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A Microsoft Upgrade Worth Considering

Most of the upgrades Microsoft unveiled at Tech Ed are worth looking at, but the one that seems to offer the most bang for the buck is SQL Server 2014.

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NEW ORLEANS—While much of the attention of the recent enterprise system announcements at Microsoft’s Tech Ed conference was focused on the embrace of all things Azure cloud from Redmond, much of the decision making over the coming months from technology professionals will be deciding which pieces of their infrastructure should be upgraded.

While Microsoft would surely like its users to engage in a wholesale upgrade of their infrastructure, that scenario is unlikely. IT budgets are always under scrutiny, the technology dollars are getting dispersed among business units and departments, and the emergence of cloud computing can put the brakes on spending while execs evaluate new vendors, new services and wholesale changes in technology implementation strategies.

I thought the upgrades Microsoft was offering were, as a group, worth taking a look at, but the one that seems to offer the most bang for the investment buck is SQL Server 2014. I’ll add in the usual caveats here: The bits are not yet available to test Microsoft’s claims, there is no pricing available and delivery times are still vague.

However, in this era of big data, real-time business and solid-state memory systems, adding horsepower to your company’s database operations is probably the fastest route to being rewarded rather than penalized in your technology funding decisions.

Here’s what I like about SQL Server 2014: The promises are realistic; you can upgrade without having to wheel new boxes into your data center; the online transaction processing (OLTP) capabilities are improved, which means the many, many corporate business applications powered by transaction databases will see improvement; and it is not trying to become a “magic box” that will solve all your business problems.

The enterprise highlights for SQL Server 2014 include in-memory OLTP using a hybrid model placing the most frequently accessed data in-memory and less used data in traditional storage.Microsoft emphasized the OLTP in-memory feature is available without having to buy a specialized processing box. Improved security and a path to connect unstructured Hadoop-type systems with OLTP are also both important pieces of the 2014 version.

“SQL Server 2014 is the keystone of our data platform,” Eron Kelly, Microsoft SQL Server general manager, said in an interview. He went on to list 2014’s integration with the Azure cloud service for data backup and future integration with HDInsight (Microsoft’s Hadoop distribution) and with the Data Explorer Excel add-in to put business intelligence tools in the hands of the business user.

The database market is undergoing tremendous upheaval as newcomers, armed with knowledge based on Web-capable, unstructured systems derived from the likes of Google and Facebook, are claiming that the old guard (Oracle, IBM, Microsoft) database providers are stuck in a closed, proprietary model that can’t scale, is too expensive and is simply not aligned to the Web-based computing world.

Those complaints are true in many cases, but businesses have built their organizations around OLTP and structured data. Creating a new hybrid system that can make the old stuff go faster while bringing the new data to the party is where enterprises are going to build their database investments.

SQL Server 2014 won’t be available until—like the name says—2014. In the meantime, and especially if you are already a Microsoft shop, it is worth jumping into the beta program to see if Microsoft’s claims live up to your company’s reality.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC Week) from 1996-2008, authors this blog for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.