Microsoft SQL 2014 drives deeper into the cloud

Microsoft makes the many Azure-focused features in SQL 2014 less scary through hybrid approaches and desirable new features

It's easy to wonder if the new version of a product is really any different than the previous one, especially when it's as established as SQL. Given the expense and effort needed to upgrade, it's a question IT is asking more and more for mature products. In the case of SQL Server 2014, InfoWorld's review says it is indeed a worthwhile upgrade, earning a hard-to-get InfoWorld Test Center score of 9.5 out of 10.

I agree. SQL Server 2014 brings in more than enhancements. It pushes SQL further into the cloud, as part of Microsoft's shift to a cloud-first product portfolio. It also brings in cutting-edge data center technologies such as in-memory databases pioneered by SAP's HANA and recently adopted by big companies like Oracle and small ones like Hazelcast.

[ Review: SQL Server 2014 pushes the pedal to the metal. | How Microsoft's cloud push will affect your job. | Stay atop key Microsoft technologies in InfoWorld's Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

Say hello to Azure and in-memory databases
Interaction with Microsoft Azure is front and center in SQL 2014. It's obvious that Microsoft is doing all it can to encourage greater use of its cloud platform. For example, in addition to having a backup to Azure (introduced in SQL 2012 Service Pack 2 Cumulative Update 2), you can use the new Cloud Migration Wizard through SQL Server Management Studio 2014 to migrate your on-premises database to SQL Azure and have it walk you through the process. In Azure, you can also create a virtual machine to host SQL and deploy a database using the Deploy a SQL Server Database to a Windows Azure VM wizard.

AlwaysOn, the feature that enables SQL availability, now has an Add Azure Replica Wizard that lets you use Azure as a secondary replica for an AlwaysOn availability group. The number of allowed replicas has increased from four to eight as well.

One of the most talked-about new features in SQL Server 2014 is in-memory database support for online transaction processing (OLTP). The in-memory approach alters the focus for database design to use data stored entirely in main memory, as opposed to disks. That's all about faster performance, now that memory is cheap enough to be delivered at the scale needed. SQL Server 2014's in-memory OLTP lets you move individual tables (as opposed to the entire database) to memory for tremendous performance boosts. But keep in mind: The tables have to be memory-optimized, not disk-optimized.

The expected updates for inside the data center
In addition, SQL Server 2014 adds the expected on-premise features. For example, it works better with the latest versions of Windows Server (2012 and 2012 R2). It can scale up to 640 logical processors and 4TB or memory in a physical environment, though in a virtual environment it can scale up to only 64 virtual processors and 1TB of virtual memory. Its new solid-state-disk (SSD) capability lets you define an SSD as a buffer file location to be used as a buffer pool extension. There are enhancements to the Resource Governor that can limit disk I/O -- not just CPU and memory -- so you can control the common database frustration of runaway I/O using minimum/maximum reads or writes per second.

There are some enhancements to backup features for SQL, including the Managed Backup capability to back up the database at predefined recovery intervals and workload patterns. That lets the system determine if data has changed enough to warrant a backup and save it to Azure's blob storage. Another feature encrypts database backups for at-rest protection of your data using either a certificate or an asymmetric key for the encryption.

There is also a gaggle of new or enhanced features that revolve around BI, big data, and performance improvements.

Afraid of the cloud? Try going hybrid
Those on-premises enhancements are sure to please IT admins, but the connection to Azure is likely a bit scary. When IT hears "cloud," it worries about security, operational cost, and bandwidth requirements.

Microsoft understands that, thus its hybrid approach in SQL Server 2014 for availability and disaster recovery. The new capabilities in SQL Server 2014 are likely to get inside your door -- and maybe pull Azure in with it.

This story, "Microsoft SQL 2014 drives deeper into the cloud," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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