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  • Writer's pictureTimmy Malmgren

Find your way in the cluster of Microsoft SQL solutions | SEDC Blog

Updated: Feb 18

SQL Server vs Azure SQL vs Azure SQL Managed Instance


How do I actually decide what SQL to use in an Azure environment? Join me and get a closer look at what different Azure SQL solutions have to offer! Keep in mind there are several more technical aspects and features for each of these solutions that I will not cover, this is just a basic overview.

As depicted in the illustration, each service is characterized by the level of control you have over the infrastructure and the corresponding cost efficiency.

When we are talking about Azure, your SQL Servers (just as other workloads) can operate as a hosted service (PaaS) or a hosted infrastructure (IaaS). Within the PaaS domain, there exist multiple product options, accompanied by service tiers within each option. The question now is whether you prefer to handle database management, apply patches, and conduct backups, or if you'd rather entrust these operations to Azure? If you ever feel like its scary to put your security in Microsoft hands, remember how many excellent people are constantly working on security at Microsoft and just how much money they spend on it, its hard to match their infrastructure security on your own.

Don't forget hybrid benefits when calculating costs for a migration!

Before we look at the different options I want to highlight the importance of hybrid benefits! If you for example already have purchased SQL licenses for SQL servers they are eligible for hybrid benefits, this mean that when you set up an SQL in Azure you can get a reduced price with a normal range of 30-45% reduction but sometimes ranging in the 70%!

Azure SQL Database

Azure SQL Database represents a fully managed relational database-as-a-service (DBaaS) within Azure, classified under Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). It operates as a fully managed SQL Server database on Microsoft-owned, hosted, and maintained standardized hardware and software. In contrast to SQL Server, Azure SQL Database offers a pay-as-you-go model with options for seamless scaling without interruptions. Additional features, such as built-in high availability, backup, intelligence, and management, set it apart from traditional SQL Server configurations.

You can choose to deploy Azure SQL as a single database or an elastic pool, where a single database is managed independently with dedicated resources through a logical server. Elastic pool is instead an collection of databases sharing resources and more designed for multi-tenant SaaS applications.

Azure SQL Database Strengths, Weaknesses and when to use!

A list of some of the most basic Strengths, weaknesses and example of when to use, there are of coerce more technical differences but this is an post meant to be not to technical and easy to digest.


  • Less administration: as all PaaS offer.

  • Azure Security: as all PaaS offer you get Microsoft security for all your infrastructure on the backend.

  • Effortless Scalability: Azure SQL shines with its automatic and seamless scalability to ensure optimal performance during peak times without manual administration.

  • High Availability: Powerful built-in redundancy and automated backups to ensure your system is up and running, whit an SLA from 99,95-99,995%

  • Azure Integrations: Seamless integration with many Azure services streamlines operations and provide unparalleled convenience.


  • Cost Complexity: It can be a challange for new cloud users to manage resource consumption and optimize costs. However, that investment to learn and adapt often pays of with the flexibility and less administrative task it demands in the long run.

  • Customization Constraints: As with all PaaS, Azure SQL may impose some limitations on advanced configuration, yet they are often outweighed by the reduced management.

Customization Constraints Example

  • Pre-schedule system initiated backup (no command backup support)

  • Bulk insert source restriction (only available from Azure blob storage)

  • No Database snapshots

  • No linked servers, data can only be accessed within itself, prompting the need to populate the date inside the Azure SQL by other functions.

When to use!

Azure SQL is ideal for systems requiring dynamic scaling, high availability, systems that require several connections to other system in Azure. Azure SQL is also an excellent choice when you want to minimize administrative overhead on system that do not require where advance and specific configurations.

Azure SQL Managed Instance Strengths, Weaknesses and when to use!

Azure SQL Managed Instance, also falling under Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), serves as an ideal choice for most cloud migrations, particularly for scenarios requiring a lift-and-shift approach! Excellent for new applications or existing on-premises applications aiming to leverage the latest SQL Server features with minimal cloud-related modifications.

It comprises a collection of system and user databases with shared resources, similar to an instance of the Microsoft SQL Server database engine. SQL Managed Instance supports seamless migration from on-premises environments, offering PaaS benefits along with additional capabilities like native virtual network support.


  • Less administration: as all PaaS offer.

  • Azure Security: as all PaaS offer you get Microsoft security for all your infrastructure on the backend.

  • Effortless Scalability: Azure SQL shines with its automatic and seamless scalability to ensure optimal performance during peak times without manual administration.

  • High Availability: Powerful built-in redundancy and automated backups to ensure your system is up and running, whit an SLA of 99,99%

  • Automated Management with Control: Azure Managed SQL strikes a delicate balance, offering automated management while providing additional control over specific configurations. This unique blend caters to businesses seeking a tailored environment without sacrificing control.

  • Advanced Security Features: The solution excels in security, providing options like threat detection and data masking, offering robust protection against potential threats.


  • Cost Complexity: Similar to Azure SQL, the cost may be higher than traditional SQL solutions, necessitating a thorough cost-benefit analysis.

  • Increased Complexity: The added control and features introduce complexity in management and configuration. However, for businesses needing a middle ground between full automation and complete control, the enhanced capabilities justify the learning curve.

When to use!

Excellent choice for companies wanting to migrate on-premise application to Azure. Suitable for businesses that require advanced security features, customization, and a tailored environment, while still benefiting from the automation and scalability inherent in Azure.

SQL Server on traditional servers Strengths, Weaknesses and when to use!

SQL Server on Azure VMs falls under Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), allowing you to run SQL Server within a fully managed virtual machine (VM) in Azure. SQL Server can of course also be run on-premise as traditional, i will however not talk about that much.

SQL Server is tailored for migrations and applications requiring OS-level access, offering full administrative control over the SQL Server instance and underlying OS. Suitable for existing applications requiring quick migration to the cloud with minimal or no changes, however if your doing a cloud journey you should always evaluate your solutions and try modernize them in the process. It supports all versions and editions of SQL Server on both Windows Server and Linux virtual machines.


  • Control Over Configurations: Offers complete control over the database engine, allowing customization and flexibility.

  • SQL Server on Azure VM: Ideal for rapid development and testing scenarios without investing in on-premises hardware.

  • Familiar: Can be good choice for organizations with available IT resources for VM maintenance.

  • Cost-Effective Stability: While not as dynamic as Azure solutions, traditional SQL is cost-effective for stable workloads, eliminating the need for dynamic scaling and associated costs.


  • Maintenance Overhead: Dedicated IT staff is essential for ongoing maintenance, updates, and monitoring, introducing additional operational costs.

  • Limited Scalability: Scaling in traditional SQL environments requires manual intervention, potentially leading to downtime during scaling operations.

When to use!

Recommended for businesses with predictable workloads, stringent regulatory requirements, control requirements.


In essence, the choice between these Azure SQL solutions depends on specific requirements, with Azure SQL Database and Managed Instance offering a balance between managed services and customization, while SQL Server on Azure VMs provides maximum control, albeit with additional responsibilities for management.

And while I am not trying to throw on-premises SQL solutions under the bus as they of course retain their relevance, the unparalleled scalability, automation, and ecosystem integration offered by Azure solutions position them as the prime choice for modern enterprises. By making a cloud adoption journey to utilize the full potential of Azure, businesses can not only meet but exceed their data management needs, paving the way for a more agile, efficient, and cost-effective future.

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