Migrate or Convert Access to SQL Server: Step-by-Step Process
Why should I convert Access to SQL Server?
Microsoft Access is one of the most successful low code/no code database solutions ever. Access has been used by countless businesses and organizations looking to add a simple and user-friendly digital database to their technology stack. The biggest shortcoming of Access, however, is its scalability. Growing businesses who started with Access may find it not keeping pace with them as their business expands, and may find that the better alternative is to convert Access to SQL Server.
An Access to SQL Server migration offers more advantages than staying with Access, but it can be confusing and potentially overwhelming to convert Access to SQL Server, especially to those without a deep understanding of Database Management Systems (DBMS). In this post, we’ll provide an overview of the process on how to convert Access to SQL Server in an easy and straightforward manner.
What is Microsoft Access?
Microsoft Access (SQL Access or simply ‘Access’) is a Database Management System (DBMS).
A DBMS is a system that allows users to store, manage, and manipulate data, ensuring that the data stored is easily accessible to its users and applications. These databases are centralized, allowing multiple users to access what’s inside from different devices or locations. All DBMS’s contain a few specific components: a storage engine, a metadata catalog, an access language, and a query processor.
The query processor is an important component for the DBMS, as it allows the user to request certain actions to be performed within the database.
For example: I have a database of one thousand names, and I want to find out which name is the most popular. Utilizing the query processor and your access language, you can request your database to analyze the list of names and present the one that appears the most.
If this technical jargon is confusing to you, you’re not alone. In fact, this is one of Access’s major appeals to its users, simplicity. Microsoft Access is considered to be a no-code/low code tool making it quite accessible to a large number of customers who aren’t proficient in computer languages. It doubles as both a database and a frontend, making its user interface quite friendly and appealing.
Like many other applications that are part of the Microsoft Office family, Access also features interoperability within the Office Suite - meaning that the program can exchange and use data with other applications such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft PowerPoint.
In addition to the interoperability capability within the Microsoft Office ecosystem, the application also makes it possible to import and export data to and from other software applications and databases.
All of this, plus the fact that it can run in both a desktop or networked environment, just like a real SQL database, paints a clear picture of the appeal of this program. Despite its versatility, some circumstances (and limitations) create the business need and opportunity to migrate or convert Access to a more secure, extensible, and scalable solution.
This need is usually rooted in positive business growth, and upon reaching the peak of Access usability, many businesses find that one of the most viable migration options is to convert Access to SQL Server.
What is SQL Server?
Microsoft SQL Server (or SQL Server) is a relational database management system that has the fundamental function of storing and retrieving data for other software applications. The difference between an RDBMS and a DBMS is how data is stored, as a DBMS stores data in files while an RDBMS uses tables to store data. These applications may be running on the same computer as the SQL Server installation or another networked system.
Microsoft has five SQL Server editions for different customer segments depending on the workload. These workloads range from single desktop application volumes to enormous large-scale software system loads.
Enterprise - The premium offering, SQL Server Enterprise edition delivers comprehensive high-end data center capabilities with blazing-fast performance, unlimited virtualization, and end-to-end business intelligence - enabling high service levels for mission-critical workloads and end-user access to data insights.
Standard - SQL Server Standard edition delivers basic data management and business intelligence for departments and small organizations to run their applications and supports common development tools for on-premises and cloud - enabling effective database management with minimal IT resources.
Web - SQL Server Web edition is a low total-cost-of-ownership option for Web hosters and Web VAPs to provide scalability, affordability, and manageability capabilities for small to large-scale Web properties.
Developer - SQL Server Developer edition lets developers build any kind of application on top of SQL Server. It includes all the functionality of Enterprise edition, but is licensed for use as a development and test system, not as a production server. SQL Server Developer is an ideal choice for people who build and test applications.
Express editions - Express edition is the entry-level, free database and is ideal for learning and building desktop and small server data-driven applications. It is the best choice for independent software vendors, developers, and hobbyists building client applications. If you need more advanced database features, SQL Server Express can be seamlessly upgraded to other higher end versions of SQL Server. SQL Server Express LocalDB is a lightweight version of Express that has all of its programmability features, runs in user mode and has a fast, zero-configuration installation and a short list of prerequisites.
The information above can be found on Microsoft’s “Editions and supported features of SQL Server 2019 (15.x)” page
The descriptions above imply both the fundamental similarity and disparity between Access and SQL Server.
While both are database programs, the former can adequately serve only small organizations, while the latter caters to medium-sized companies and large corporations. While both products are from Microsoft, there are significant technical differences between the two on almost every front.
These differences warrant specialized knowledge in both products. For instance, the syntaxes used in constructing queries in either program are different. Anyone wanting to convert Access to SQL Server must become familiar with the specific query syntaxes for both Access and SQL Server.
The two main syntaxes to be aware of are SQL and T-SQL, both of which can be considered query languages. These languages can be inputted into your query processor in order to direct the action you want the program to perform.
You can think of SQL as the foundational language which T-SQL is based on. There are some differences in the way the languages execute actions and take command inputs, but the main difference is that SQL is open source and T-SQL is owned by Microsoft and mainly used in their products.
Access versus SQL: Why convert Access to SQL Server?
When comparing Access versus SQL, the decision to convert Access to SQL Server is a wise strategic move for several reasons:
Size and Capacity Limitations
Any organization wanting to convert Access to SQL Server instantly gains a massive capacity boost. When you convert Access to SQL Server, your maximum database size limit goes dramatically, as the access database maximum size is quite limited. When comparing Access versus SQL in size capacity, users go from a limited 2GB to having no upper bound, a massive leap in functionality.
A maximum number of 255 users at a time can utilize Access versus SQL, which contrastingly, allows unlimited users.
Access versus SQL for security
In this era of relentless cyberattacks, one of the key ways to improve overall data security is to convert Access to SQL Server. Access offers very rudimentary security measures that depend on the operating system’s (Windows) permissions.
On the other hand, SQL Server provides enterprise-level database security. For instance, unlike Access, SQL Server users typically cannot view and directly manipulate databases. SQL Server also implements a user-permissions security model, meaning only those with express permission can access certain sections of data. Additionally, SQL Server includes native encryption capabilities independent of the operating system.
An additional type of security is data protection. SQL Server can be configured to support rollback with point in time recovery. This allows the DBA to restore the database to any point in the past. This is important because if any bad actor gains access to the database and compromises or changes the data, their changes can be rolled back by the DBA.
On the subject of performance, Access’s performance depends on the installation computer’s performance or the network it serves. In comparison, SQL Server’s performance depends on the installation server, which can be expected to be very efficient in its performance.
Any business that decides to convert Access to SQL Server can instantly tap into this enterprise-level performance, translating into improved productivity.
When businesses convert Access to SQL Server, they improve the reliability of their entire IT infrastructure. Access-based systems occasionally need database repair operations. Access’s reliability is limited by the reliability of the computer on which it is installed.
In contrast, SQL Server-based systems feature enterprise-level reliability because these systems rely on robust servers that can handle enormous workloads. This reliability comes in the form of high availability with disaster recovery (HA-DR), meaning that applications running on SQL Server can realize up to 99.999% uptime, a percentage that is impossible to achieve with Access.
Convert Access To SQL To Improve Transaction Logging
MS SQL Server is an ACID-compliant relational database. ACID-compliant means that the data is atomic, consistent, isolated and durable. ACID-compliance is the gold standard for ensuring that database transactions are reliable and consistent. This database system also features transaction logging, which logs every change of the data contained in the database.
The DBA also has the ability to check and identify non-materialized but committed transactions and redo them. These operations promote transaction atomicity and durability and help improve data integrity. Access lacks this level of sophistication.
Convert Access to SQL Server to create table triggers, a mechanism for automatically executing a particular procedure when a predefined event occurs in a specific table or database. It is another feature used in maintaining data integrity and to enforce important business rules. Access in comparison features limited support for these triggers.
For example: Let’s say an individual edits client information within your database after you’ve decided to convert Access to SQL Server. Your company now has the ability to add a business rule that requires any data changes to be recorded in a separate table. A table trigger could be added into your code to automatically keep a record in said separate table that includes what the edit was, who made it, and when it was made, helping you to maintain the integrity of your database.
Access only features two file extensions, ‘.mdb’ and ‘.accdb’. The former does not support triggers, while the latter features macros that behave similarly to triggers but are nowhere near as comprehensive in logical expressiveness and speed.
Other Reasons To Convert Access To SQL
Other benefits you can attain when you convert Access to SQL Server include lower maintenance requirements and improved remote access.
How To Convert Access Database To SQL Server?
The process to convert Access to SQL Server involves the following six steps:
Technical Discovery to diagnose problem areas and develop an estimate of time and resources needed for a successful migration.
Microsoft SQL Server Migration Assistant (SSMA) Execution.
Testing and Revision.
Step 1: Technical Discovery
To convert Access to SQL Server, the implementation of a technical discovery must happen before anything else. Technical discoveries verify that the breadth of the work needed is understood to ensure that migrations are completed on time and under budget. Learn more about DOOR3 technical discoveries here.
Step 2: Microsoft SQL Server Migration Assistant (SSMA) Execution
Access database objects can either exist in one or two databases, either the frontend or backend —this split design aids network sharing.
In a split design, the backend consists of tables and relationships, while the frontend is composed of other elements such as queries, macros, forms, reports, VBA modules, and tables linking to the backend.
To convert Access to SQL Server, you generally follow a similar setup, with SQL Server as the backend. This backend could reside locally or remotely in the cloud.
So, it is possible to retain the same frontend that users are used to while running SQL Server in the backend to leverage SQL Server’s benefits. This will lower development costs by reusing the existing Access fronted components; however, this approach is not recommended.
Before embarking on the second step in the convert Access to SQL Server process, it is advisable to involve an expert to complete some preparatory steps to ensure a smooth transition. These preliminary operations include adding a table index and primary keys because every table in SQL Server must have a minimum of one index.
An essential part of this step is verifying the primary key and foreign key relationships.
Finally, it is vital to assess the system in its entirety and manually remove attachment columns. This step is necessary as SSMA (SQL Server Migration Assistant), the sql server migration tool, does not convert tables containing attachment columns.
Step 3: Object Conversion
The DBA initiates a conversion process that converts Access objects into SQL Server objects. Upon completion, the DBA can view the lists of successfully converted Access and SQL Server objects.
It is worth noting that the SQL Server Migration Assistant does not make copies of the converted elements yet, as the DBA will first confirm which objects are to be part of the conversion.
The copying operation commences post-confirmation. The involved objects fall under the following categories: tables, columns, parameterless SELECT queries, primary & foreign keys, index & default values, and check constraints.
Step 4: Table Linking
Following the transfer of Access’s tables, the DBA links each database table to its corresponding table in SQL Server. This mechanism enables the DBA to easily access the data contained in these tables without employing the more sophisticated SQL Server-specific database administration tools.
However, since SQL Server now hosts the database objects including the data tables, a DBA may need to update the object permissions following the transfer.
Step 5: Testing and Manual intervention
Not all MS Access Query objects can be converted automatically. Some may require manual coding, often utilizing T-SQL. A related concern is data type incompatibility between the two platforms. Some of the data types that often clash are large number data types, Boolean data types, date & time data types, and array data types. So, rigorous testing through QA must be done after modifying any objects or revising any data types.
Step 6: Performance Optimization
With SQL Server now in place, the process to convert Access to SQL Server nears its end. All but the most trivially complex queries should execute on SQL Server, and not within MS Access.
Depending on the complexity of the starting application, this is potentially a complex programming challenge.
How can DOOR3 help you to migrate Access database to SQL server?
To convert Access to SQL Server successfully, one requires much more than theoretical knowledge. There are minute, seemingly insignificant details that may hinder a seamless transfer. These details have both technical and operational implications for your business.
Fortunately, DOOR3 specializes in migrations of this nature. We are backed by a multinational team of seasoned experts with over two decades of award-winning experience in technology consultancy and software development. We could not be in a better position to help ensure that your business operations remain uninterrupted as we help you convert Access to SQL Server.
As experienced technology consultants, we understand that it is a serious task to convert Access to SQL Server. The degree of our involvement is directly proportional to the project’s size. So we make it a point to adopt an incremental approach while paying attention to detail.
Our method ensures that we mitigate the risk of any failures associated with a sudden and hasty conversion attempt. Additionally, gradual migration makes it possible for us to identify process challenges and difficulties early that are unique to your organization.
This knowledge allows us to recognize similar problems as we incrementally transfer you to SQL Server. This way, we continually improve the process as the project progresses.
Apart from the hands-on technical operations, our team also assumes auxiliary functions to ensure a smooth outcome. In particular, we meticulously document your current Access-based system, explicitly noting the critical areas that need refactoring.
Additionally, we work hand in hand with the frontline Access users in your organization by setting up a system that enables iterative feedback that lasts throughout the project’s lifetime. This system helps us identify and dynamically resolve the pain points that already existed in the Access-based system.
The extra work we invest in ensures that the new SQL Server-based system will be free from any functional issues that could frustrate users. This approach allows you to concentrate on getting used to the new processes to bring their efficiency to optimal levels in the new SQL-Server-based environment.
Microsoft Access is a sturdy database management system that has withstood the test of time. It provides a simple solution for small businesses, which makes it speedily adopted.
However, in this simplicity lies its biggest flaw; size and capacity limitations. Expanding organizations that adopt Access will soon find their needs outgrowing the limits of the application.
In our experience, this position prompts the need to convert Access to SQL Server, a more sophisticated solution.
Moreover, maintaining data integrity while transferring to another platform necessitates safely converting Access’s data to a format palatable by the target platform.
This point is where DOOR3 steps in to make the complicated simple. DOOR3 continually guides businesses in developing and improving their IT infrastructure through innovative designs and solutions that align with their business objectives. We take pride in developing pragmatic solutions that help businesses attain their business goals.
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