Microsoft Partners: Analytics, Security Features Baked Into SQL Server 2016 Are Going To Be Huge

Microsoft said earlier this week it's planning to make SQL Server 2016 generally available on June 1, a release that underscores the software giant's push to weave data analytics and cloud computing into its flagship database software.

Microsoft partners told CRN they're most excited about the addition of several new security and performance-enhancing features that they believe will make the upgrade an easy buying decision for enterprise customers.

SQL Server 2016 -- the first major update to the product in more than two years -- is now more versatile and can handle both "relational and beyond relational" data, such as JSON (JavaScript Object Notation), XML and Hadoop, said Tiffany Wissner, Microsoft's senior director of data platform marketing, in a blog post Monday.

One key new feature in SQL Server 2016 is integrated support for the R programming language, which is gaining favor across a variety of industries for its computational statistics capabilities. Data scientists often use R to do predictive analytics on operational data.

Andrew Brust, senior director, market strategy and intelligence at Datameer, a San Francisco-based data analytics vendor, said the ability to launch R scripts from SQL Server stored procedures is a useful addition that's been a long time coming.

"That’s a very cool idea. Effectively, it’s delivering on the promise of .NET CLR integration into the 2005 version of the product," said Brust.

SQL Server 2016 includes beefed-up "columnstore indexes," a feature that debuted with SQL Server 2012 and lets users do analytics queries in an operational database and get speedy performance. "Essentially, this is a technology that launched in earlier versions of the product, but really has nice fit and finish now," Brust told CRN.

SQL Server 2016 includes improvements to SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), which lets users curate reports from SQL Server databases.

Mike Branstein, director of application development at KiZAN Technologies, a Lousiville, Ky.-based Microsoft partner, described this as a "long-needed update" that incorporates new capabilities for modern reporting needs, including web and mobile data.

Branstein said integration of technology from DataZen, the , is another key addition to SQL Server 2016.

DataZen is an on-premise counterpart to Microsoft's Power BI, a cloud-based business intelligence tool that features advanced data visualization and reporting features.

"If you’re not ready for Power BI and cloud-based data and dashboards, DataZen allows you to build powerful dashboards and reports similar to Power BI," Branstein said.

SQL Server 2016 also lets customers "stretch" their on-premise SQL Server databases to Azure, using the cloud to store data and perform computations, said Branstein.

Microsoft has also added a number of security improvements in SQL Server 2016, including comprehensive data encryption that protects data all the way from the database to the app, according to Branstein. It's also possible to restrict individual data rows to specific users, he said.

Brust pointed to Dynamic Data Masking, a security feature that conceals sensitive data in query results, as another major addition to SQL Server 2016 that reflects customers' growing concerns over data breaches and privacy.

Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., is selling Enterprise, Standard and Express versions of SQL Server 2016, along with a free version, Developer, that will be available as a download.

Microsoft, which said in March it's working on a version of SQL Server that runs on the Linux operating system, didn't give an update this week on the status of that project. Microsoft has said previously that SQL Server for Linux would be available in mid-2017.

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