Windows Azure – the SQL! (“Cloudy April” – Part 7)

SQL Azure

What if you could run SQL Server, and get all the power of the best data management platform, but hosted for you in “the cloud”?

“You mean like at a hosting provider?”

Something like that.  Well… something and NOTHING like that.  Something like that because yes, you don’t have to buy/house/power/secure/make-highly available the servers that it runs on.  But NOTHING like that because you don’t even have to manage the operating system that it runs on.  Nor do you have to worry about keeping the servers up-to-date with updates or upgrades.  All you have to know is that you’ve got a SQL Server that is running, highly available, and can scale to be able to handle whatever throughput you can imagine you would ever need.

“Sounds great.  What is it?”

SQL Azure.  SQL Azure is Microsoft’s cloud based database solution built on SQL Server technologies, and a part of the Windows Azure Platform.

And it’s not just the database alone.  We have something called SQL Azure Data Sync, and SQL Azure Reporting; both of which are in CTPs as of this writing.

Here are the first-paragraph descriptions from their respective home pages:

Cloudy SQLMicrosoft® SQL Azure™ Database is a relational cloud database service (RDBMS) built on SQL Server® technologies. It is a highly available, scalable, multi-tenant database service hosted by Microsoft in the cloud. SQL Azure Database helps to ease provisioning and deployment of multiple databases. Developers do not have to install, setup, patch or manage any software, as all that is taken care of by Microsoft with this platform as a service (PAAS). High availability and fault tolerance is built-in and no physical administration is required.

Microsoft® SQL Azure Data Sync, currently in CTP (Community Technology Preview) is a cloud-based data synchronization service built on Microsoft Sync Framework technologies. It provides bi-directional data synchronization and data management capabilities allowing data to be easily shared between multiple SQL Azure databases and between on-premises and SQL Azure databases.

Microsoft SQL Azure Reporting lets you use the familiar on-premises tools you’re comfortable with to develop and deploy operational reports to the cloud. There’s no need to manage or maintain a separate reporting infrastructure, which leads to the added benefit of lower costs (and less complexity). Your customers can easily access the reports from the Windows SQL Azure portal, through a web browser, or directly from your applications.

“Can my databases can be as big as I want?”

No.  There are sizes that you can purchase, and you can move between purchased size limits if needed, but you do have a limit on the size of a single database based on what you’ve purchased.  Currently the largest a single database can be is is 50GB.  If you need more space, you’ll use multiple databases.

“What about backups.  Do I still need to do backups?”

Well.. in a word, yes.  But it all depends on what you need those backups for.  If you were doing mirroring for high availability – don’t worry about that.  SQL Azure data is already redundantly stored for you.  But if you need to keep an archive to be able to recover to a previous point in time; in case something changes that shouldn’t have- or in case perhaps you need to search old data for some kind of legal or compliance discovery process, then absolutely you need to do some kind of backup.  To my knowledge SQL Azure doesn’t have a native tool for doing that kind of rich archival for you; however, there are tools out there that will help.  And you do have the ability to easily make copies of your SQL Azure databases in the cloud. 

Back on March 16 I had the pleasure of chatting with Tharun Tharian on an IT Manager Talk webcast.  Tharun is a  Sr. Product Manager for SQL Azure and Middleware.  I recommend you give it a listen if you’d like a good overview of how the cloud and SQL Azure as a cloud-based solution might make sense for your business.

And here are some more good sources of information about SQL Azure:

At MMS this year Microsoft made some big announcements that relate to how you will better be able to manage your cloud.  Check back tomorrow for details in Part 8.

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