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Updating Aging Databases

By Phil Factor,

This is a guest editorial from Phil Factor.

The conservatism of Database Administrators may seem comical, but logic says that once a database has been developed for SQL Server 7.5, tested on SQL Server 7.5, bedded down on SQL Server 7.5, and securely fastened down against intrusion by the latest network devices then it should stay like that until the Grim Reaper calls. All one needs from Microsoft are the hotfixes for the inevitable vulnerabilities and bugs that crop up, and the rare but occasional service pack.

Somehow, one is expected to be pleased that SQL Server 2005 is going to have another Service Pack. Why? For many DBAs, SQL Server 2005 is still a dangerous and radical upgrade. What about all those corporate Databases that just tick over, year after year, running happily on 7.5 or 8? Why upgrade them? I had a call the other day because a SQL Server 2000 database I wrote seven years ago was getting short of disk space. It had carried on going for five years, without any attention at all from a DBA, or anyone. Disk space? Eh? I checked, and deleted 90 million rows from a log table whose clean-out procedure has been disabled on the scheduler. - but everything still worked. I applied the latest Service Pack (5/6/2005) and popped in all the latest hotfixes, one from November 2007. I'm ready for the next regular phone-call in five years time.

I can understand that most systems need to be updated: Payroll systems, accounting packages and so on should be on the latest version. It would seem silly to cling on to old versions of Visual Studio. However, certain upgrades, such as a static database system that is not being actively developed, don't bring any benefits, only risks.

It should therefore be a sensible policy for Microsoft to keep old versions of SQL Server more actively supported than they do. Microsoft's dominance grew from small businesses upwards and the conservatism of the large corporates still seems to take them by surprise. A commitment to actively support all versions of SQL Server that are still used would be a signal that they are growing up.

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