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Microsoft has announced the release of the second Community Technology Preview (CTP) of SQL Server 2014. It is a near feature-complete release slated as the product's last public review before it hits the shelves sometime in the first half of 2014.
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The CTP 2 release, which you can download at the TechNet Evaluation Center until it expires on March 31, 2014, is also available as a virtual machine (VM) in Windows Azure.
Earlier this year, Microsoft released SQL Server 2014 CTP 1, and since then, the product has been downloaded more than 36,000 times. During that period, Microsoft has worked closely with more than 100 customers to iron out bugs and implement new features. The company anticipates tens of thousands of more downloads with the release of CTP 2, as they continue to refine the product and implement the remaining features in preparation for the 2014 release.
SQL Server 2014 In-Memory OLTP
One of the most touted features in CTP 2 is In-Memory OLTP, code-named Hekaton. The new feature promises to deliver substantial performance gains for online transaction processing (OLTP) operations that support heavy read loads. Relational databases in SQL Server 2014 will now natively support in-memory optimized tables as part of SQL Server’s core database management components. Best of all, customers will be able to take advantage of these new capabilities without having to upgrade hardware, buy separate products or rewrite their existing applications. According to Microsoft, if a customer’s systems can run SQL Server 2012, they can run SQL Server 2014.
Now that CTP 2 is available, users should be able to fully test the product’s in-memory capabilities, which include broader T-SQL compatibility and support for additional index types. CTP 2 also includes new advisory tools to help DBAs determine which tables are best suited to run in memory. In addition, the in-memory capabilities in the CTP 2 release are now integrated with SQL Server’s AlwaysOn features to help ensure high availability for all databases.
Another feature available in CTP 2 is delayed durability, which lets you configure your in-memory OLTP transactions so they’ll report successful commits when the log is written to memory, rather than waiting until it’s written to disk. However, you should exercise this option only if you can tolerate some data loss, such as when individual records are not important as long as you have most of the data. In such cases, you might benefit form the performance gains that delayed durability provides.
Windows Azure integration
With the release of CTP 2, Microsoft has also been emphasizing the product’s integration with Windows Azure, which is why the company refers to the SQL Server 2014 as a hybrid cloud platform. For example, CTP 2 has built-in Azure backup support and promises to simplify backup and recovery operations integrated with Azure. In addition, you can now encrypt your backup files during the backup process. (CTP 2 also lets you encrypt on-premises backups.) In fact, Microsoft is so committed to its cloud integration strategy that the company will soon be releasing a tool for other SQL Server versions to help integrate backup operations with Azure.
The CTP 2 release also lets you use an Azure VM as an AlwaysOn availability group replica. Introduced in SQL Server 2012, availability groups provide failover services that consist of a primary replica and multiple secondary replicas. SQL Server 2014 lets you configure up to eight secondary replicas, double the number allowed in SQL Server 2012, and any of those replicas can be an Azure VM. In addition, the secondary replicas in CTP 2 permit read workloads to run even if the network fails or the cluster service has lost the quorum, unlike secondary replicas in SQL Server 2012.
Installing SQL Server 2014 CTP 2
Before you install CTP 2, you should take into account a number of issues. To begin with, Microsoft Customer Services and Support (CSS) does not support CTP 2. If you plan to try it out, you’re on your own. In addition, you should not install CTP 2 in a production environment. Microsoft has made the product available for testing purposes only. Plus, Microsoft does not support side-by-side installations of CTP 2 with down-level production SQL Server instances, nor does the company support in-place upgrades with those instances or upgrades from SQL Server 2014 CTP 1 to CTP 2.
There are, of course, other issues to consider before installing CTP 2. You can’t, for example, install the product on a domain control. In addition, when you do install it, certain Internet-related features are enabled by default, such as the Customer Experience Improvement Program and the Error and Usage Reporting functionality. Plus, SharePoint 2013 applications do not function against CTP 2, and the CTP 2 release does not include the Master Data Services Excel add-in. Instead, you have to install the add-in for SQL Server 2012.
For more information about issues to take into account before installing CTP 2, check out the Microsoft article “SQL Server 2014 Community Technology Preview 2 (CTP 2) Release Notes.” In addition, you might find it useful to review the MSDN article “Hardware and Software Requirements for Installing SQL Server 2014.”
Working with the CTP 2 release
Because the SQL Server 2014 CTP 2 is a near feature-complete release, you should be able to test just about all the functionality you’re interested in exploring. The more you dig into the product, the more you’re likely to discover new features that have not received nearly as much press as In-Memory OLTP and Azure integration. For example, SQL Server 2014 now includes the ability to manage the lock priority for the Table Partition Switch and Online Index Rebuild (OIR) functions. In addition, SQL Server 2014 also lets you rebuild indexes online for individual partitions.
By giving SQL Server 2014 CTP 2 a try, you should gain a good sense of whether this product is right for you. Microsoft is still being vague about when they’ll release the final product, other than to say it will in the first half of next year, but until they do, there’s no reason not to take the opportunity that the CTP 2 release provides for learning as much about the product as possible.
About the author:
Robert Sheldon is a technical consultant and the author of numerous books, articles, and training material related to Microsoft Windows, various relational database management systems, and business intelligence design and implementation.
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