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At the PASS Data Community Summit in Seattle, Microsoft today announced the general availability (GA) release of SQL Server 2022, the latest version of Microsoft’s flagship relational database platform. The private preview of SQL Server 2022 was announced about a year ago; the first release of SQL Server on Microsoft’s Windows Server operating system was released some 30 years ago. Despite the seniority of that platform, it has been constantly modernized and the release of the product in 2022 is no exception.
VentureBeat spoke with Rohan KumarMicrosoft’s Corporate Vice President, Azure Data, for the business perspective, and Asad Khan, Vice President, Azure Data Engineering, for the technology details. Kumar announced the GA news during his keynote address at the PASS event this morning, speaking to VentureBeat about the business value of the release; Khan talked about the technological details.
Hybrid cloud or versatile cloud?
On the business side, Microsoft sees this release of SQL Server as the one that uses numerous components of Microsoft’s Intelligent Data Platform (IDP) and, despite being an on-premises product, the most cloud-oriented version of SQL Server released to date. Both pillars are supported by integration with Azure Synapse Analytics, Azure SQL Database Managed Instance (MI), Azure Active Directory and Microsoft Purview. The cloud story is further underpinned by compatibility with S3-compatible object storage, although that also matters on-premise.
At a high level, however, Microsoft is looking at SQL 2022 as the release that will bring cloud innovations back to the customers who still need to run on-premises. The high compatibility with cloud releases of SQL Server, which includes numerous editions of Azure SQL Database, especially Azure SQL Database MI, means that customers can access the features of the cloud releases on-premises. It also makes it easier for customers to move to the cloud when they are ready and it allows Microsoft to work with those customers and better understand the factors hindering their move to the cloud.
The GA of SQL 2022 also parallels the maturation of the operational-analytical data technology balance. Kumar explained that the days when operational databases, business intelligence, analytics and data governance were thrown to customers as separate components are over. Instead, Microsoft is now working to bring all of these things together while strongly supporting hybrid cloud scenarios.
Microsoft has worked hard to achieve certifications and compliance under various government and industry regulatory frameworks. By doing that and making its on-premises and cloud products more compatible and interoperable, Microsoft aims to remove most – if not all – of the friction of moving workloads to the cloud. It even makes it easy to move them back on site if that becomes a priority. Knowing that a move to the cloud is not irrevocable can help customers move the bulk of their workload there with greater confidence.
This is also not an Azure-specific premise. During our briefing, I asked Khan if disaster recovery scenarios could work not only between SQL Server and Azure SQL Database MI (as I’ll describe shortly), but also with Amazon RDS, once SQL Server 2022 is available on that platform. Not only did Khan say it would happen, but he said that stuff like that is the point of the release, not just some curious edge case.
Yes, many enterprise organizations run workloads in a hybrid mix of on-premises and cloud platforms, but what they may really want is for the infrastructure to be fungible and interoperable so that workloads can go anywhere and move anywhere. That ideal seems to underlie the strategic direction for SQL Server 2022, at least rhetorically. As it turns out, the content of the release supports that strategy as well.
So what are the technical improvements underpinning these talking points and the strategic direction? For starters, a new Link feature for Managed Instance means that SQL Server on-premises can now be linked and operated almost interchangeably with Azure SQL MI. Using a simple wizard, database administrators (and likely non-DBAs as well) can configure a provisioned MI in the cloud to serve as a secondary failover node for an on-premises SQL Server 2022 instance, or vice versa. In addition, the provisioned MI can be used as a readable replica to balance workloads in addition to its role as fault tolerance.
Then, using a feature called Azure Synapse Link, SQL 2022 operational data can be silently and silently replicated to dedicated pools (data warehouse instances) in Azure Synapse Analytics. The transaction log/change feed based replication can be continuous or scheduled. This feature was already available for Azure SQL Database (the regular cloud version of SQL Server) and is still in preview on the Synapse Analytics side at the time of writing. It provides one of many options for SQL Server customers to pursue operational database and analytics workloads together.
Another such option is SQL Server’s enhancement PolyBasea data virtualization and big data connectivity feature, to be compatible with Amazon S3 and all object storage systems that are API compatible with it. Again, the cloud/on-premises paradox emerges as many S3 API compliant storage platforms, such as Minio, run on site. As a result, Microsoft touts the new PolyBase as the gateway to any data lake. This technology also enables database backup to S3-compatible object storage.
Ironically, however, PolyBase no longer supports connectivity to on-premises Hadoop clusters. But as a result, PolyBase’s dependency on the Java runtime has been eliminated, increasing the likelihood that more customers will install it. If so, it would probably be a good thing for SQL Server to integrate with the modern open source data analytics stack, much of which is in the cloud.
So Synapse Link provides export connectivity to data warehouses, and PolyBase provides import connectivity to data lakes (as well as export, via the new CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE AS SELECT — CETAS — command). But what if customers want to run analytics on SQL Server themselves? There are also new possibilities here, in the form of improvements columnstore indexes, which are designed for operational analytics. The short version of the improvement is that it makes operational analysis faster. The longer version is that a new capability allows clustered columnstore indexes to be physically ordered, enabling something called “segment elimination”. Eliminating segments allows SQL Server to skip entire batches of data that are irrelevant to a query, rather than having to scan all that data and determine its irrelevance by brute force.
SQL Server 2022 also includes improved support for JSON data, query intelligence for better performance, and a Ledger feature that enables blockchain-style database manipulation. There is also integration with Azure Active Directory for authentication, Microsoft Defender for security and Microsoft Purview for access rights, data classification, data catalog, and data lineage.
I’ve been using SQL Server since the early 1990s. This new 2022 release adds support for major new cloud, database and analytics technologies while staying consistent and faithful to the classic platform with a huge community of skilled professionals. While Microsoft is pursuing newer platforms like its Azure Cosmos DB NoSQL platform and supports open source databases such as PostgreSQL, it never seems to lose confidence or give up investments in SQL Server. The market seems to be rewarding Microsoft for this policy. It will be interesting to see what the 4th decade of SQL Server will bring.
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