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Azure SQL upgrades are at the forefront of Microsoft’s big data push

Microsoft's latest round of upgrades to its big data cloud tools include a handful of new Azure SQL offerings that compare to Amazon Redshift.

Big data is again at the forefront of Microsoft's cloud push.

Microsoft has introduced a series of product upgrades and new features, including big data updates to the capabilities of Azure SQL. It follows a trend for the software giant, which has made a number of efforts to upgrade its big data cloud offerings this year.

The new features include Azure SQL Data Warehouse, what Microsoft describes as an enterprise-grade elastic data warehouse-as-a-service and business intelligence product. Customers can scale compute on-premises or in the cloud, independent of storage, and it can be integrated with other services, including HDInsight, Machine Learning, Data Factory and Power BI.

Azure Data Lake, a Hadoop file system and big data analytics repository without fixed size limitations, was also introduced. No date for public preview has been provided for either service yet.

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The new SQL Data Warehouse is Microsoft's answer to Amazon's Redshift service. The two products are comparable, and Microsoft was able to articulate some areas in which it's more advanced, including the ability to elastically scale, said Al Hilwa, program director at IDC Corp., a market research firm based in Framingham, Mass.

"In reality, there will be a leap-frogging of features over time, but Microsoft clearly signaled its intent that they are going to fight aggressively in this space," Hilwa said.

Microsoft has a long history in data warehousing and business intelligence, and these updates represent a significant level of advancement in the capabilities of Azure, Hilwa said.

Azure SQL’s new capabilities

Other updates to the SQL Database V12 include new encryption capabilities and an elastic database model, available in preview, which provides the ability to pool resources from multiple databases as needed.

Data Warehouse is a big upgrade for Azure customers who don't want to deploy SQL server, and it provides a robust set of capabilities for those who want to develop business intelligence capabilities with the cloud platform, said Jason Bero, Microsoft practice lead at Softchoice Corp., an IT service provider based in Toronto.

"That has been an Azure platform as a service limitation for clients," Bero said.

Microsoft has considerable traction with Azure among small organizations and startups because of the speed of getting to market without the need to manage physical servers, Bero said. The company also claims half of the Fortune 500 companies use Azure, and Bero said many opt to add a lump sum with their enterprise agreement that allows them to pick and choose which services they want to take advantage of.

Bero praised Microsoft's continued move to openness in other product news this week, including being able to use Visual Studio on Macs or Linux, and the concept of Universal Apps, which gives developers a more platform-agnostic approach to using its products and converting IOS applications to Windows devices.

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at [email protected].

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