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SQL Server 2017 will change how we think about it

Gavin Payne

The next version of Microsoft’s heavyweight database platform came one step closer to arriving this week when Microsoft released Release Candidate 1 of SQL Server 2017. Microsoft usually provides a couple of release candidates, meaning the final version is likely to appear sometime this autumn.

SQL Server 2017 will do more though than just deliver new functionality, there’s already a long list of new features here, but it also changes two important ways we think about it.

If there’s little difference, why bother?

The main characteristic of SQL Server running on Linux is the absence of any visible wow factor. What its database engine does on a server running the Windows operating system, it can now do on a server running the Linux operating system. The only easy way to find a change is to look at how the server SQL Server is installed on is configured, managed and monitored.

Microsoft has been able to make an instance of SQL Server running on a server that uses the Linux operating system almost indistinguishable from one running on a server using its own Windows operating system. If there’s any wow factor to look for, then it’s that.

If there’s little difference to SQL Server itself, then why bother making it run on the Linux operating system? The answer lies in the data centres of some of the world’s largest companies. Technology evolution over the last decade has left some of the largest spenders on technology with very few servers that use Windows. And according chatter from Microsoft staff, most of those servers are often just there to run SQL Server.

Allowing SQL Server to run on the Linux operating system allows those organisations which want to, to retire their remaining servers that run Windows and standardise on servers that run Linux. It also allows them to adopt the next generation of workload management platforms, such as OpenShift, kubernetes and Docker, which work best managing Linux workloads.

A different point of view

On the opposite side of the table are organisations with the opposite problem. They have already standardised on Linux as their server operating system, but have little to no choice about what commercial database server software they can use. A decade ago, there were options from Oracle, IBM, Informix and Sybase. Today, market share data tells us there’s only really one and that’s Oracle.

So what happens then when those organisations fall out with Oracle or want some bargaining power when they renegotiate their licensing agreements? Right now, the media will tell us they can look at open source options such as MySQL or cloud hosted alternatives, but for the reality for some organisations is that their boards still want their most important systems to use a vendor written and vendor supported traditional database platform.

Microsoft then is putting an option on the table for these organisations. While not an overnight solution, they now have a strategic alternative to Oracle. Merv Adrian, a VP of Research at Gartner specialising in data platforms, told me that SQL Server on Linux will have a huge impact on Microsoft, but also Oracle and IBM. For the first time in a generation, there’s now a compelling new entrant to the RDBMS on Linux market.

A new way to work

For most of its lifetime, new versions of SQL Server have been rare. Some industry veterans will remember a five year gap between releases while most have become used to a regular two year release cycle. While SQL Server 2017 has changed that rhythm by appearing just a year after the last release, there has quite rightly been little commotion about this change.

Knowing which version of SQL Server an application uses is important, which is why vendors often support several versions and organisations standardise on a handful. They press the pause button and freeze database server innovation in their organisation but staying with a specific version of SQL Server for as long as they need to, often many years and sometimes over a decade. This option to manage versions gives them the feeling of control they want or the technical compatibilities they need.

That approach is very different to how cloud services evolve. Their providers are usually constantly adding functionality that developers and users can start using without out too much effort. A cloud-generation developer today is used to new functionality appearing in the platforms they use or new programming languages and frameworks emerging that solve problems which didn’t until recently exist.

With SQL Server 2017, Microsoft is appealing to both worlds. It’s providing new database server functionality to those ready to deploy the current latest version and start programming, and it’s extending the support with its Premium Assurance offering to those that want to use older versions of SQL Server for much longer than it expected.

The interesting question is whether Microsoft now continues with a yearly release cycle for SQL Server and plans for SQL Server 2018? Right now, there’s still parts of the SQL Server family waiting to be bought to the Linux operating system, such as SQL Server Analysis Services. So, it wouldn’t surprise me then to see another release in another 12 months’ time.

Transforming, upgrading and migrating

Coeo’s platform consultants help organisations redesign and redeploy their SQL Server environments and upgrade them. Over the next year, we’ll also help them migrate them to Linux. If we could also help your organisation with sql server management, or train you to help it, then please contact us.

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