Microsoft has released its long awaited SQL Server 2016 database platform with an emphasis on the enhanced analytics capabilities in addition to greater performance and closer integration with the firm's Azure cloud services.
Generally available now, SQL Server 2016 is the latest incarnation of Microsoft's widely deployed relational database system, delivering new levels of performance and scale.
The firm claimed that customers could see some workloads getting a 48 per cent performance boost simply by upgrading from the previous release.
However, the IT landscape has changed rapidly over the past few years. Analytics has become much more of a focus for organisations, and Microsoft faces stiffer competition from maturing open source alternatives in the relational database market.
To meet these challenges, Microsoft is pushing new capabilities such as the integration of advanced analytics into SQL Server, what it terms hybrid transactional and analytical processing, meaning that applications can now deploy sophisticated analytics and machine learning models in the database itself.
"SQL Server 2016 simplifies analytics in the way databases simplified enterprise data management by moving analytics close to where the data is managed instead of the other way round," said Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Data Group, on the SQL Server blog.
"It introduces a new paradigm where all joins, aggregations and machine learning are performed securely in the database itself without moving the data out, thereby enabling analytics on real-time transactions with greater speed and parallelism."
This means that the database can effectively operate as a central server for an enterprise's analytical models, and multiple intelligent applications can access the same models, Sirosh added, greatly simplifying how mission-critical intelligent applications can be built and managed.
Other capabilities include Always Encrypted technology to ensure that data is protected at rest and in transit, and the Stretch Database technology that allows customers dynamically to extend data from an on-premise SQL Server deployment to Microsoft's Azure public cloud.
SQL Server 2016 also comes with features and tools to support cross-platform analytics, according to Microsoft.
Polybase allows customers to run queries on external data in Hadoop or Azure blob storage, while Microsoft R Services, which is integrated with SQL Server, runs on multiple Hadoop distributions and is integrated with Azure HDInsight. R Tools for Visual Studio allows the use of Microsoft's Visual Studio development suite for building analytical code.
Microsoft is aiming to take market share from rivals such as Oracle with SQL Server 2016, announcing earlier this year an offer of free SQL Server licences for Oracle database users. The firm is also developing a version of SQL Server 2016 that will run on Linux servers, although this is not expected until next year.
SQL Server 2016 is available in four editions: Enterprise, Standard, Express and Developer. The last is available as a free download to encourage development on top of the latest SQL Server release.
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