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The next SQL game changer?

October 13, 2011

Today at the SQL PASS Summit conference, a “new” technology was unveiled called SQL Azure Federations. The TechNet article is available here. I won’t go into what sharding is, in this blog. That is a subject for a whole other blog (or three) that you’ll just have to search for on your own using your favorite search engine.

So why is this a potential game changer? Two reasons.

1) Data management between shards will be built into the engine. Data will be able to move transparently (to the application) from one shard to another, and one shard can even be split into two shards, again completely online. The underlying method of how this works was compared as the shard equivalent to rebuilding an index online. Practically I’m sure there are many moving parts and maybe even some caveats we haven’t heard of yet, but managing something like this with minimal-to-no application downtime or impact is a feat that may be hard to appreciate unless you try it yourself.

2) Azure will be based on the SQL Server 2012 codebase, which means that at some point (but NOT in 2012 RTM) this functionality may also be available in SQL Server itself. This is a HUGE step forward for Microsoft, and something that the developer community potentially has been waiting on for years. From my own experience, 10 years ago the company I was a DBA at moved from a single-server system to a federated system. It was all home-grown technology and was very painful to make the transition.

Granted, physical hardware has come a long way in 10 years, and what one single server can run now more than makes up for a federated farm of servers back in 2001. But …. there is still one place that has its limits: cloud.

Virtual servers are still constrained on CPU and memory limits far below what modern physical hardware can deliver. Given that more systems are moving from physical to virtual, this doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Yes, 90% of the systems out there will gain performance migrating from 3-5 year old physical systems onto brand new virtual systems.

This isn’t for that 90%. This is for the systems that won’t run in cloud now because they exceed a single VM’s capabilities. With Federation technology, cloud finally can deliver what it promised in the first place: unlimited performance and scale-up (ironically through scale-out).

So, what do you think? At Summit 2011, is the best news that SQL 2012 is on the horizon? Or PowerView? New T-SQL enhancements? To me it’s engine-level Federation technology. And for now, it might just put Azure ahead of every other platform for new databases (gasp – yes I did just say that).



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