Published: 17 Aug 2009
By: Pinal Dave

Pinal Kumar Dave introduces the SQL Azure platform.

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What is SQL Azure?

In short, SQL Azure is simply a Microsoft branding change. SQL Services and SQL Data Services are now known as Microsoft SQL Azure and SQL Azure Database. There are a few changes, but fundamentally Microsoft’s plans to extend SQL server capabilities in cloud as web-based services remain intact. SQL Azure will continue to deliver an integrated set of services for relational databases. The reporting, analytics and data synchronization with end-users and partners also remains unchanged. This makes it most appealing to current users of SQL Server.

Architecture

Some architectural changes have been introduced. While the basic foundation remains the same, support for certain languages and protocols has been discontinued. A relationship data model replaces the ACE (Authority, Container, Entity) data model. In the new model, customer applications gain access through TSQL over TDS. The development environment of those currently using an on-premise SQL server database will continue to be familiar and existing expertise, applications and tools are still applicable.

Programming Model

As a fully relational data model in the cloud has replaced the entity based data model, programming for the new model needs a shift from the ACE programming model to a relational data module, but many SQL Server-like concepts still apply. To access data in the cloud, existing Transact-SQL code can still be used. Developers will need to modify their current Transact-SQL code to interact with the fully relational cloud database service. Current applications may need modification and, in some cases, new applications will need to be created. Existing data access frameworks, such as ADO.NET Data Services can be used without much effort for additional REST and SOAP services.

(image courtesy of http://dev.live.com/blogs/devlive/archive/2008/10/27/419.aspx)

SQL Azure vs. SQL Server

SQL Server database technologies were used to build SQL Azure. Specifically, the technologies used in critical enterprise and web applications are included. The extensive data platform of SQL Server is capable of handling all data types and the SQL Azure platform introduces many associated capabilities. New relational functionalities are included and extended as services in the cloud .

Availability, self-management and ease-of-use are the highlights of the new service. While only the core RDBMS capabilities of the full SQL Server data platform are presently included, more services are expected to be introduced in the future. Reporting, analytics and ETL will no doubt be available over time. As SQL Server and SQL Azure share the same technologies, bilateral innovation can also be anticipated.

SQL Azure Database

The SQL Azure database service offers a scalable and distributed database hosted in the cloud, and therefore highly available. As HA, backup and recovery, geo-distribution and disaster recovery are built-in, developers do not need to manage any software, but in the case of a dedicated hosted database, they will still be responsible for database software, i.e. for the installation and tasks related to OS and database software.

Windows Azure Table storage

Windows Azure Table storage, offered by SQL Azure Database service, provides a non-relational, scalable, simple structured data storage solution in the Cloud. Structured, semi-structured and unstructured data can be processed and analyzed. As Windows Azure applications are supported in the SQL Azure Database service, it is possible to combine services in accordance with your needs.

SQL Azure Development

SQL Azure’s relational database service supports the T-SQL (Transact-SQL) over TDS (Tabular Data Stream) protocol. The relational data model in the cloud can therefore be used together with current T-SQL developments. The new distributed functionality of the SQL Azure Database in the cloud should provide development cost-savings, as existing applications, tools and expertise can be incorporated. The ability to use the traditional RDBMS data model in the cloud implies that developers should be able to use current interfaces to build new applications, and previous investments in development, training and tools should hold their value.

(image courtesy of http://www.microsoft.com/azure/howdoesitwork.mspx)

Current SOAP and REST based ACE programming models are no longer supported in SQL Azure, but building custom services with ADO.NET Data Services does provide a relatively simple solution for those requiring REST access to their SQL Azure data. For REST based programming model users, who simply require non-relational structured data storage, Windows Azure storage should prove to be an adequate solution.

Visual Studio can be used to create and modify applications for SQL Azure. Additionally, for developing new applications, ASP.NET controls and tools are a useful solution. Web based management tools, to access and manage data in the cloud, and tools and documentation supporting further programming languages, are expected to be introduced in the near future.

Pricing

As a part of the Windows Azure platform, SQL Azure Database will deliver traditional relational database service in the cloud, supporting T-SQL over Tabular Data Stream (TDS) protocol. SQL Azure Database will be available in two editions: the Web Edition Database and the Business Edition Database.

  • Web Edition – 2GB of T-SQL based database space for $9.99 per month
  • Business Edition – 10GB of T-SQL based database space for $99.99 per month.Customers can also purchase bandwidth for $.10 in and $.15 out per GB

Currently, SQL Azure offers relational database service called Microsoft® SQL Azure Database. Other services will be available in future. SQL Azure Database is available as a Community Technology Preview (CTP) service. Other services will be available in the future. http://www.microsoft.com/sql/dataservices/default.mspx

Summary

SQL Azure is going to be the Next Big Thing from Microsoft. It is just giving SQL Server a new way of doing operations it was doing for long time. Being on cloud, it keeps development relatively simple by keeping the heart of the programming almost the same. Additionally, SQL Azure keeps the goals of SQL Server, i.e. high availability, scalability and security in the core.

Developers can just start developing SQL Azure application locally using SQL Server Express version (http://www.microsoft.com/express/sql/download/), or the CTP version that will be available in August.

Further Reading

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About Pinal Dave

Pinalkumar Dave is Microsoft SQL Server MVP and author of several hundreds SQL Server articles. He has six years experience as Principal Database Administrator in MS SQL Server 2008/2005, .NET (C#) and ColdFusion MX. He has a Masters of Science degree in Computer Networks, along with MCDBA, MCAD(.NE...

This author has published 16 articles on DotNetSlackers. View other articles or the complete profile here.

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