Project Hekaton: Microsoft Bakes In-Memory Tech into SQL Server

Microsoft announced that it is venturing deeper into in-memory database technology, putting the company on a collision course with rival enterprise software makers SAP and Oracle. During the PASS Summit 2012 this week, Ted Kummert, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s Data Platform Group, took to the stage to unveil Project Hekaton, the software giant’s effort to bring in-memory transactional support to SQL.

“Project code name Hekaton will sit in the next major release of SQL Server,” stated Kummert. Hekaton derives its name from the Greek word for ‘hundred,’ representing the company’s goal of achieving a 100x boost for select transaction processing operations for its original proof of concept prototype.

Microsoft is clearly hoping that SQL Server’s popularity and army of database administrators (DBAs) that are fluent on the platform will give the software giant a leg up on the competition, namely SAP and Oracle. Both companies are making big strides in growing their own in-memory database ecosystems as corporations seek to capitalize on the business-boosting potential of Big Data analytics.

“This is a fully in-memory transactional engine delivered as a part of SQL Server, the platform you know, the application and programming model you know, and we’ve thought deeply how to enable you to bring existing applications into the in-memory world and to take advantage of the performance that’s possible,” said Kummert. By Microsoft’s estimates, Hekaton provides up to a 50x increase in performance over standard SQL Server implementations.

In an official SQL Server Blog post, Dave Campbell, a Microsoft SQL Server Technical Fellow, echoed how Hekaton can bring an in-memory edge to IT organizations and DBAs that are already heavily invested in the SQL Server ecosystem.

Campbell wrote, “What is most impressive about Hekaton is that it achieves breakthrough improvement in TP [transaction processing] capabilities without requiring a separate data management product or a new programming model.”

According to Campbell, four architectural principles guide Hekaton’s development. These include main memory data access optimizations, accelerated business logic processing and frictionless scale-up. And in terms of making a splash in the in-memory database market, the most crucial principal for Microsoft is that the technology is built-in to SQL Server.

Wait, didn’t Microsoft already offer in-memory data management software for SQL Server?

Indeed, confirmed Campbell. However, the company’s existing offerings, namely xVelocity analytics engine and xVelocity columnstore index, targeted analytical workloads and columnar storage, respectively. Hekaton takes an altogether different, yet complementary, route.

“Hekaton, in contrast, is a row-based technology squarely focused on transaction processing (TP) workloads,” explained Campbell. “Note that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. The combination of Hekaton and SQL Server’s existing xVelocity columnstore index and xVelocity analytics engine, will result in a great combination,” he concluded.

For now, Hekaton is being tested by a select set of customers, including financial services and online gaming companies with “extremely demanding TP requirements,” revealed Campbell. Microsoft is gearing up for a public technology preview to be announced via the company’s blogs.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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