CEO Satya Nadella took the lid off several new innovations from Microsoft with the launch of SQL Server 2014. But what’s got many people buzzing is the so-called "big data in a box" appliance that could help Microsoft compete against the likes of SAP.
SQL Server 2014 is the latest version of the industry’s most deployed database. After announcing the new software, Nadella shared the company’s path to deliver a platform for the next era of “ambient intelligence." Ambient intelligence deals with electronic environments that are both sensitive and responsive to people’s presence. It’s one vision for the future of consumer electronics.
“Developing the ability to convert data into the fuel for ambient intelligence is an ambitious challenge. It requires technology to understand context, derive intent and separate signal from noise,” said Nadella. “Building out a comprehensive platform that can enable this kind of ambient intelligence is a whole company initiative that we are uniquely qualified to undertake.”
The Benefits of Big Data
At the launch event, Nadella stressed the importance of a data culture -- one that encourages curiosity, action and experimentation -- for everyone and every organization. Also showcased were the results of a new IDC study that demonstrates the clear benefits for companies that take a comprehensive data approach. Specifically, these companies realize an additional 60 percent return on data assets. IDC figures it’s a $1.6 trillion opportunity worldwide.
“Customers who take a comprehensive approach to their data projects realize a higher data dividend than customers who take a point-by-point approach,” said Dan Vesset, program vice president, Business Analytics and Big Data, at IDC. “This new research shows that by combining diverse data sets, new analytics and insights to more people -- at the right time -- businesses worldwide can tap into a more than trillion-dollar opportunity over the next four years.”
As Nadella sees it, Microsoft products -- including SQL Server, BI, Machine Learning (ML), Bing, and Azure -- have a vital role to play on the road to creating a world in which devices, services and environments truly anticipate and understand consumer needs.
“It won’t happen overnight, but the good news is that along the way, there will be dividends that our customers and partners will benefit from today,” Nadella said. “SQL Server gets faster, our BI more intuitive, ML smarter, Bing more useful and Azure more scalable. Everyone wins as we embark on this journey to creating a platform for true ambient intelligence.”
Big Data in a Box
With all that said, Microsoft is positioning its new data platform as built for this era of ambient intelligence. The new data platform includes new Internet of Things capabilities and promises customers the building blocks they need to connect their data, refine and analyze it, and deliver insights to people who can take action.
The platform includes SQL Server 2014, Microsoft Azure Intelligence Systems Service, and the Analytics Platform System (APS). The latest SQL version delivers real-time performance with built-in in-memory technology and public cloud scale and disaster recovery with Microsoft Azure.
The Microsoft Azure Intelligent Systems Service aims to help customers embrace the Internet of Things by connecting to, managing and capturing machine-generated data from sensors and devices on any operating system. Finally, APS combines the best of Microsoft’s SQL Server database and Hadoop technology in one low-cost offering that delivers big data in a box.
Competing With SAP HANA
We turned to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund IT, for his take on the new SQL Server and the overall data platform. He told us one of the most interesting aspects of the new database software is added support for in-memory online transaction processing, or OLTP. That automatically makes SQL Server competitive with other in-memory database solutions, including SAP HANA.
“HANA has not only been designed specifically to support extremely high performance, SAP has to approve the systems HANA runs on,” King said. “It’s a rigorous design and development process. That means you can’t just drop HANA into any system without SAP’s approval.”
Indeed, enterprises have to meet strict performance and support guidelines in order to get the SAP stamp of approval. King said it’s not clear if Microsoft is following that same level of rigor with SQL Server 2014.
“This could be very positive for Microsoft,” King said. “But until I hear more about how SQL Server 2014 performs in-memory compared to some other systems I’m going to reserve judgment.”