Why it’s time to think seriously about SQL Server 2017

Guest post

This is a guest post from Coeo. Europe's most trusted analytics and data management expert, Coeo is the number one provider of database strategy in the Retail, Financial services and Gaming industries, and delivers technology strategy and support for businesses who need to get the most from their data.

The Coeo team hold more Microsoft certifications than any other data platform specialist in Europe and are passionate about sharing their knowledge and expertise to help customers become industry leaders.

SQL Server 2017 officially landed today and is now on general release. The latest version of the heavyweight platform is more than the sum of its parts, however, because it doesn’t just deliver new functionality. Alongside the list of extra features, it also changes two important ways we think about the platform itself.

Time to think Linux

The headline message about SQL Server 2017 running on Linux has been talked about for months, but the big wow factor about it is just how well the transition has been managed. What its database engine does on a server running the Windows operating system, it now does on a server running Linux. The only easy way to find a difference between the two is to look at how the server SQL Server is installed on is configured, managed and monitored.

Microsoft has been able to make an instance of SQL Server running on a server using Linux almost indistinguishable from one running on a server using its own Windows operating system. That’s quite something.

But if there’s little difference to SQL Server itself, why bother making it run on the Linux operating system? The answer lies in the data centers of some of the world’s largest companies. The evolution in technology over the last decade has left some of the largest spenders with very few servers that use Windows. And according to chatter from Microsoft staff, most of those servers are often just there to run SQL Server.

Allowing SQL Server to run on the Linux operating system allows those organizations to retire their remaining servers that run Windows and standardize on servers that run Linux. At the same time, it gives them the freedom to adopt the next generation of workload management platforms, such as OpenShift, Kubernetes and Docker, which work best managing Linux workloads.

Time to think again about Oracle

On the opposite side of the table are organizations which have a different problem. They’ve already standardized on Linux as their server operating system, but have little choice about what commercial database server software they can use. A decade ago, there were options from a variety of vendors including Oracle, IBM, and Sybase. Today, market share data tells us there’s only really one and that’s Oracle.

So what happens if those organizations fall out with Oracle, or want some bargaining power when they renegotiate their licensing agreements? Right now, the media will tell us they can look at open source options such as MySQL or cloud-hosted alternatives, but the reality for some organizations is that their boards still want their most important systems to use a traditional vendor-written and vendor-supported database platform.

SQL Server 2017 puts a different option on the table because it’s a mature, proven platform that now offers a real strategic alternative to Oracle. Merv Adrian, a VP of Research at Gartner specializing in data platforms, told me that SQL Server on Linux will have a huge impact on Microsoft, but also Oracle and IBM. For the first time in a generation, there’s now a compelling new entrant to the RDBMS on Linux market.

Time to welcome a new way of working

For most of its lifetime, new versions of SQL Server have been rare. Some industry veterans will remember a five year gap between releases while most have become used to a regular two year release cycle. SQL Server 2017 has changed that rhythm by appearing just a year after the last release, but there has been little commotion about this change.

Knowing which version of SQL Server an application uses is important, which is why vendors often support several versions and organizations standardize on a handful. They press the pause button and freeze database server innovation in their organization, staying with a specific version of SQL Server for as long as they need to, often many years, sometimes over a decade. This option to manage versions gives them the feeling of control they want or the technical compatibilities they need.

That approach is very different to how cloud services evolve. There, providers are constantly adding functionality that developers and users can start using without too much effort. A cloud-generation developer today is used to new functionality appearing in the platforms they use or new programming languages and frameworks emerging that solve problems which didn’t until recently exist.

With SQL Server 2017, Microsoft is appealing to both worlds. It’s providing new database server functionality to those ready to deploy the current latest version and start programming, and it’s extending the support with its Premium Assurance offering to those that want to use older versions of SQL Server for much longer than it expected.

The interesting question is whether Microsoft now continues with a yearly release cycle for SQL Server and plans for SQL Server 2018. Right now, there are still parts of the SQL Server family waiting to be brought to the Linux operating system, such as SQL Server Analysis Services. So, it wouldn’t surprise me to see another release in 12 months’ time.

For now, however, SQL Server 2017 is already a big step forward. It will be interesting to see the effect it has – and what the response from Oracle will be.

Coeo’s platform consultants help organizations redesign and redeploy their
SQL Server environments and upgrade them. Over the next year, we’ll also
be helping them migrate to Linux. Find out more about us.