Microsoft SQL Server 2016 Update Embraces Hybrid Cloud, Big Data

Microsoft's forthcoming SQL Server 2016 adds better encryption, support for unstructured data queries including those on Apache Hadoop, and new features to enable the hybrid cloud. The updates are part of an overhaul that updates Microsoft's flagship database management platform for a new age.

Jessica Davis, Senior Editor

May 17, 2016

4 Min Read
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Microsoft is prepping the update to its database management system, SQL Server 2016, for a June 1 general availability that will deliver hybrid cloud capabilities, better security, and the ability to query unstructured data sources including information stored in big data technologies such as Hadoop.

These are themes that have been resonating in the database management system market as organizations find themselves inundated with massive amounts of data, both structured and unstructured, and are under increasing pressure to keep it secure and protected, yet also accessible to the users who need it.

[Want to know where Microsoft SQL Server stands in Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Operational Database Management Systems? Read Gartner Magic Quadrant: Open Source, Cloud Disrupt Database Market.]

And many of these features are ones that Microsoft has been rolling out to its cloud-based Azure SQL Database. The company has validated these features in its cloud before baking them into the on-premises software. The new release also offers new ways for the on-premises and cloud software to work together.

That's another theme that's popular among the traditional enterprise software companies. Oracle, for instance, made hybrid cloud the big message during its most recent Oracle OpenWorld event in October 2015.

So how will Microsoft implement its own version of hybrid cloud?

Hybrid Cloud Features

As we reported, the 2016 edition of SQL Server offers Stretch Database technology, a hybrid cloud technology that keeps current data on-premises for high availability but stores older, less accessed data in the Azure cloud. The data stored in Azure is still just as visible to users interacting with the database, according to the company. Microsoft also said that faster replicas can be placed in Azure to provide cost effective disaster recovery and backups.

Microsoft's senior director of data platform marketing Tiffany Wissner provided details about the Stretch Database technology and other features in a blog post.

Always Encrypted

So what is the Always Encrypted feature? It's something that first appeared in the Azure version of SQL Database and is set to make its debut in the 2016 version of SQL Server on June 1. The feature is designed to make sure that there are no back doors to accessing data. The owner of the data holds the encryption key, which is never revealed to the database engine. This provides a separation between those who own the data and can view the data and those who manage the data but shouldn't necessarily have access to it, according to Microsoft. Always Encrypted ensures that data is encrypted both at rest and in-memory without impacting performance, Microsoft said.

Big Data Access

The 2016 version of Microsoft SQL Server also adds PolyBase, a technology that accesses and combines data stored in relational databases and unstructured data, all from within the SQL Server interface, according to Microsoft. That means that users can run queries on external data in Hadoop or in Azure Blob Storage, a service that stores unstructured data in the cloud as objects. Queries on external data are performed using Transact-SQL (T-SQL), which enables an import and export of data back and forth between relational tables in SQL server and unstructured data.

Azure SQL Database Elastic Pools

Microsoft has also announced general availability of SQL Database elastic pools, a technology that lets developers manage multiple databases -- from just a few databases to thousands of them -- but still maintain the data isolation of each database from the rest. Microsoft said the technology is ideal for multi-tenant environments, and that since the preview last year, SaaS developers leveraged the elastic pools in creating their applications.

And the company has introduced Power BI Embedded. This technology lets application developers embed interactive reports into customer-facing apps. Application developers can choose from a range of data visualizations already built into the product, or they can build their own custom visualizations.

SQL Server For Linux

Perhaps the most significant SQL Server announcement this year came a few months ago when Microsoft said it is planning to offer its flagship database for the Linux platform in 2017.

The addition of support for another operating system expands the potential market for SQL Server and also is likely to alleviate customer objections to the potential for vendor lock-in, according to Garnter.

"The key impact from Microsoft's change of strategy is that SQL Server will gain the ability to run on both the Windows and Linux OS," said Gartner analysts Donald Feinberg, Adam M. Ronthal, and Merv Adrian, in a report issued following Microsoft's announcement in March. "From Gartner client interactions over the past 10 years, we continue to hear that clients resist using SQL Server as they fear lock-in to the Windows platform and could not move to another OS platform, if desired. Further, Gartner believes this change in strategy allows Microsoft the flexibility to add other OS platforms in the future, depending on customer demand."

About the Author(s)

Jessica Davis

Senior Editor

Jessica Davis is a Senior Editor at InformationWeek. She covers enterprise IT leadership, careers, artificial intelligence, data and analytics, and enterprise software. She has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology. Follow her on twitter: @jessicadavis.

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