Real-time, high-level reference design

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This section covers a real-time deployment of a SQL database estate in an AOAG configuration using an Azure NetApp Files SMB volume.

  • Number of nodes: 4

  • Number of databases: 21

  • Number of availability groups: 4

  • Backup retention: 7 days

  • Backup archive: 365 days

Deploying FCI with SQL Server on Azure virtual machines with an Azure NetApp Files share provides a cost-efficient model with a single copy of the data. This solution can prevent add-file operation issues if the file path differs from the secondary replica.

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The following image shows the databases within AOAG spread across the nodes.

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Data layout

The user database files (.mdf) and user database transaction log files (.ldf) along with tempDB are stored on the same volume. The service level is Ultra.

The configuration consists of four nodes and four AGs. All 21 databases (part of Dynamic AX, SharePoint, RDS connection broker, and indexing services) are stored on the Azure NetApp Files volumes. The databases are balanced between the AOAG nodes to use the resources on the nodes effectively. Four D32 v3 instances are added in the WSFC, which participates in the AOAG configuration. These four nodes are provisioned in the Azure virtual network and are not migrated from on-premises.


  • If the logs require more performance and throughput depending on the nature of the application and the queries executed, the database files can be placed on the Premium service level, and the logs can be stored at the Ultra service level.

  • If the tempdb files have been placed on Azure NetApp Files, then the Azure NetApp Files volume should be separated from the user database files. Here is an example distribution of the database files in AOAG.


  • To retain the benefits of Snapshot copy-based data protection, NetApp recommends not combining data and log data into the same volume.

  • An add-file operation performed on the primary replica might fail on the secondary databases if the file path of a secondary database differs from the path of the corresponding primary database. This can happen if the share path is different on primary and secondary nodes (due to different computer accounts). This failure could cause the secondary databases to be suspended. If the growth or performance pattern cannot be predicted and the plan is to add files later, a SQL Server failover cluster with Azure NetApp Files is an acceptable solution. For most deployments, Azure NetApp Files meets the performance requirements.


There are several ways to migrate an on-premises SQL Server user database to SQL Server in an Azure virtual machine. The migration can be either online or offline. The options chosen depend on the SQL Server version, business requirements, and the SLAs defined within the organization. To minimize downtime during the database migration process, NetApp recommends using either the AlwaysOn option or the transactional replication option. If it is not possible to use these methods, you can migrate the database manually.

The simplest and most thoroughly tested approach for moving databases across machines is backup and restore. Typically, you can start with a database backup followed by a copy of the database backup into Azure. You can then restore the database. For the best data transfer performance, migrate the database files into the Azure VM using a compressed backup file. The high-level design referenced in this document uses the backup approach to Azure file storage with Azure file sync and then restore to Azure NetApp files.

Azure Migrate can be used to discover, assess, and migrate SQL Server workloads.

To perform a migration, complete the following high-level steps:

  1. Based on your requirements, set up connectivity.

  2. Perform a full database backup to an on-premises file-share location.

  3. Copy the backup files to an Azure file share with Azure file sync.

  4. Provision the VM with the desired version of SQL Server.

  5. Copy the backup files to the VM by using the copy command from a command prompt.

  6. Restore the full databases to SQL Server on Azure virtual machines.

To restore 21 databases, it took approximately nine hours. This approach is specific to this scenario. However, other migration techniques listed below can be used based on your situation and requirements.

Other migration options to move data from an on-premises SQL Server to Azure NetApp Files include the following:

  • Detach the data and log files, copy them to Azure Blob storage, and then attach them to SQL Server in the Azure VM with an ANF file share mounted from the URL.

  • If you are using Always On availability group deployment on-premises, use the Add Azure Replica Wizard to create a replica in Azure and then perform failover.

  • Use SQL Server transactional replication to configure the Azure SQL Server instance as a subscriber, disable replication, and point users to the Azure database instance.

  • Ship the hard drive using the Windows Import/Export Service.

Backup and recovery

Backup and recovery are an important aspect of any SQL Server deployment. It is mandatory to have the appropriate safety net to quickly recover from various data failure and loss scenarios in conjunction with high availability solutions such as AOAG. SQL Server Database Quiesce Tool, Azure Backup (streaming), or any third-party backup tool such as Commvault can be used to perform an application- consistent backup of the databases,

Azure NetApp Files Snapshot technology allows you to easily create a point-in-time (PiT) copy of the user databases without affecting performance or network utilization. This technology also allows you to restore a Snapshot copy to a new volume or quickly revert the affected volume to the state it was in when that Snapshot copy was created by using the revert volume function. The Azure NetApp Files snapshot process is very quick and efficient, which allows for multiple daily backups, unlike the streaming backup offered by Azure backup. With multiple Snapshot copies possible in a given day, the RPO and RTO times can be significantly reduced. To add application consistency so that data is intact and properly flushed to the disk before the Snapshot copy is taken, use the SQL Server database quiesce tool (SCSQLAPI tool; access to this link requires NetApp SSO login credentials). This tool can be executed from within PowerShell, which quiesces the SQL Server database and in turn can take the application-consistent storage Snapshot copy for backups.

*Notes: *

  • The SCSQLAPI tool only supports the 2016 and 2017 versions of SQL Server.

  • The SCSQLAPI tool only works with one database at a time.

  • Isolate the files from each database by placing them onto a separate Azure NetApp Files volume.

Because of SCSQL API’s vast limitations, Azure Backup was used for data protection in order to meet the SLA requirements. It offers a stream-based backup of SQL Server running in Azure Virtual Machines and Azure NetApp Files. Azure Backup allows a 15-minute RPO with frequent log backups and PiT recovery up to one second.


Azure NetApp Files is integrated with Azure Monitor for the time series data and provides metrics on allocated storage, actual storage usage, volume IOPS, throughput, disk read bytes/sec, disk write bytes/sec, disk reads/sec and disk writes/sec, and associated latency. This data can be used to identify bottlenecks with alerting and to perform health checks to verify that your SQL Server deployment is running in an optimal configuration.

In this HLD, ScienceLogic is used to monitor Azure NetApp Files by exposing the metrics using the appropriate service principal. The following image is an example of the Azure NetApp Files Metric option.

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DevTest using thick clones

With Azure NetApp Files, you can create instantaneous copies of databases to test functionality that should be implemented by using the current database structure and content during the application development cycles, to use the data extraction and manipulation tools when populating data warehouses, or to even recover data that was mistakenly deleted or changed. This process does not involve copying data from Azure Blob containers, which makes it very efficient. After the volume is restored, it can be used for read/write operations, which significantly reduces validation and time to market. This needs to be used in conjunction with SCSQLAPI for application consistency. This approach provides yet another continuous cost optimization technique along with Azure NetApp Files leveraging the Restore to New volume option.


  • The volume created from the Snapshot copy using the Restore New Volume option consumes capacity from the capacity pool.

  • You can delete the cloned volumes by using REST or Azure CLI to avoid additional costs (in case the capacity pool must be increased).

Hybrid storage options

Although NetApp recommends using the same storage for all the nodes in SQL Server availability groups, there are scenarios in which multiple storage options can be used. This scenario is possible for Azure NetApp Files in which a node in AOAG is connected with an Azure NetApp Files SMB file share and the second node is connected with an Azure Premium disk. In these instances, make sure that the Azure NetApp Files SMB share is holding the primary copy of the user databases and the Premium disk is used as the secondary copy.


  • In such deployments, to avoid any failover issues, make sure that continuous availability is enabled on the SMB volume. With no continuously available attribute, the database can fail if there is any background maintenance at the storage layer.

  • Keep the primary copy of the database on the Azure NetApp Files SMB file share.

Business continuity

Disaster recovery is generally an afterthought in any deployment. However, disaster recovery must be addressed during the initial design and deployment phase to avoid any impact to your business. With Azure NetApp Files, the cross-region replication (CRR) functionality can be used to replicate the volume data at the block level to the paired region to handle any unexpected regional outage. The CRR-enabled destination volume can be used for read operations, which makes it an ideal candidate for disaster recovery simulations. In addition, the CRR destination can be assigned with the lowest service level (for instance, Standard) to reduce the overall TCO. In the event of a failover, replication can be broken, which makes the respective volume read/write capable. Also, the service level of the volume can be changed by using the dynamic service level functionality to significantly reduce disaster recovery cost. This is another unique feature of Azure NetApp Files with block replication within Azure.

Long-term Snapshot copy archive

Many organizations must perform long-term retention of snapshot data from database files as a mandatory compliance requirement. Although this process is not used in this HLD, it can be easily accomplished by using a simple batch script using AzCopy to copy the snapshot directory to the Azure Blob container. The batch script can be triggered based on a specific schedule by using scheduled tasks. The process is straightforward—it includes the following steps:

  1. Download the AzCopy V10 executable file. There is nothing to install because it is an exe file.

  2. Authorize AzCopy by using a SAS token at the container level with the appropriate permissions.

  3. After AzCopy is authorized, the data transfer begins.


  • In batch files, make sure to escape the % characters that appear in SAS tokens. This can be done by adding an additional % character next to existing % characters in the SAS token string.

  • The Secure Transfer Required setting of a storage account determines whether the connection to a storage account is secured with Transport Layer Security (TLS). This setting is enabled by default. The following batch script example recursively copies data from the Snapshot copy directory to a designated Blob container:

SET source="Z:\~snapshot"
echo %source%
SET dest=""
echo %dest%

The following example cmd is executed in PowerShell:

INFO: Scanning...
INFO: Any empty folders will not be processed, because source and/or destination doesn't have full folder support
Job b3731dd8-da61-9441-7281-17a4db09ce30 has started
Log file is located at: C:\Users\niyaz\.azcopy\b3731dd8-da61-9441-7281-17a4db09ce30.log
0.0 %, 0 Done, 0 Failed, 2 Pending, 0 Skipped, 2 Total,
INFO: azcopy.exe: A newer version 10.10.0 is available to download
0.0 %, 0 Done, 0 Failed, 2 Pending, 0 Skipped, 2 Total,
Job b3731dd8-da61-9441-7281-17a4db09ce30 summary
Elapsed Time (Minutes): 0.0333
Number of File Transfers: 2
Number of Folder Property Transfers: 0
Total Number of Transfers: 2
Number of Transfers Completed: 2
Number of Transfers Failed: 0
Number of Transfers Skipped: 0
TotalBytesTransferred: 5
Final Job Status: Completed


  • A similar backup feature for long-term retention will soon be available in Azure NetApp Files.

  • The batch script can be used in any scenario that requires data to copied to Blob container of any region.

Cost optimization

With volume reshaping and dynamic service level change, which is completely transparent to the database, Azure NetApp Files allows continuous cost optimizations in Azure. This capability is used in this HLD extensively to avoid overprovisioning of additional storage to handle workload spikes.

Resizing the volume can be easily accomplished by creating an Azure function in conjunction with the Azure alert logs.