Microsoft has pushed out the first public preview of its next SQL Server corporate database release, enabling enterprise customers to test new capabilities such as always encrypted data and the ability to dynamically stretch data onto Microsoft's Azure cloud, as well as expanded in-memory support.
SQL Server 2016 was announced earlier this month by Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella at the firm's Ignite conference, with the usual promises that it will deliver breakthrough performance for mission critical applications, plus deeper insights on customer data across on-premises and cloud.
The first public preview, known as Community Technology Preview (CTP2) for SQL Server 2016, is available to download from the TechNet Evaluation Centre, and Microsoft has also published an SQL Server 2016 Preview site offering information about the upcoming release.
Key new capabilities in this release include the ability to have data encrypted at rest and in transit. The Always Encrypted feature means that SQL Server can perform operations on encrypted data, with the encryption key stored with the application itself.
Encryption and decryption of data happens transparently, Microsoft said, minimising changes that have to be made to existing applications.
In-memory online transaction processing was introduced in SQL Server 2014 last year, but is now being extended so that a broader range of applications can take advantage of the significant boost in performance this can offer, Microsoft said.
"With these enhancements, we introduce the unique capability to use our in-memory columnstore delivering 100X faster queries on top of in-memory OLTP to provide real-time operational analytics while accelerating transaction performance," said T K Rengarajan, corporate vice president for the data platform in Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise division.
Another feature is Stretch Database, which is designed to allow customers to make use of Microsoft's Azure cloud resources to store some of their data, especially historical data that would otherwise be archived.
When used in combination with the Always Encrypted feature, customers can be sure that their data is protected, Microsoft said.
Microsoft also said that this release of SQL Server is unique in that the firm is delivering key capabilities to the cloud first in its Microsoft Azure SQL Database, then filtering these through to SQL Server 2016.
Features such as Row-level security and Dynamic Data Masking will thus be proven to work well at scale before being implemented in the on-premise software.
Customers testing SQL Server 2016 will also be able to access more frequent updates to the preview release than in the past.
Instead of waiting for CTP3, customers can choose to download periodic updates to CTP2 and gain access to new capabilities and features as soon as they are available for testing, Microsoft said.
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