Microsoft Puts SQL Server Express in Cloud for Light Workloads

Don't need an enterprise-grade database on the cloud? Microsoft offers Azure customers a low-cost, lightweight SQL server option for testing and purposes and apps.

Microsoft SQL Server Express

Azure SQL is Microsoft's bid to get enterprises to float their databases on the company's cloud, but it may be overkill for some organizations or developers looking to test their apps. Microsoft's answer to the problem is to release SQL Server Express to the Azure Gallery marketplace.

Customers can now access SQL Server Express with Tools 2014, 2012 and 2008R2 virtual machines for Azure, the company announced. Originally released as a slimmed-down database foundation for on-premises applications or embedded into basic desktop apps, the software has been caught up in Microsoft's "cloud-first" business strategy.

"SQL Server Express is a version of SQL Server you can use for dev/test and Web and mobile apps with lightweight relational database needs," stated the company in a Feb. 12 blog post. Fulfilling those roles, SQL Server Express VMs work well with .NET, JDBC, PHP and other programming languages, noted Microsoft, and can be used to power popular Web-based content management platforms, including WordPress and Drupal.

The offering is strictly meant to make it easier to spin up a modest cloud database for projects with modest needs. "SQL Server Express has a limit of 1GB of memory and 10GB per database," revealed Microsoft. "The images include the core SQL Server Engine as well as SQL Server Management Studio."

Apart from the cost associated with running a virtual machine on Azure, a SQL Server Express licensing is free. By comparison, a Standard Azure SQL database (S0 plan, 250GB) costs approximately $15 per month while some high-performance Premium plans command thousands of dollars. For added savings, users can pause the virtual machine while it goes unused, suggested Microsoft.

Launching SQL Server Express on Azure is the latest move by the Redmond, Wash., software giant to widen Azure's appeal among businesses looking to offload at least some of their IT workloads onto the cloud.

In October, Microsoft announced a major security-enhancing option called Azure SQL Database Transparent Data Encryption (TDE). Available in the on-premises version of SQL Server since 2008, TDE encrypts the database, transaction log files and backups at rest without imposing changes to an application.

Microsoft also beefed up Azure SQL's disaster recovery capabilities that same month by launching a preview of SQL AlwaysOn integration with the Azure Site Recovery (ASR) service. AlwaysOn is a collection of high-availability and disaster recovery technologies used by administrators to avert database outages or bounce back quickly if they occur.

"SQL Availability Groups can now be added to ASR Recovery plans along with virtual machines," blogged Prateek Sharma, a Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise senior program manager, on Oct. 13. "All capabilities of ASR Recovery plans such as sequencing, scripting and manual actions can be leveraged to orchestrate the failover of a multi-tier application that uses a SQL database, configured with AlwaysOn replication, as backend."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...