What is Azure SQL Managed Instance?

Applies to: Azure SQL Managed Instance

This article provides an overview of Azure SQL Managed Instance, a fully managed platform as a service (PaaS) database engine that handles most database management functions such as upgrading, patching, backups, and monitoring without user involvement.

Note

Try Azure SQL Managed Instance free of charge and get 720 vCore hours on a General Purpose SQL Managed Instance with up to 100 databases per instance for the first 12 months.

Azure SQL Managed Instance is a scalable cloud database service that's always running on the latest stable version of the Microsoft SQL Server database engine and a patched OS with 99.99% built-in high availability, offering close to 100% feature compatibility with SQL Server. PaaS capabilities built into Azure SQL Managed enable you to focus on domain-specific database administration and optimization activities that are critical for your business while Microsoft handles backups, as well as patching and updating of the SQL and operating system code, which removes the burden on managing the underlying infrastructure.

If you're new to Azure SQL Managed Instance, check out the Azure SQL Managed Instance video from our in-depth Azure SQL video series:

Note

Microsoft Entra ID is the new name for Azure Active Directory (Azure AD). We are updating documentation at this time.

Overview

Azure SQL Managed Instance is a PaaS service that has near 100% compatibility with the latest Enterprise Edition SQL Server database engine, providing a native virtual network (VNet) implementation that addresses common security concerns, and a business model favorable to existing SQL Server customers. SQL Managed Instance allows existing SQL Server customers to lift and shift their on-premises applications to the cloud with minimal application and database changes. At the same time, SQL Managed Instance provides all PaaS capabilities (automatic patching and version updates, automated backups, high availability) to drastically reduce management overhead and the total cost of ownership (TCO).

SQL Managed Instance is designed for customers looking to migrate a large number of apps from an on-premises or IaaS, self-built, or ISV provided environment to a fully managed PaaS cloud environment, with as low a migration effort as possible. Using the fully automated Azure Data Migration Service, or the Managed Instance link, customers can lift and shift their existing SQL Server database or SQL Server instance to Azure SQL Managed Instance, which offers compatibility with SQL Server and complete isolation of customer instances with native VNet support.

With Software Assurance, you can exchange your existing licenses for discounted rates on SQL Managed Instance using the Azure Hybrid Benefit for SQL Server. SQL Managed Instance is the best migration destination in the cloud for SQL Server instances that require high security and a rich programmability surface.

For more information on migration options and tools, see Migration overview: SQL Server to Azure SQL Managed Instance.

The following diagram outlines key benefits of SQL Managed Instance:

Key features

Important

For a list of regions where SQL Managed Instance is currently available, see Supported regions.

Key features and capabilities

SQL Managed Instance runs with all of the features of the most recent version of SQL Server, including online operations, automatic plan corrections, and other enterprise performance enhancements. A comparison of the features available is explained in Feature comparison: Azure SQL Managed Instance versus SQL Server.

SQL Managed Instance combines the best features that are available both in Azure SQL Database and the SQL Server database engine:

PaaS benefits Business continuity
No purchasing or managing hardware
No management overhead to manage underlying infrastructure
Quick provisioning and service scaling
Automated patching and version upgrade
You can stop and start the instance to save on costs
Integration with other PaaS data services
99.99% uptime SLA
Built-in high availability
SQL Server disaster recovery to SQL Managed Instance
Data protected with automated backups
Customer configurable backup retention period
User-initiated backups that can be restored to SQL Server 2022
Point-in-time database restore capability
Security and compliance Management
Isolated environment (VNet integration, single tenant service, dedicated compute and storage)
Adheres to the same compliance standards as Azure SQL Database
Transparent data encryption (TDE)
Microsoft Entra authentication, single sign-on support
Microsoft Entra server principals (logins)
Windows authentication for Microsoft Entra principals
SQL auditing
Advanced Threat Protection
Azure Resource Manager API for automating service provisioning and scaling
Azure portal functionality for manual service provisioning and scaling
Data Migration Service

Important

Azure SQL Managed Instance has been certified against a number of compliance standards. For more information, see the Microsoft Azure Compliance Offerings, where you can find the most current list of SQL Managed Instance compliance certifications, listed under SQL Database.

The following table shows key details of SQL Managed Instance:

Feature Description
Azure portal management Yes
SQL Server version/build The latest stable SQL Server database engine
Managed automated backups Yes
Automatic software patching Yes
The latest database engine features Yes
Built-in instance and database monitoring and metrics Yes
SQL Server agent jobs Yes
Number of data files (ROWS) per the database Multiple
Number of log files (LOG) per database 1
VNet - Azure Resource Manager deployment Yes
VNet - Classic deployment model No

Supported SQL features

SQL Managed Instance aims to deliver close to 100% surface area compatibility with the latest SQL Server version through a staged release plan, which means that most features of SQL Server are also compatible with Azure SQL Managed Instance.

SQL Managed Instance supports backward compatibility to SQL Server 2008 databases. Direct migration from SQL Server 2005 is supported, and the compatibility level for migrated SQL Server 2005 databases is updated to SQL Server 2008.

The following briefly lists SQL Server features that are compatible with Azure SQL Managed Instance:

Data migration

For a thorough list comparing compatible features between SQL Server and Azure SQL Managed Instance, see SQL Managed Instance feature comparison, and for a list of T-SQL differences in SQL Managed Instance versus SQL Server, see SQL Managed Instance T-SQL differences from SQL Server.

Key differences between SQL Server on-premises and SQL Managed Instance

SQL Managed Instance benefits from being always-up-to-date in the cloud, which means that some features in SQL Server might be obsolete, retired, or have alternatives. There are specific cases when tools need to recognize that a particular feature works in a slightly different way or that the service is running in an environment you don't fully control.

Some key differences:

  • High availability is built in and preconfigured using technology similar to Always On availability groups.
  • There are only automated backups and point-in-time restore. Customers can initiate copy-only backups that don't interfere with the automatic backup chain.
  • Specifying full physical paths is unsupported, so all corresponding scenarios have to be supported differently: RESTORE DB doesn't support WITH MOVE, CREATE DB doesn't allow physical paths, BULK INSERT works with Azure blobs only, etc.
  • SQL Managed Instance supports Microsoft Entra authentication and Windows Authentication for Microsoft Entra principals (Preview).
  • SQL Managed Instance automatically manages XTP filegroups and files for databases containing In-Memory OLTP objects.
  • SQL Managed Instance supports SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) and can host an SSIS catalog (SSISDB) that stores SSIS packages, but they're executed on a managed Azure-SSIS Integration Runtime (IR) in Azure Data Factory. See Create Azure-SSIS IR in Data Factory. To compare the SSIS features, see Compare SQL Database to SQL Managed Instance.
  • SQL Managed Instance supports connectivity only through the TCP protocol. It doesn't support connectivity through named pipes.
  • You can stop and start the instance to save on costs.

Business intelligence

Azure SQL Managed Instance doesn't have the Business Intelligence suite natively built-in, but you can use the following services:

  • SQL Server Integration Service (SSIS) is part of Azure Data Factory PaaS.
  • SQL Server Analysis Service (SSAS) is a separate PaaS service in Azure.
  • SQL Server Reporting Service (SSRS), you can use Power BI paginated reports instead or host SSRS on an Azure Virtual Machine. While SQL Managed Instance can't run SSRS as a service, it can host SSRS catalog databases for a reporting server installed on Azure Virtual Machine, using SQL Server authentication.

Administration features

SQL Managed Instance enables system administrators to spend less time on administrative tasks because the service either performs them for you or greatly simplifies those tasks. For example, OS/RDBMS installation and patching, dynamic instance resizing and configuration, backups, database replication (including system databases), high availability configuration, and configuration of health and performance monitoring data streams.

For more information, see a list of supported and unsupported SQL Managed Instance features, and T-SQL differences between SQL Managed Instance and SQL Server.

vCore-based purchasing model

The vCore-based purchasing model for SQL Managed Instance gives you flexibility, control, transparency, and a straightforward way to translate on-premises workload requirements to the cloud. This model allows you to change compute, memory, and storage based upon your workload needs. The vCore model is also eligible for up to 55 percent savings with the Azure Hybrid Benefit for SQL Server.

In the vCore model, you can choose hardware configurations as follows:

  • Standard Series (Gen5) logical CPUs are based on Intel® E5-2673 v4 (Broadwell) 2.3 GHz, Intel® SP-8160 (Skylake), and Intel® 8272CL (Cascade Lake) 2.5-GHz processors, with 5.1 GB of RAM per CPU vCore, fast NVMe SSD, hyper-threaded logical core, and compute sizes between 4 and 80 cores.
  • Premium Series logical CPUs are based on Intel® 8370C (Ice Lake) 2.8-GHz processors, with 7 GB of RAM per CPU vCore (up to 80 vCores), fast NVMe SSD, hyper-threaded logical core, and compute sizes between 4 and 80 cores.
  • Premium Series Memory-Optimized logical CPUs are based on Intel® 8370C (Ice Lake) 2.8-GHz processors, with 13.6 GB of RAM per CPU vCore (up to 64 vCores), fast NVMe SSD, hyper-threaded logical core, and compute sizes between 4 and 64 cores.

Find more information about the difference between hardware configurations in SQL Managed Instance resource limits.

Service tiers

SQL Managed Instance is available in two service tiers:

  • General Purpose: Designed for applications with typical performance and I/O latency requirements.
  • Business Critical: Designed for applications with low I/O latency requirements and minimal impact of underlying maintenance operations on the workload.

Both service tiers guarantee 99.99% availability and enable you to independently select storage size and compute capacity. For more information on the high availability architecture of Azure SQL Managed Instance, see High availability and Azure SQL Managed Instance.

General Purpose service tier

The following list describes key characteristics of the General Purpose service tier:

  • Designed for the majority of business applications with typical performance requirements
  • High-performance Azure Blob storage (16 TB)
  • Built-in high availability based on reliable Azure Blob storage and Azure Service Fabric

For more information, see Storage layer in the General Purpose tier and Storage performance best practices and considerations for SQL Managed Instance (General Purpose).

Find more information about the difference between service tiers in SQL Managed Instance resource limits.

Business Critical service tier

The Business Critical service tier is built for applications with high I/O requirements. It offers the highest resilience to failures using several isolated replicas.

The following list outlines the key characteristics of the Business Critical service tier:

Find more information about the differences between service tiers in SQL Managed Instance resource limits.

Management operations

Azure SQL Managed Instance provides management operations that you can use to automatically deploy new managed instances, update instance properties, and delete instances when no longer needed. Detailed explanation of management operations can be found in Azure SQL Managed Instance management operations overview.

The Managed Instance link uses distributed availability group technology to synchronize databases between SQL Server and Azure SQL Managed Instance, unlocking a number of scenarios, such as:

  • Using Azure services without migrating to the cloud
  • Offloading read-only workloads to Azure
  • Disaster recovery
  • Migrating to Azure

License-free DR benefit

With Azure SQL Managed Instance, you can save on vCore licensing costs by designating a secondary replica for disaster recovery (DR) only. To learn more, review License-free DR benefit.

Advanced security and compliance

SQL Managed Instance comes with advanced security features provided by the Azure platform and the SQL Server database engine.

Security isolation

SQL Managed Instance provides additional security isolation from other tenants on the Azure platform. Security isolation includes:

  • Native virtual network implementation and connectivity to your on-premises environment using Azure ExpressRoute or VPN Gateway.
  • In a default deployment, the SQL endpoint is exposed only through a private IP address, allowing safe connectivity from private Azure or hybrid networks.
  • Single-tenant with dedicated underlying infrastructure (compute, storage).

The following diagram outlines various connectivity options for your applications:

High availability

To learn more details about VNet integration and networking policy enforcement at the subnet level, see VNet architecture for managed instances and Connect your application to a managed instance.

Important

Place multiple managed instances in the same subnet, wherever that is allowed by your security requirements, as that will bring you additional benefits. Co-locating instances in the same subnet significantly simplifies networking infrastructure maintenance and reduces instance provisioning time, since a long provisioning duration is associated with the cost of deploying the first managed instance in a subnet.

Security features

Azure SQL Managed Instance provides a set of advanced security features that can be used to protect your data.

  • SQL Managed Instance auditing tracks database events and writes them to an audit log file placed in your Azure storage account. Auditing can help you maintain regulatory compliance, understand database activity, and gain insight into discrepancies and anomalies that could indicate business concerns or suspected security violations.
  • Data encryption in motion - SQL Managed Instance secures your data by providing encryption for data in motion using Transport Layer Security (TLS). In addition to TLS, SQL Managed Instance offers protection of sensitive data in-flight, at-rest, and during query processing with Always Encrypted. Always Encrypted offers data security against breaches involving theft of critical data. For example, with Always Encrypted, credit card numbers are always stored encrypted in the database, even during query processing, allowing decryption at the point of use by authorized staff or applications that need to process that data.
  • Advanced Threat Protection complements auditing by providing an additional layer of security intelligence built into the service that detects unusual and potentially harmful attempts to access or exploit databases. You're alerted about suspicious activities, potential vulnerabilities, and SQL injection attacks, as well as anomalous database access patterns. Advanced Threat Protection alerts can be viewed from Microsoft Defender for Cloud. They provide details of suspicious activity and recommend actions to investigate and mitigate the threat.
  • Dynamic data masking limits sensitive data exposure by masking it to nonprivileged users. Dynamic data masking helps prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data by enabling you to designate how much of the sensitive data to reveal with minimal impact on the application layer. It's a policy-based security feature that hides sensitive data in the result set of a query over designated database fields, while the data in the database is unchanged.
  • Row-level security (RLS) enables you to control access to rows in a database table based on the characteristics of the user executing a query (such as by group membership or execution context). RLS simplifies the design and coding of security in your application. RLS enables you to implement restrictions on data row access. For example, ensuring that workers can only access data rows that are pertinent to their department, or restricting data access only to relevant users.
  • Transparent data encryption (TDE) encrypts SQL Managed Instance data files, known as encrypting data at-rest. TDE performs real-time I/O encryption and decryption of data and log files. The encryption uses a database encryption key (DEK), which is stored in the database boot record for availability during recovery. You can protect all your databases in a managed instance with transparent data encryption. TDE is proven SQL Server encryption-at-rest technology that is required by many compliance standards to protect against theft of storage media.

Migration of an encrypted database to SQL Managed Instance is supported via Azure Database Migration Service or native restore. If you plan to migrate an encrypted database using native restore, migration of the existing TDE certificate from the SQL Server instance to SQL Managed Instance is a required step. For more information about migration options, see SQL Server to Azure SQL Managed Instance Guide.

Microsoft Entra integration

SQL Managed Instance supports traditional SQL Server database engine logins and logins integrated with Microsoft Entra ID (formerly Azure Active Directory). Microsoft Entra server principals (logins) are an Azure cloud version of on-premises database logins that use in your on-premises environment. Microsoft Entra server principals (logins) enable you to specify users and groups from your Microsoft Entra tenant as true instance-scoped principals, capable of performing any instance-level operation, including cross-database queries within the same managed instance.

SQL Managed Instance enables you to centrally manage identities of database users and other Microsoft services with Microsoft Entra integration. This capability simplifies permission management and enhances security. Microsoft Entra ID supports multifactor authentication to increase data and application security while supporting a single sign-on process.

A new syntax is introduced to create Microsoft Entra server principals (logins), FROM EXTERNAL PROVIDER. For more information on the syntax, see CREATE LOGIN, and review the Provision a Microsoft Entra administrator for SQL Managed Instance article.

Authentication

SQL Managed Instance authentication refers to how users prove their identity when connecting to the database. SQL Managed Instance supports three types of authentication:

  • SQL Authentication: This authentication method uses a username and password.
  • Microsoft Entra authentication: This authentication method uses identities managed by Microsoft Entra ID and is supported for managed and integrated domains. Use Active Directory authentication (integrated security) whenever possible.
  • Windows authentication for Microsoft Entra principals: Kerberos authentication for Microsoft Entra principals enables Windows authentication for Azure SQL Managed Instance. Windows authentication for managed instances empowers customers to move existing services to the cloud while maintaining a seamless user experience and provides the basis for infrastructure modernization.

Authorization

Authorization refers to what a user can do within a database in Azure SQL Managed Instance, and is controlled by your user account's database role memberships and object-level permissions. SQL Managed Instance has the same authorization capabilities as SQL Server 2022.

Database migration

SQL Managed Instance targets user scenarios with mass database migration from on-premises or IaaS database implementations. SQL Managed Instance supports several database migration options that are discussed in the migration guides. See Migration overview: SQL Server to Azure SQL Managed Instance for more information.

Back up and restore

The migration approach leverages SQL backups to Azure Blob storage. Backups stored in Azure Blob Storage can be directly restored into a managed instance using the T-SQL RESTORE command.

  • For a quickstart showing how to restore the Wide World Importers - Standard database backup file, see Restore a backup file to a managed instance. This quickstart shows that you have to upload a backup file to Azure Blob Storage and secure it using a shared access signature (SAS).
  • For information about restore from URL, see Native RESTORE from URL.

Important

Backups from a managed instance can only be restored to other managed instances, or to SQL Server 2022. They cannot be restored to other versions of SQL Server, or to Azure SQL Database.

Database Migration Service

Azure Database Migration Service is a fully managed service designed to enable seamless migrations from multiple database sources to Azure data platforms with minimal downtime. This service streamlines the tasks required to move existing third-party and SQL Server databases to Azure SQL Database, Azure SQL Managed Instance, and SQL Server on Azure VM. See How to migrate your on-premises database to SQL Managed Instance using Database Migration Service.

The Managed Instance link uses distributed availability groups to extend your SQL Server on-premises Always On availability group hosted anywhere to Azure SQL Managed Instance in a safe and secure manner, replicating data in near real-time.

The link feature facilitates migrating from SQL Server to SQL Managed Instance, which enables:

  • The most performant, minimal downtime migration, compared to all other solutions available today.
  • True online migration to SQL Managed Instance in any service tier.

Because the link feature enables minimal downtime migration, you can migrate to your managed instance as you maintain your primary workload online. Although it's currently possible to achieve online migrations to the General Purpose service tier with other solutions, the link feature is the only solution that allows true online migrations to the Business Critical tier.

Programmatically identify a managed instance

The following table shows several properties, accessible through Transact-SQL, that you can use to detect that your application is working with SQL Managed Instance and retrieve important properties.

Property Value Comment
@@VERSION Microsoft SQL Azure (RTM) - 12.0.2000.8 2018-03-07 Copyright (C) 2018 Microsoft Corporation. This value is same as in SQL Database. This does not indicate SQL engine version 12 (SQL Server 2014). SQL Managed Instance always runs the latest stable SQL engine version, which is equal to or higher than latest available RTM version of SQL Server.
SERVERPROPERTY ('Edition') SQL Azure This value is same as in SQL Database.
SERVERPROPERTY('EngineEdition') 8 This value uniquely identifies a managed instance.
@@SERVERNAME, SERVERPROPERTY ('ServerName') Full instance DNS name in the following format:<instanceName>.<dnsPrefix>.database.windows.net, where <instanceName> is name provided by the customer, while <dnsPrefix> is autogenerated part of the name guaranteeing global DNS name uniqueness ("wcus17662feb9ce98", for example) Example: my-managed-instance.wcus17662feb9ce98.database.windows.net

Next steps