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Microsoft Debuts Next-Gen Server Software

Microsoft announces in-memory-enhanced Microsoft SQL Server 2014, supports hybrid cloud with Windows Server and System Center upgrades.

Doug Henschen

June 3, 2013

6 Min Read

VMware Vs. Microsoft: 8 Cloud Battle Lines

VMware Vs. Microsoft: 8 Cloud Battle Lines


VMware Vs. Microsoft: 8 Cloud Battle Lines (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Microsoft may be stumbling in the consumer space with Windows 8 and Surface tablets, but it's full steam ahead in the enterprise market as the company announced the release of public-beta versions of Microsoft SQL Server 2014, Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center R2. The announcements were made Monday at the company's TechEd Conference in New Orleans.

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. The public preview of Microsoft SQL Server 2014 will be available as a free download early this month, the company announced, while general availability is expected early next year.

With Microsoft's focus on hybrid deployment, the Windows Server 2012 R2 upgrade delivers software-defined networking (SDN) capabilities that let companies see on-premises and Azure-cloud-based resources as a single, virtual network. In addition, virtualization improvements make it easier to move virtual machines between on-premises data centers and the cloud, according to Microsoft.

Bringing technology proven on the Azure public cloud to its enterprise products, Microsoft said a Windows Azure Pack embedded in Windows Server 2012 R2 gives admins the same API and VM provisioning tools used on its public cloud. That reportedly makes it easier to provision virtual machines at scale, giving hosting companies, for example, the ability to support dense website deployments with many sites cost-effectively running on a single server node.

[ Want more on Microsoft's cloud plans? Read Microsoft Office 365 Steps On Google Enterprise Ambitions. ]

In another important upgrade, Windows Server 2012 R2 delivers granular support for tiered storage. The feature lets admins assign hot and cold data to the appropriate storage option from the management console, whether that's RAM, flash, SSDs or slower spinning discs. (This is the underlying capability that enables SQL Server 2014 to assign database tables to specific tiers of storage.)

Microsoft server and tools executives are apparently wise to the fact that it's a hybrid world, as the key theme in System Center 2012 R2 is cross-platform device management. Where System Center is known for managing Windows, the R2 upgrade manages Windows, Apple iOS, Android and other devices from a single administrative interface and reporting infrastructure. The upgrade does not fill the niche of mobile-device-management systems, but it helps support bring-your-own-device scenarios by allowing administrators to publish, secure and monitor corporate applications across multiple operating systems.

The Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 public previews are available immediately, and the general releases are expected before the end of the year.

In a final bit of news from TechEd on Monday, Microsoft announced the debut of BizTalk services on Windows Azure. BizTalk supports application and business-to-business process integration. Supply chain data-exchange and transformation is a common use of BizTalk, so the availability of BizTalk services on Azure offers an option for meeting spikey, high-scale data-transformation workloads, according to Microsoft.

Summing it up, the biggest news is clearly the net-new in-memory and I/O control capabilities in Microsoft SQL Server 2014. The database is also being delivered much sooner than many expected, making it clear that Microsoft is intent on putting its in-memory stake in the ground before Hana gains too many converts and Oracle comes up with its answer to in-memory database performance.

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About the Author(s)

Doug Henschen

Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of Transform Magazine, and Executive Editor at DM News. He has covered IT and data-driven marketing for more than 15 years.

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