SQL Server Management Studio is as Relevant as Ever

After fifteen years of heavy usage by developers and DBAs, it might seem like Microsoft’s free tool,  SQL Server Management Studio, is about to go out of style. SSMS is no longer the cool new kid on the block: Microsoft has shown consistent effort to develop their new tool,  Azure Data Studio  (formerly known as SQL Operations Studio), since November 2017.

It might seem like DBAs and devs should primarily learn Azure Data Studio, not SSMS, and that vendors should focus on developing new tooling only for Azure Data Studio. But when you look into the details, SSMS is as relevant as ever. 

Azure Data Studio shines where it specialises in unique functionality 

While both Azure Data Studio and SSMS each provide an interface to author queries and to execute them against relational database instances, I find that the user experience in Azure Data Studio is often not nearly as smooth as it is in SSMS. 

Where Azure Data Studio shows its value is in unique experiences: 

  • SQL Notebooks  (based on Jupyter notebooks) which offer an experience of “interactive documentation” and more 
  • The ability for users to connect, manage, and query different database platforms, using  tools like the PostgreSQL extension 
  • The ability for macOS or Linux users to run Azure Data Studio natively, without installing a Windows client 
  • The ability to work in other languages,  such as PowerShell 

Azure Data Studio sometimes connects to SSMS 

One new Azure Data Studio feature I noticed  in June 2019 is a Microsoft extension that allows the user to right-click on objects like databases and tables and view the Properties Dialog for the object. This dialogue is a Windows-only extension because behind the scenes Azure Data Studio is using parts of SSMS! This type of dependency is a strong signal that SSMS isn’t going away. 

SSMS is still under active development 

A major update to SQL Server Management Studio, SSMS 18.0, released in April 2019. This release included many improvements and new features. New features have been regularly added in the versions since this release as well. 

This pattern shows evidence to support Dinakar Nethi’s suggestion in his  SSMS 18.0 release announcement  that we should “think of these two tools not as separate tools doing different things, but as one integrated tool. Each tool has different experiences built into it and can be launched from the other seamlessly.” 

Users love SSMS – vendors do, too 

SSMS provides a very rich experience and covers a vast number of features – and it’s free! It’s well established and incredibly popular with developers and DBAs. 

For this reason, vendors will continue to build new features for SSMS. 

For example, at Redgate, we’ve just released a major new extension for  SQL Change Automation in SSMS, which allows users to author changes in  a migrations-first approach to development. We wish to empower teams to collaborate both across Visual Studio and other IDEs, and we recognise that SSMS continues to be the primary tool for Microsoft Data Platform DBAs and many developers. 

Where do we go from here? 

SSMS remains the primary tool for SQL Server specialists. Azure Data Studio is a terrific, complementary tool, with strong use cases for cross-platform experiences and SQL Notebooks. For new database administrators working with SQL Server, it continues to make sense to learn SSMS first. For more established users, we can enjoy working with both tools and enjoy the new features in Azure Data Studio without fear that our old friend SSMS is going away. 

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