Microsoft's enterprise server and tools business is in an enviable position, with $19 billion in annual revenue and growing 10% over the last year, according to the company. Microsoft SQL Server has 46% of the database management system market (by license numbers -- Oracle leads on revenue), while Windows Server is the operating system for 74% of the gigantic x86 server market, according to Microsoft.
The upgraded products Microsoft is releasing as public community technology previews this week are aimed at keeping the growth going. Where Windows Server and System Center are concerned, Microsoft's big bet is that customers will embrace a hybrid cloud world with a mix of on-premises, private-cloud and public-cloud deployment. With Microsoft SQL Server 2014 the promise -- as is always the case with databases -- is higher scalability and improved performance.
[ Want more on Microsoft versus Oracle? Read Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Vs. Oracle: Customers Voting. ]
The first big gain in Microsoft SQL Server 2014 is improved resource governance. With SQL Server 2012, for example, it was possible to allocate server CPU power and memory usage, but the 2014 upgrade adds allocation of I/O capacity. This will enable administrators to assign specific database tables to fast storage options, such as flash storage arrays or solid-state disks, for better performance in I/O-intensive applications.
The SQL Server tuning advances will help Microsoft catch up to the Smart Flash Cache and Infiniband network speeds Oracle is delivering with its Exadata Database Machine. Microsoft is forging ahead of Oracle on another front: in-memory transactional processing. The technology preview previously known as Project Hekaton is now simply known as the In-Memory OLTP Engine built into Microsoft SQL Server 2014.
With this new in-memory option, database administrators will be able to speed selected transactional applications and processes by moving associated database tables into memory. And to help customers take advantage of this feature, Microsoft said it has developed built-in diagnostics that reveal which tables and stored procedures would benefit from the move into memory.
Microsoft is in a middle-ground position between Oracle and SAP with this in-memory move. Oracle can exploit flash memory with its Exadata Database Appliance, but it has yet to announce plans to take advantage of the much-faster random access memory (RAM) built into modern processors. SAP, in contrast, offers its all-in-memory Hana database, which runs on industry-standard x86 servers, but begs for state-of-the-art, memory-intensive configurations.
With Microsoft SQL Server 2014, companies won't have to upgrade hardware or change applications to take advantage of in-memory performance, according to the company. With that said, there's only so much memory to go around on legacy server deployments, so it remains to be seen just how much customers will be able to improve performance without upgrading hardware.
Edgenet, a company that participated in the private beta of SQL Server 2014, has reportedly gained real-time inventory-management capabilities through the upgrade. The company sells inventory management software to big-box retailers; before the database upgrade, it was tough for the company's applications to keep up with fast-moving inventory data. With fast, in-memory transaction processing, retailers can count on up-to-the-second accuracy on what is and isn't available in a store, according to Microsoft.
In another SQL Server 2014 upgrade, administrators can create, with a right click of a mouse, backup and disaster-recovery instances of the database in Microsoft's Azure cloud from the SQL Server Management Studio. That will save time and effort compared to much more complicated produces for cloud backups supported in SQL Server 2012, according to Microsoft.