Microsoft SQL Server Gets a Big Data Revamp

This week, Microsoft released to manufacture its years-in-the-making update to SQL Server. In the midst of the milestone event, the software giant also announced that SQL Server 2012 would be generally available on April 1st.

Like any big update, there are new features aplenty. This time around, Microsoft is touting new data protection capabilities to help organizations achieve “the 9s” reliability out of their database systems. For example, SQL Server AlwaysOn, which provides high availability and disaster recovery options, and Windows Server Core support, which reduces downtime due to patching, are built-in.

Microsoft is hoping database administrators will appreciate the many enhancements in the areas of usability, programmability and management. These include a revamped Designer view, Visual Studio Tools for Applications 3.0 support and expanded PowerShell 2.0 functionality.

Yet all of these nuts and bolts improvements pale in comparison to the megawatt spotlight the company is training on SQL Server’s newfound affinity for Big Data.

Big Data, Big Deal

One of Microsoft’s objectives is to forge SQL server into a Big Data platform. Citing figures from Gartner that pegs the growth rate of global data at 59 percent per year — 70 to 85 percent of which is unstructured — Microsoft says that it has been laying the groundwork to help businesses derive more value from it.

Increasingly, that means fostering an ecosystem that goes beyond the core traditional capabilities of relational databases.

This means partnering with Hadoop specialists like Hortonworks, Datameer, HStreaming and Karmasphere to help develop business intelligence and analytics tools that work with SQL Server. For its part, Microsoft has been working on bi-directional Hadoop connectors to move data between Hadoop and SQL Server as well as connectors for Microsoft Excel and PowerPivot for Excel 2010.

Visualizing that data is Power View, formerly project Crescent, a tool that provides graphical, interactive data visualization and ad-hoc reporting. Ted Kummert, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Business Platform Division thinks businesses will use Power View to pounce on insights that are exposed by the new visibility into their vast databases.

In a TechNet blog post, he writes, “Power View provides users with a powerful interactive capability that transforms the exploration of any data, anywhere, into a more natural, immersive experience. Ultimately this encourages better decision-making – a significant benefit, with massive implications in today’s era of big data.”

Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, also factors into the proceedings. Set to become available sometime in the first half of 2012, the company is currently at work on an Apache Hadoop-based service that connects with SQL Server to tackle unstructured data.

Taken altogether, SQL 2012 is already helping firms process enormous amounts of data and glean actionable insights, according to Microsoft. Each day, social media benchmarking firm Klout processes 1 billion “social signals” and Havas Media, a global communications firm, handles a billion rows of information.

While SQL Server 2012 won’t be available for a few weeks, interested parties can download an evaluation copy now.


Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of IT-related websites and as the Green IT curator for GigaOM Pro. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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