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The cloud is now a fact of business life, and adoption is growing fast. Findings from a 2016 survey by RightScale found 95 percent of respondents are now using the cloud. Perhaps more noteworthy is the increase in hybrid cloud adoption from 58 percent to 71 percent year-over-year.

The fact that the cloud has become so ubiquitous — coupled with the fact that data is driving business success, raises the question: What is the best way to extract the highest value from both the cloud and a data platform?

In other words, does it make more sense to get native cloud capability built into your data platform with SQL Server 2016? Or does it make sense to spend a lot of extra money cobbling together cloud capabilities onto Oracle and to pay for costly support in order to piece it all together?

Microsoft has invested heavily in the former option, building cloud capabilities into SQL Server. SQL Server 2016 is architected to work smoothly with the cloud in a hybrid environment that helps organizations realize the benefits of hyperscale cloud. And SQL Server and Microsoft Azure work better together because the Microsoft hybrid cloud technology provides a consistent set of tools and processes between on-premises and cloud-based environments. This means that SQL Server 2016 is designed to work in a hybrid cloud environment in which data and services reside in various locations.

As a result, it is now much easier to move databases to the cloud. The list of scenarios supported in the SQL Server 2016 wave includes Stretch Database, Always Encrypted, faster hybrid backups and high availability, and disaster recovery scenarios to back up and restore on-premises databases to Microsoft Azure and place SQL Server AlwaysOn secondaries in Azure.

Upcoming blogs from engineers working on these capabilities will cover the technical details. To set the stage for those drilldowns, it’s important to have an overview of the business implications of some of the hybrid cloud functionality built into SQL Server.

Stretch Database – built-in innovation, only in SQL Server

The mounting cost of storing ever-expanding amounts of data is an issue facing most organizations. In fact, many companies don’t accurately know the actual cost they’re incurring for data storage per gigabyte per month. Hardware, maintenance and software required for data storage are generally tracked, but the time DBAs invest is not.

And that time could be significantly affecting how much bandwidth employees have to perform productive, non-maintenance tasks and strategic efforts. (To learn more, see Joe Yong’s Channel 9 presentation, “Stretching On-Premises Databases to the Cloud.”)

To appreciate the impact on the DBAs’ time, consider that it’s not uncommon for a single Online Transaction Processing (OLTP) table to have a billion unpartitioned rows, or considerably more. This means that backup and restore times could require many hours, especially if the data set includes cold data (i.e., infrequently accessed data) that needs to be brought back online to complete a full database restore. Because business users require IT to retain cold data, this situation can mean increasingly high storage costs and the likelihood that IT and business will have to deal with an inability to meet Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for operations, such as database indexing and backup and restore.

To address this productivity hit and to transparently offer near-infinite capacity with low TCO storage, Microsoft has introduced the revolutionary SQL Server 2016 Stretch Database, which no other database vendor can provide today or in the near future.

Giving real-world and community context to the business impact of this unmatched technology, SQL Server expert and consultant, Mike Lawell of Linchpin People, explains: “Stretch Database is a feature we’ve all dreamed about but couldn’t imagine ever being implemented. It will allow production databases to offload ‘older’ [cold] data to an ‘archive’ location in the Microsoft Azure cloud without losing access to the data. This is huge for the clients that refuse or are unable to let go of their data. Many enterprises need quick access to their data for compliance reasons, and now they can now push that data up to the cloud. This will save large amounts of money in storage cost and still allow ready access for compliance audits.”

Always Encrypted

As data becomes the center of digital business, IT security has to be focused on data. For more information, see the July 10, 2015, Forrester report (The Future Of Data Security And Privacy: Growth And Competitive Differentiation Vision: The Data Security And Privacy Playbook). With this focus, organizations need to think of data security and privacy as a way to differentiate themselves from their competition. For example, companies that can assure that customer and business data are secure have a competitive edge over companies that don’t make data security a priority. So to remain competitive,  business and technical decision makers need a data platform with built-in security, and they need a strategy that takes advantage of such capabilities.

SQL Server has built-in security that includes Always Encrypted, a feature that gains important new and unique enhancements in SQL Server 2016. With Always Encrypted, SQL Server is the first data platform that provides query-able encryption. Now, data can be encrypted while at rest and in motion (both on-premises and in the cloud), and the new Transparent Queryable Encryption lets users query that data while it is encrypted, with very little overhead.

With Always Encrypted, SQL Server 2016 helps organizations guarantee that the data and the corresponding keys are never seen in plain text on the server. Always Encrypted capabilities ensure that DBAs and other high-privileged but unauthorized users cannot access sensitive data stored in a SQL Server database.

As we believe the cited Forrester report highlighted, excellent data security can help organizations compete. And if there is any doubt about the importance of advanced security technology, consider the results of a recent independent study by King Research, “Enterprise Application Security Market Research Report.” For this study, more than 400 InfoSec professionals rated the importance of various criteria for selecting security products on a scale of 1 to 10. Respondents rated “Security Advantage by Using Superior Technology” at a very high 7.5 on that scale.

SQL Server 2016 Always Encrypted technology helps protect your data at rest and in motion, on-premises and in the cloud, with master keys sitting with the application, without application changes. SQL Server provides superior data platform security technology that can serve as the foundation for a comprehensive data security strategy to help your organization compete.

Simplify operations

As upcoming technical blogs will explain in detail, SQL Server 2016 enhances the built-in administrative tools that work with the cloud, including backup to Azure, migration of on-premises SQL Server to Azure and the ability to easily add an Azure node to an AlwaysOn Availability Group in a hybrid environment.  In addition, SQL Server has several options for backing up to Azure, including managed backup, backup to Azure Block Blobs and Azure Storage snapshot backup. SQL Server 2016 has made enhancements in each of these backup options.

Built-in value

All of this built-in cloud functionality makes SQL Server the industry leader in value. Microsoft continues to build in innovation so that organizations do not have to purchase expensive add-ins in order to get the benefits of the cloud with security, simplicity and consistency across on-premises and the cloud.

See the other posts in the SQL Server 2016 blogging series.

Try SQL Server 2016 RC