clearly a labor-intensive, high-skill operation. Clients frequently require help with the logistical aspects of upgrading the RDBMS and may outsource the project to a VAR providing services for initial investigation, project planning and upgrade deployment. As a VAR specializing in project management services, you'll find that a skill set in upgrade technologies will be in high demand.

    About the author: Hilary Cotter has been involved in IT for more than 20 years as a Web and database consultant. Microsoft first awarded Cotter the Microsoft SQL Server MVP award in 2001. Cotter received his bachelor of applied science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Toronto and subsequently studied economics at the University of Calgary and computer science at UC Berkeley. He is the author of a book on SQL Server transactional replication and is currently working on books on merge replication and Microsoft search technologies.

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