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SQL Server 2016 Sees Daylight in Public Preview Release

Microsoft on Wednesday released a public preview of SQL Server 2016.

The preview can be downloaded from this Microsoft Evaluation Center page. In its announcement, Microsoft describes the release as the "first public preview," although the download page labels it "Community Technology Preview 2." CTP is a term that Microsoft has typically used for software releases preceding the first public beta. Using a CTP suggests that a user has signed up to test a product, but it appears that the SQL Server 2016 CTP2 public preview is open to anyone. The change in nomenclature perhaps reflects Microsoft's faster software production approach.

Microsoft has been building its next SQL Server product first in the cloud, which "has completely changed how we build software," according to Shawn Bice, an engineering partner director at Microsoft, in an Ignite 2015 session held earlier this month. Bice said that SQL Server 2016 includes "mission-critical" workload improvements, enables "deeper insights across data" and adds "hyperscale cloud" capabilities.

Microsoft now gets its user feedback first from its Azure SQL Database global deployments and brings those learnings back into SQL Server. That approach has resulted in the "fastest and best box releases," starting with SQL Server 2016, Bice said.

Mission-Critical Improvements
On the mission-critical side, Microsoft has improved in-memory capabilities in SQL Server to include both rows and columns. The example presented at the Ignite session was about isolating fraudulent responses in customer response data by detecting anomalies in the data. Bice said Microsoft's customers wanted to push transactional data into a data warehouse for analysis but they wanted to perform fraud detection on that data first. Microsoft's technology in SQL Server 2016 that improves this analytical capability is called "in-memory OLTP" (online transaction processing).

The new "Always Encrypted" feature in SQL Server 2016 is another mission-critical improvement. Bice said that one gap in data protection with SQL Server was data in motion, which could be subject to man-in-the-middle types of attacks. With SQL Server 2016, that text isn't sent in the clear but travels as "cipher text," Bice explained.

He presented this summary slide of SQL Server 2016's mission-critical improvements:

[Click on image for larger view.] "Mission-critical" improvements in SQL Server 2016. (Source: Ignite 2015 session.)

Analytics Improvements
On the analytics side, SQL Server 2016 is bringing PolyBase integration, which allows Big Data queries using T-SQL across Hadoop, Azure storage and relational database management systems. The example presented during the Ignite session was sending car telemetry data to Hadoop and joining that information with customer records kept by an insurance company.

Microsoft also added the open source statistical programming language R as an extension that can be turned on in SQL Server 2016. It can be used with Machine Learning templates in the Azure Marketplace to set up models for exploring things like transactional data.

Bice showed this summary slide of SQL Server 2016's analytics enhancements:

[Click on image for larger view.] Analytics improvements in SQL Server 2016. (Source: Ignite 2015 session.)

Cloud Improvements
An example of the hyperscale cloud improvements in SQL Server 2016 is its "Stretch Database" feature. It's a tool for very large databases that stretches tables in SQL Server into Azure, Bice explained. It works with a SQL Azure account and leverages the Always Encrypted feature for security. The Stretch Database feature is disabled by default, so users have to turn it on first, which they can do while setting up an Azure account.

Bice provided the following slide summarizing SQL Server 2016's cloud improvements:

[Click on image for larger view.] Cloud improvements in SQL Server 2016. (Source: Ignite 2015 session.)

Other SQL Server 2016 improvements include "native" support for JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), which was a No. 1 customer request at the Microsoft Connect test site. Also, Microsoft improved its AlwaysOn feature used for high-availability operations by supporting "up to 3 synchronous replicas."

Microsoft lists many more SQL Server 2016 improvements in its announcement of the CTP2 release from early May. According to that announcement, testers will have the option of getting frequent updates SQL Server 2016 CTP2 instead of waiting for CTP3 to arrive, although it's not clear how to set that up.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.