Microsoft Unveils SQL Server 2014, New Azure Big Data Analytics Service

Microsoft brought its big data strategy into sharper focus Tuesday, unveiling a trio of products that it says will help customers gain valuable business insight from the mountains of data they're generating.

In addition to SQL Server 2014, Microsoft debuted its Analytics Platform System (APS), pitching it as an appliance for customers that need to do queries spanning SQL Server and Hadoop.

Microsoft also launched a preview of a new cloud offering called Azure Intelligent Systems Service, which is designed to capture and manage the coming torrent of machine-generated data that will result from the growth of the Internet of Things.

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Microsoft's data platform tools are already "a pretty big business," with SQL Server alone accounting for $5 billion in annual revenue, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at a customer event in San Francisco Tuesday.

With Azure storage usage doubling every six months, and Excel continuing to be the front-end tool of choice for end users of big data technology, Microsoft has all the tools organizations need to leverage data from server logs, social networking streams and other sources, Nadella said.

SQL Server 2014 includes in-memory technology that accelerates transaction processing times for all workloads, said Nadella. In some cases, SQL Server 2014 handles transactions up to 30 times faster than the previous version, according to Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.

Nadella said the new Azure Intelligent Systems Service collects data from sensors and servers and stores it in the cloud, where it's accessible to other parts of Microsoft's data platform, such as Excel and Office. The service "takes out all the friction that exists in connecting the cloud with the big data trend," Nadella said.

But Microsoft isn't just pushing its new data analytics products to customers, it's also using them internally as part of a broad, organizationwide effort to make use of internally generated data.

Microsoft COO Kevin Turner made an appearance at the event to talk about what the software giant's embrace of big data means for customers and partners. The combination of Azure and SQL Server 2014, he said, lets organizations extract "deep business insight" from their everyday data stores.

"Our strategy is to process data where the data lives -- any type of data, whether it's inside or outside the firewall," Turner said at the event.

By using Excel and Office 365 on the front end, and Azure and SQL Server on the back end, Microsoft customers can gain insight from data using natural language queries, he said.

Microsoft also sees the scalability of SQL Server and Azure as another key advantage over the competition. Nasdaq, a Microsoft customer, has a database table with more than a quintillion rows, Turner said. SQL Server 2014's in-memory technology has cut query times from days to minutes, he added.

Former Microsoft executive Paul Maritz, now CEO of Pivotal, famously coined the term "eating your own dog food" to describe Microsoft's practice of using its own software internally. Microsoft's updated set of big data tools, and the manner in which the company is using them, takes that concept to a new level.