Microsoft Flexes Big Data Muscle With SQL Server Update, Brings Azure Cloud Services Into The Game

Most companies get that data analysis is important in the context of doing business. But a smaller number have the wherewithal to drill into the mountains of data they generate to get actual business insight from it.

Microsoft wants to change this situation. On Tuesday, the software giant rolled out a trio of new big data products that it said will let customers derive value from data residing in server logs, social networking streams and other places.

Many Microsoft customers have been using SQL Server and Excel to analyze and gain insights from their business data. Now there's a new version of SQL Server that features in-memory processing technology.

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SQL Server already represents a $5 billion business for Microsoft, and the update makes it a dramatically faster and more useful product for enterprises, CEO Satya Nadella said at a customer event in San Francisco.

But while SQL Server is a huge pillar of Microsoft's big data strategy, Azure is now playing a bigger role than it has in the past. Nadella said Azure, in combination with SQL Server, will let organizations take advantage of data analysis regardless of their level of technical expertise.

Microsoft has launched a preview of Azure Intelligent Systems Service, its forthcoming cloud-based service for the Internet of Things. It collects data from servers and web-connected sensors built into refrigerators, toothbrushes and other everyday items, and analyzes it in the cloud to derive useful information.

Nadella described Azure Intelligent Systems Service as a way to "take out all of the friction" between connecting the Internet Of Things with the analytics power of the cloud.

Also new is Analytics Platform System (APS), an appliance Microsoft executives are calling "big data in a box" that does queries on both SQL and Hadoop data stores. Nadella said customers can use the APS appliance to do queries across their transactional systems, servers, and website logs and social data streams.

APS and Azure Intelligent Systems Service are part of Microsoft's effort to "democratize" access to business intelligence for the masses, Chris Hertz, CEO of New Signature, a Washington, D.C.-based Microsoft partner, said in an interview.

"With the release of APS, they have made it even easier for customers to leverage Hadoop, by providing what I think of as a scalable starter kit," Hertz told CRN. "This will really make managing and actually using big data a reality for all businesses, not just those with outsized budgets."

NEXT: What's New In SQL Server 2014

Microsoft also launched SQL Server 2014, and the big, new addition is in-memory technology that makes it faster than it's ever been, Nadella said, describing it as a "breakthrough product" that can process online transactions up to 30 times faster than previous versions of SQL Server.

SQL Server 2014 also runs its workloads in the Azure Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud, Nadella said. This means organizations can tier their SQL workloads in the cloud for "high availability," which means a consistent level of operational performance.

But all of this new technology won't help organizations if they don't adjust their culture to recognize that data analysis is crucial to business success, Nadella said at the event. Microsoft, which has long championed using its own software -- which it calls "eating your own dog food" -- has been using its big data tools to improve efficiency of its own operations, he said.

Customers that buy and use these products could save tons of money from the efficiencies they bring. IDC, in a new Microsoft-commissioned study, estimates that companies worldwide can save $1.6 trillion over the next four years by deploying tools that let them analyze and make use of their data stores.

But while the new technology is a big part of Microsoft's big data push, Hertz said what's even more important is the growing interconnectedness of the products it's rolling out, and the fact that Azure is everywhere in the background.

"The real story here is that Microsoft continues to break down barriers for their customers. Long gone are the days when Microsoft built walled gardens," Hertz told CRN. "Microsoft is now building platforms and services that can run anywhere, anytime and connect to anything."