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TechEd starts this weekend. The show in Orlando, Fla., will be packed with Microsoft sessions, many of them for SQL Server pros. In this edition of “SQL in Five,” Microsoft data platform specialist Mark Kromer lists what he thinks the hottest sessions will be, as well as what attendees should expect to get out of the show. He also answers questions about a recent SQL Server announcement from Amazon.
TechEd is coming up this month. What do you think will be the hottest sessions?
Mark Kromer: Specific to SQL Server, you will see a lot of attention being paid to SQL Server 2012, just released and made generally available in April. Based on what I hear from DBAs, developers and architects in the SQL Server community who will be attending this year, the highlights for them will be learning more about in-memory analytics with Power View, PowerPivot 2.0 and Tabular Models in SSAS for BI professionals. For data warehouse technologists, columnar indexes for data warehouse performance breakthroughs is very important. On the infrastructure side, AlwaysOn availability groups will be hot. Personally, I’m looking for the latest updates on the data warehouse and consolidation appliance products including updates to PDW [Parallel Data Warehouse], Fast Track and the HP Consolidation Appliance.
Somewhat related to SQL Server pros, but also going a bit beyond that scope: I think that any new updates and announcements around Windows Azure will be very popular. Businesses, as well as Microsoft, continue to heavily invest in cloud computing. SQL Server and Microsoft BI professionals should take a look at data sync, SQL Server Reporting Services and Data Explorer, all cloud-based Azure products that I’ve been playing with in beta for months now. These are all very exciting in my opinion.
Of course, you’ll also want to keep an eye out for the Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 2012 sessions to catch a glimpse of the new OS versions in their current prerelease state.
What should attendees be able to take away from TechEd?
Kromer: From the Microsoft data platform perspective, there should be a clear case to be made that SQL Server 2012 as a platform provides tier 1, enterprise-ready capabilities. If you look at the additions of Data Quality Services, MDS [Master Data Services] 2012 and the integration of those EIM [enterprise information management] tools into SSIS [SQL Server Integration Services] and Excel, you can now build a complete data warehouse and BI infrastructure in SQL Server 2012 without leaving the Microsoft stack. And from an infrastructure perspective, AlwaysOn availability groups will give you the high availability and scale-out with read-only replicas and backup servers that you need for an enterprise-grade application. I guess I would say that, overall, attendees should come away with the impression that the SQL Server platform is now more complete and robust enough for any workload, while also starting to consider more cloud-based workloads on SQL.
Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) just recently announced a SQL Server service. What do you think about it?
Kromer: Hard for me to say, really. From what I read, that was a really very recent announcement. I was aware of RDS for MySQL from the beginning and more recently Oracle database as an option. But generally speaking, for customers looking at options for SQL Server in the cloud, you should carefully evaluate the differences in terms of management and costs of the different cloud versions of SQL Server, including SQL Azure, which has been in production for a few years now. When considering moving to a cloud-based database platform, be sure to look at the mechanisms being leveraged by the database provider for high availability, patching and replication, all areas that are critical to the success of a production database. If you choose a provider-managed database like SQL Azure, you won’t have to worry about patching, tempdb, high availability, et cetera, because Microsoft manages those for you.
Are there times when you think Amazon would be good, and other times when Microsoft Azure would be good?
Kromer: Well, to really give you an answer on that one, I would have to think about that in terms of IaaS [Infrastructure as a Service] vs. PaaS [Platform as a Service]. For example, Windows Azure started a few years back as a pure Microsoft Platform as a Service and has grown from there to allow non-.NET projects as well. Juxtapose that with Amazon that started their AWS [Amazon Web Services] cloud services providing VMs [virtual machines] of environments that customers could host in the Amazon cloud data centers, but were still managed by the customer IT staff. With Azure, you take your applications that you’ve built on SQL Server and .NET and deploy them from on-premises to in the cloud in Azure, or directly on Azure. The entire platform of servers and networks is managed by Microsoft. That means that if you are developing websites, Web services, Web-based applications that have very variable up-and-down bursting-usage patterns, hosting in Azure is a good bet for those.
What is one thing SQL Server pros should take a close look at in the next six months?
Kromer: Make sure that you’ve had a chance to download, install, and start playing with the SQL Server 2012 evaluation trial. With that evaluation server, take a look at the new features that can make a difference in your business in the short term. From what I am seeing with my early adopter customers, those features are typically AlwaysOn, columnar indexes, tabular models in SSAS [SQL Server Analysis Services] and Power View.
Power View seems like an obvious choice for something that you can start playing with immediately, because it is based in SSRS [SQL Server Reporting Services] and SharePoint and is very easy to use. If you’d like to start trying Power View, we have several sample data models hosted publicly that you can play with to build interactive Silverlight reports from these in-memory data models without needing to stand up a trial instance of SQL Server.
Mark Kromer has more than 16 years experience in IT and software engineering and is well-known in the business intelligence (BI), data warehouse and database communities. He is the Microsoft data platform technology specialist for the mid-Atlantic region. Check out his blog, MSSQLDUDE.