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Four trends that will impact SQL Server DBAs in 2017

Flash storage adoption, cloud computing's growth, Linux's increased importance and broader big data integration are a few trends that stand to affect SQL Server users this year.

There's no doubt that 2016 was one of the biggest years of new technology ever for Microsoft IT shops. Windows Server 2016, SQL Server 2016 and SQL Server 2016 Service Pack 1 brought game-changing new features and functionality. Many will shape the course of SQL Server database administrators (DBAs) and their colleagues in 2017.

Using last year's developments as a springboard, let's look ahead to some of the trends 2017 has in store for SQL Server DBAs, developers and other IT pros who work with Microsoft's relational database.

Widespread adoption of flash storage. One of the biggest recent trends in the SQL Server market that will continue even stronger in 2017 is the increased use of flash storage. Flash storage provides higher performance and reliability compared to traditional spinning disks. Over the next five years, all-flash arrays will be adopted faster than hybrid flash arrays. And, by 2020, all-flash arrays will be 70% of the primary storage market, according to IDC. Although flash storage and enterprise solid-state drives cost more than hard disk drives, many flash-array vendors, such as Pure Storage, EMC, NetApp, IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, provide inline data compression, deduplication and other storage efficiency technologies that significantly lower their effective cost per GB.

With the high-performance multicore CPUs and massive memory capacities of today's server systems, I/O has become a performance bottleneck for many SQL Server instances. Flash storage can provide better performance than traditional disk storage for I/O-intensive applications, such as SQL Server -- a capability that will increasingly drive its adoption by businesses of all sizes.

The cloud computing beast grows. No surprise here: While SQL Server DBAs are often among the last to embrace cloud technologies, it's clear that cloud computing, in general, and Microsoft Azure, in particular, will be bigger factors in 2017 than they have been before. With Azure, you can run SQL Server in platform as a service mode using Azure SQL Database or in an infrastructure as a service setup by running SQL Server on Azure virtual machines. Thus far, these options have proven useful for smaller businesses and in test and development scenarios.

However, SQL Server's Azure integration capabilities hit an even more important note for users. The Azure integration that Microsoft added to SQL Server 2014 and SQL Server 2016 is valuable for backup and disaster recovery, as well as extending your on-premises databases to Azure -- all without the need to move your primary database processing into the cloud.

For instance, the Backup to URL feature introduced with SQL Server 2014 enables you to use low-cost and widely accessible off-site cloud storage for SQL Server backups. The Azure replication support built into Always On Availability Groups, Microsoft's high availability software for SQL Server, enables businesses that can't afford a physical disaster recovery (DR) site to leverage the cloud for off-site DR.

The Stretch Database feature will allow organizations with SQL Server 2016 to seamlessly stretch their archived and historical data to the cloud, which frees up higher-performance, on-premises storage for more current info. These integration features will continue to encourage businesses to pursue cloud adoption -- even for SQL Server.

Linux and open source's increased importance. SQL Server on Linux used to be a go-to April Fools' Day joke among SQL Server DBAs, but now it's a reality. Microsoft has a public preview of the next release of SQL Server that can be downloaded from the TechNet Evaluation Center; currently called SQL Server vNext, it includes support for running the database on Linux systems.

Microsoft's embrace of Linux is interesting to those organizations that must support Linux and related open source technologies because of internal policies or standards, as well as to organizations that run Oracle on Linux and might want to save on licensing costs. The availability of SQL Server on Linux also helps allay the fears of vendor lock-in that prevent some companies from moving to the Windows-only SQL Server editions.

Microsoft plans to release SQL Server vNext this year for enterprise Linux distributions, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. The initial Linux implementation includes support for columnstore indexes and Microsoft's In-Memory OLTP, row-level security and dynamic data masking. Microsoft said it intends to expand the features incrementally as the product moves forward.

SQL Server on Linux can be managed using PowerShell or the Windows-based SQL Server Management Studio and SQL Server Data Tools. Linux support opens up a bigger market for SQL Server, but it also means that SQL Server pros will need to possess some Linux familiarity to effectively deploy and manage the database on Linux.

Microsoft has also made other moves to embrace open source more fully. It partnered with Ubuntu Linux developer Canonical to bring the Bash shell to Windows 10, and its acquisition of Revolution Analytics two years ago brought statistical programming into SQL Server 2016. Microsoft has also open sourced PowerShell on Linux. This is not the open-source-shunning Microsoft of the past. Clearly, in 2017, Linux and open source are going to be bigger parts of both Microsoft's overall strategy and its direction for SQL Server.

Tighter big data integration ties. Big data has been one of the hottest data trends over the past couple of years, and it will grow even more in 2017. Big data facilitates efforts to produce analytical insights from unstructured data sources, which SQL Server typically cannot do. Microsoft's inclusion of its PolyBase technology in SQL Server 2016 will enable more organizations to integrate big data stored in Hadoop clusters with their relational data.

Originally released with SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse (which is now called the Microsoft Analytics Platform System), PolyBase allows you to use T-SQL to query Hadoop data stores, return the results of those queries to SQL Server and even join them with relational data. With the release of SQL Server 2016 last June, PolyBase was added to the Enterprise edition of the database, and the release of SQL Server 2016 SP1 in November brought it into the Standard edition, as well. Those moves vastly expanded the reach of SQL Server into the world of big data.

Overall, 2017 will be the year that large numbers of businesses begin to implement the wave of new SQL Server technologies Microsoft introduced in 2016. SQL Server DBAs and their fellow database professionals need to buckle up and get ready for the ride. 

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