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10/28/2010
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Microsoft Synchs Azure With SQL Server

SQL Azure in the cloud now synchronizes tables or entire databases with SQL Server on premises, removing a developer headache.

Microsoft has moved to counter shortcomings in its Azure cloud environment and add “building block” services as it strives to keep Windows developers engaged in its version of cloud development. Given its already large workbench of developer tools, it’s starting to make it simpler to develop applications that function as hybrid business processes -- part on premises, part in the cloud. A key part of that move is to get SQL Azure in the cloud to function like SQL Server on premises.

To do that, it made SQL Azure reporting synonymous with SQL Server reporting. SQL Server reporting tools can now be used to build reports that draw on information in SQL Azure in the cloud or use SQL Azure to build reports that will be embedded in an application. SQL Azure Reporting is now available in customer technology preview, said Burley Kawasaki, senior director of product management for SQL Azure, AppFabric and Dallas.

Likewise, SQL Azure Datasynch is now in its second customer technology preview. Datasynch enables tables in SQL Azure to be synchronized with tables in SQL Server, and vice versa. Whole databases can be synchronized as well. In the past, there were sufficient differences between the two systems to prevent most developers from attempting to synchronize tables.

Microsoft made the announcements Thursday at its annual Professional Developers Conference, which was itself more of a cloud event. Regular attendees showed up at Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus, instead of Los Angeles, where the event is usually held. Many other developers were able to follow the proceedings online as a virtual event.

Both changes mean developers with relational database skills no longer need to learn the exceptions and special conditions that rule SQL Azure vs. SQL Server.

“Before you couldn’t use temporary tables in the cloud. There were a half dozen things to watch out for,” said Shaun McAravey, CTO of NVoicePay, an electronic invoice paying service in Portland, Ore., for small and medium business. NVoicePay is an Azure customer. Microsoft in effect “has put SQL Server in the cloud,” he said in an interview.

Another building block service is the technology preview of Azure Caching service, which lets applications store frequently used data and business logic in RAM for faster operations.

Azure didn’t use to give end users control over a virtual machine sent to the cloud, the way Amazon’s EC2 does. Now it’s offering VM Role, or a way to d to allow an end user to set policies to govern the operation of a virtual machine in Azure. “It’s as if you were managing that VM on your own premises,” said McAravey.

McAravey wants to concentrate on delivering payment services to small and medium business, not building out a data center. He still needs to keep his customer’s personal and financial account information on premises. PCI standards don’t allow for it to be sent off to the cloud.

But Azure now has Enhanced Access Control, which allows McAravey to let his customer use their own Active Directory systems instead of requiring them to post user names and log-ins to his identity system. Likewise, that frees him from update chores when a customer employee leaves and the boss wants a name erased from the system immediately. Customers can now do it themselves.

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