Microsoft Releases In-Memory Ready SQL Server 2014

Microsoft SQL Server's newest release adds in-memory OLTP (online transaction processing) and Azure cloud deployment options to the popular database management system. Here's why that's important.

Doug Henschen, Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

March 18, 2014

4 Min Read

Microsoft SQL Server 2014 has been released to manufacturing, the company announced on Tuesday, promising general availability of the product on April 1. The company also announced the general availability of Hadoop 2.2 support in its Windows Azure HDInsight service, bringing support for YARN and Stinger (Hive SQL Query) improvements to the vendor's cloud-based Hadoop service.

Any release of Microsoft SQL Server is important, as it's the world's top database management system (DBMS) in terms of unit sales. But the 2014 update is particularly important as it introduces an In-Memory OLTP (online transaction processing) option that promises breakthroughs in performance.

"In-memory transaction processing speeds up an already very fast experience by delivering speed improvement of up to 30x," wrote Quentin Clark, corporate VP of Microsoft's Data Platform Group, in a blog announcing the release.

[Want more on this performance enhancement? Read In-Memory Databases: Do You Need The Speed?]

As InformationWeek recently detailed in an in-depth cover story on in-memory databases, Microsoft beta customers have used In-Memory OLTP to get around disk I/O-throughput bottlenecks and read-write contention without rewriting applications designed to run on SQL Server. Gaming company, for example, used the feature to scale up an online sports-betting app to handle 150,000 bets per second that was previously limited to 12,000 bets per second. The only change required was moving selected database tables to run in memory.

Announced three years ago as project Hekaton, the In-Memory OLTP feature has been tested by dozens of companies working directly with Microsoft as part of its Technology Adoption Program. In addition, some 200,000 customers have downloaded or tested virtual instances of the DBMS as part of two Community Technology Previews that began last June, according to Microsoft.

The In-Memory OLTP option is far from the only enhancement delivered in the 2014 release. A hybrid deployment option gives customers the choice of running SQL Server 2014 on premises or on Windows Azure. A typical scenario envisioned is running production instances on premises while syncing with backup-and-recovery instances in the cloud.

Other new Microsoft SQL Server 2014 improvements include:

  • Cardinality-estimation enhancements automatically improve the efficiency of internal query planning, according to Microsoft, thereby speeding new and existing queries. When complex queries require customized tuning, the feature can be turned off to ensure consistent query execution.

  • AlwaysOn high-availability features now support more database replicas and have been extended into Windows Azure. Virtual instances on Azure can easily be configured as part of an AlwaysOn availability group.

  • An in-memory column store feature is now updatable. This analytic feature used to be an index, with querying against a separate row-store table; it's now a true column that's updatable and the only place the data is stored. Benefits include reduced storage costs, improved data compression, and, most importantly, faster query performance, according to Microsoft.

Faster transaction processing is clearly the biggest promise of Microsoft SQL Server 2014, and it's available to a huge installed base that won't have to make changes in applications or even in hardware, according to Microsoft. It's a claim that Microsoft customers including and Edgenet have validated in interviews with InformationWeek. Both customers took advantage of the In-Memory OLTP feature on existing servers, though Microsoft has said that extensive use of the feature might require upgrades in available memory.

SAP Hana has been the poster child of the in-memory movement in recent years, but that platform runs entirely in memory, so it demands all new servers as well as modifications to applications that were designed to run on other databases. Where Hana had to start from scratch without a legacy installed base (and now has around 1,000 customers), Microsoft has a built-in head start on in-memory adoption with hundreds of thousands of current SQL Server customers.

Microsoft's announcement of Hadoop 2.2 support in its Windows Azure HDInsight service comes as little surprise, as the Apache open source improvements were released last fall. Hortonworks and Cloudera announced their releases built on 2.2 in October and February, respectively, and Pivotal jointed the club with its Pivotal HD 2.0 release on Monday. Microsoft and its partner Hortonworks, the developer of HDInsight, will undoubtedly follow up with an updated on-premises software distribution within a matter of days or weeks.

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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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