Microsoft Azure dips into the NoSQL pool

New Azure DocumentDB service offers SQL-like transactions with NoSQL-like unstructured data, but SQL Server-like transactions

Enter the latest of the NoSQL contenders: Microsoft. Yesterday, the folks in Redmond announced new features for Microsoft Azure, two of which hint at Microsoft seeing a rich market for NoSQL technologies among Azure users.

The most significant of the two is Azure DocumentDB, a NoSQL DBaaS exclusively available on Azure and not as a stand-alone product. According to Microsoft Azure director of product marketing Vibhor Kapoor, DocumentDB is meant to "provides the benefits of a NoSQL document database, but also adds the query processing and transaction semantics common to relational database systems."

The fact that Microsoft wants to offer people both features at once shows the tensions that have emerged in the NoSQL world. NoSQL offers freedom of data formatting, but conventional SQL provides consistency of data and atomicity of transactions. To that end, more folks in both of those spaces are trying to offer ways to hybridize both features, such as EnterpriseDB with its JSON-enhanced version of NoSQL, or Oracle and its own work in that field.

Most intriguing about DocumentDB: It doesn't appear to be a rebadged version of an open source project, nor does it seem to be a reworking or an extension of an existing Microsoft product like SQL Server. Rather, it's an entirely new creation.

A spokesperson for Microsoft said in an email, "Azure DocumentDB is built from the ground up to run at scale on Azure.... Microsoft built DocumentDB based on feedback that called for a fully managed database that provided query and transactional capabilities at scale."

The other new NoSQL product in Azure is Apache HBase support for Azure HDInsight (HBase is a NoSQL database module for Hadoop). Strictly speaking, it's new only in the sense that it's now in general availability after months of close testing. That said, this is merely the Azure-ification of a feature that's been part of Hadoop for some time now, and not a feature built completely from scratch.

Shaun Connolly, VP corporate strategy at Hortonworks, highlighted transactional support as a big distinguisher for DocumentDB, but also noted that the choice of approaches -- HDInsight's vs. DocumentDB's -- is vital. "Microsoft Azure is providing an impressive array of database choices in support of developers who want to build applications on data services that best fit their application needs," he wrote in an email.

The other new Azure features unveiled yesterday point toward a platform designed to allow developers to concentrate more on building new applications instead of re-creating existing solutions. Azure Search (in preview) is a search-as-a-service offering to allow the building of search functionality directly into applications. Pricing for the service is measured in the number of searches and the volume of indexing performed against it, although a free tier is available for sites that have a relatively small number of queries or indices.

This story, "Microsoft Azure dips into the NoSQL pool," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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