A few evenings ago I had the awesome opportunity to re-start the Phoenix Azure group.  I am really looking forward to what we can all learn and grow out of it.  I am vowing to all, here and now, that I will post a follow up on the topics so others can benefit from those meetings even if they can’t attend.

Our first presentation was on the new SQL Azure CTP.  Now, to be upfront, this was not something I had an opportunity to play with before the CTP had come out.  The first thing I learned was that basically the entire thing changed a short while ago.  The original version of SQL Data Services was not really “SQL” at all.  It was mostly a storage mechanism for entities using a flat XML file and the letting you hook up Linq to Azure or some sort.  This was all changed recently as the user groups gave lots of feedback and Microsoft listened (read: hate mail).  People wanted SQL, so Microsoft gave it to them.  This is the new SQL Azure CTP.

I am calling SQL Azure “the most unimpressively impressive new Azure service”.  The rough sum of what it takes to become technically ramped up is this, change a connection string.  Which, of course, is pretty awesome.  Although to access and manipulate a database is basically just a connection string change, lots of tools don’t really support creating or viewing the database properly yet.  For instance, you cannot connect via Visual Studio to the database via Server Explorer browser.  When you do connect to SQL Azure, you are going to have to use some of your mad t-SQL skills to do things you might otherwise use SSMS to do.  While there is some SSMS 2008 support, there are still lots of little bugs that are being worked out.  Because the new version of SQL Azure has removed many system stored procedures and feature groups, lots of things don’t work seamlessly (yet).  My understanding is, however, that this will be resolved before the release in November.  You can read much more about connecting here

There are also some things that simply don’t exist yet at all.  You basically get a very stripped down version of SQL Server.  According to Microsoft, their target for V1 release was to try and meet about 95% of the market.  I think they have done a pretty decent job with that.  The things that are not in V1 include various stored procs , features of SQL Server (free-text query, no direct backups are done (you can use SSIS to do this)), and almost all of the extended SQL stuff (SSAS, SSRS, etc…).  You can read more of the limitations and such here and here

Finally, because you are now talking about a shared server gig, you have other limitations such as time-out on long queries (5 minutes), excessive resource consumption, capped database sizes, idle timeout times, etc…

If you have stuck with me thus far… you are likely wondering why SQL Azure even matters.  If you can see past all the things it’s not, hopefully you will see instant databases.  Everything that I talked about above is a time game.  Most of the features you need and love are likely to be rolled out shortly.  Some features have even been built but aren’t rolled out as public yet.  The value add here is in cost, resources, and taking away lots of trouble from your shoulder.  Having a scalable architecture that lets you roll in new database instances at your whim is super cool.  But to also get fault tolerance and instantly provisioned new instances to support additional load if need be… that’s amazing.  Those things alone are incredibly difficult for most shops to afford.  To get them at the cost that SQL Azure provides is a big big deal.

There are obvious concerns with migrating to something like this.  Security and privacy being among them.  But, I think for lots of folk it will be well worth it.  There is literally no way you are going to get as robust and advanced a database environment as fast and as cheap.  Move fast though, the CTP trial account will only work for free until PDC (Nov).  After that you will have to pay.


– Meeting stuff –

SQL Azure Migration Tool

Azure ROI Tool

2009.09.SQLAzure (presentation, code to follow)

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