Nearly 20% of running SQL Servers have passed end of support

Exclusive IT asset management platform Lansweeper has dispensed a warning for enterprise administrators everywhere. Exactly how old is that SQL Server on which your business depends?

According to chief strategy officer Roel Decneut, the company scanned just over a million instances of SQL Server and found that 19.8 percent were now unsupported by Microsoft. Twelve percent were running SQL Server 2014, which is due to drop out of extended support on July 9 - meaning the proportion will be 32 percent early next month.

For a fee, customers can continue receiving security updates for SQL Server 2014 for another three years. Still, the finding underlines a potential issue facing users of Microsoft's flagship database: Does your business depend on something that should have been put out to pasture long ago?

While Microsoft is facing a challenge in getting users to make the move from Windows 10 to Windows 11, admins are facing a similar but far less publicized issue. Sure, IT professionals are all too aware of the risks of running business-critical processes on outdated software, but persuading the board to allocate funds for updates can be challenging.

Decneut, an 18-year Microsoft veteran before joining Lansweeper in 2019, was on the SQL Server 2008 and 2012 launch team. "It was a problem back then, getting people off old versions," he said. "And I think it has to do with, you know, what's the main reason you run a relational database? It's to build apps on top of it. And the stickiness of those applications is what's causing this."

The inconsistent approach to backward compatibility in decades past may also have played a part. Decneut told us that Lansweeper's agents had picked up a few instances of SQL Server 7. Good luck upgrading a database running on that to the latest and greatest SQL Server.

The current SQL Server release is 2022. According to Decneut, Lansweeper found 44 percent of instances running SQL Server 2019. SQL Server 2017 accounts for 13.5 percent, and 2016 only accounts for less than 10 percent before moving on to older, obsolete versions. After SQL Server 2014, at 12 percent, SQL Server 2012 accounts for 9 percent. SQL Server 2008 hovers at just under 8 percent, and so it goes on.

Not that Microsoft is alone in facing the problem of customers sticking with outdated code years - or decades - after support ends.

Dave Stokes, Technology Evangelist at Percona, told The Register: "On the one hand, I'm not surprised that SQL Server instances are outside support - the adage 'If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it' can apply in tech as much as anywhere else in life. But I'm also aware that it's possible to use this as an excuse to avoid dealing with what can be a hard problem.

"It can be hard to make those changes, but that doesn't mean it should not get done. Developers don't want to be tied to an expired database software version. Not only do they miss out on bugs fixed in later versions, but they also miss out on new features and capabilities that make their lives easier."

Stokes also noted that DBAs are similarly reluctant to be limited in this way and invoked the ghosts of COBOL and FORTRAN to illustrate his point.

"Open source databases also suffer from end-of-life challenges," he added. "MySQL version 5.7 reached EOL status last October, but that version represents a large percentage of systems reported by Percona Monitoring and Management. Percona's post-EOL support has been widespread."

For Decneut, the enterprise-level challenge is that there isn't much to entice businesses to upgrade. He said: "A lot of these very basic business applications ... were built to be robust with little frills. All the new features that they're offering aren't enticing anyone because they don't need those things. They just need this thing to run.

"But, of course, the business model at Microsoft requires that you move to a new version."

Decneut concluded: "It's only when the house is on fire - when there's massive vulnerability - that somebody will go care about that.

"Because already, you know, we're moving to the cloud. We're doing this, we're doing the other, now we're thinking about AI. I think we've got this nasty habit in the world of technology of not really caring enough about what came before.

"Because that's where a lot of the problems come from." ®

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