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Azure SQL Database Gets Closer to Pure SQL Server

Microsoft announced a bevy of improvements to its cloud-based data products, including the Azure SQL Database Update V12 (preview), sporting new security features and bringing it closer to full SQL Server engine compatibility.

The new security mechanisms available now or on tap include row-level security, dynamic data masking and transparent data encryption. These will be added to the existing auditing feature so users can further protect cloud data and comply with corporate and industry policies, Microsoft said.

Company exec Tiffany Wissner said in a blog post yesterday that row-level security was available now as a public preview. "Coming soon, SQL Database will also preview dynamic data masking, which is a policy-based security feature that helps limit the exposure of data in a database by returning masked data to non-privileged users who run queries over designated database fields, like credit-card numbers, without changing data on the database," Wissner said. She added the transparent data encryption is coming to SQL Database V12 databases to encrypt data at rest.

Already rolled out in Europe but coming to the United States soon, the updated SQL Database V12 has near-complete compatibility with the company's flagship SQL Server relational database management system (RDBMS) engine. The cloud service has always lacked some features of the regular SQL Server but has steadily been catching up.

The latest SQL Database will also better support larger databases -- this is the age of Big Data, after all -- and improved performance on the Premium tier.

"Internal tests on over 600 million rows of data show Premium query performance improvements of around 5x in the new preview relative to today's Premium SQL Database and up to 100x when applying the in-memory columnstore technology," Wissner said.

The new SQL Database version will start rolling out in the United States on Feb. 9 and should be available to most global datacenters by the end of that month.

Microsoft also announced simplified management of SQL Server running in Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines (VMs). For example, while mission-critical applications can benefit greatly from the SQL Server AlwaysOn high availability (HA) and disaster recovery (DR) capabilities, such environments can be difficult to set up.

"Now with new auto HA setup capabilities using the AlwaysOn Portal Template added for SQL Server in Azure VMs, this really becomes a simpler task, freeing up your valuable time and resources to focus on other business priorities," Wissner said.

Backups, patching, and the monitoring and managing of SQL Server instances were also improved, Microsoft said.

"As a company committed to maintaining the highest innovation standards for our global clients, we're always eager to test the latest features," the company quoted exec John Schlesinger at customer company Temenos as saying. "So previewing the latest version of SQL Database was a no-brainer for us. After running both a benchmark and some close-of-business workloads, which are required by our regulated banking customers, we saw significant performance gains including a doubling of throughput for large blob operations, which are essential for our customers' reporting needs."

Along with pure data-related enhancements, Microsoft also announced other Azure updates affecting its enterprise mobility offerings and Azure Media Services.

"To enhance application access management, Microsoft Azure Active Directory is introducing, in public preview, conditional access policies that can enforce multi-factor authentication per application," said company exec Vibhor Kapoor in his own blog post yesterday. Also in public preview, Connect Health helps monitor and gain insights into the identity infrastructure used to extend on-premises identities to the cloud, such as Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS).

He also announced an Azure Rights Management Services (RMS) migration toolkit to help enterprises move from Active Directory RMS or Windows RMS to Azure RMS while maintaining access to existing RMS-protected content and policies.

For Azure Media Services, Kapoor said the content protection feature is now available for live and on-demand workflows, helping to address piracy concerns.

"Whether you are looking to run your SQL Server workload in an Azure VM or via the SQL Database managed service, there's no better time than now to move your enterprise workloads to the cloud or build new applications with Microsoft Azure," Kapoor said.

Current Azure subscribers can sign up to test the preview.

Posted by David Ramel on 01/30/2015

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