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With the release of SQL Server 2014 earlier this year, Microsoft Corp. marked another milestone in its vaunted plan to plunge into cloud computing. SQL Server 2014 found a favourable response in early reviews, with commentators noting its cloud features as well as its incorporation of major data centre technologies like in-memory databases, enhanced backup and high availability features. The InfoWorld Test Center reviewers gave the release a 9.5 score out of ten.

Now InfoWorld has published a reflection on the significance of the new version. J. Peter Bruzzese starts by describing SQL Server 2014 as a “worthwhile upgrade” that pushes SQL further into the cloud. Bruzzese points out that it “brings in cutting-edge data center technologies such as in-memory databases pioneered by SAP’s HANA and recently adopted by big companies like Oracle.”

Besides the in-memory databases, the new release is noteworthy for its integration with Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform. “It’s obvious that Microsoft is doing all it can to encourage greater use of its cloud platform,” Bruzzese says. “For example, in addition to having a backup to Azure… you can use the new Cloud Migration Wizard through SQL Server Management Studio 2014 to migrate your on-premises database to SQL Azure and have it walk you through the process.” Users can also create virtual machines to host SQL and deploy a database using the Deploy a SQL Server Database to a Windows Azure VM wizard.

Bruzzese is especially interested in the new SQL Server’s in-memory database support for online transaction processing (OLTP). “The in-memory approach alters the focus for database design to use data stored entirely in main memory, as opposed to disks,” he says. “That’s all about faster performance, now that memory is cheap enough to be delivered at the scale needed.” Performance is improved by giving users the ability to move individual tables, instead of the whole database, to memory. However, Bruzzese notes, those tables have to be memory-optimized rather than disk-optimized.

Among the on-premises data centre enhancements, SQL Server 2014 works better with the newest Windows Server versions (2012 and 2012 R2). While it can scale up to 640 logical processors and 4TB or memory in a physical environment, in a virtual environment it scales up to 64 virtual processors and 1TB of virtual memory.

The new Managed Backup capability that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) has added allows users to back up the database at predefined recovery intervals and workload patterns. The system is able to decide on its own when if data has changed enough to warrant a backup. It can encrypt database backups for at-rest protection of your data using either a certificate or an asymmetric key.

“Those on-premises enhancements are sure to please IT admins, but the connection to Azure is likely a bit scary,” Bruzzese says. “When IT hears ‘cloud,’ it worries about security, operational cost, and bandwidth requirements.” In response. Microsoft has adopted a hybrid approach for availability and disaster recovery.

“The new capabilities in SQL Server 2014 are likely to get inside your door,” Bruzzese says, “and maybe pull Azure in with it.”

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