SQL Azure is a cloud-based service from Microsoft that uses a special version of SQL Server as its backend. SQL Azure helps to ease provisioning and deployment of multiple databases. Developers do not have to install, setup, patch or manage any software, as all that is taken care of by Microsoft with this platform as a service (PAAS). High availability and fault tolerance is built-in and no physical administration is required. It is an elastic platform which provides you the means to instantly increase or decrease your server capacity. You only pay for what you use and don’t have to estimate capacity needs and buy a reserve capacity.
SQL Azure is getting very popular, and while I think it will be a few years before many companies replace their internal data centers with it, it is a good idea to become familiar with it now. Unfortunately it does not include SSAS yet, but does include SSRS and you can use SSIS to move data into and out of SQL Azure. Slowing its adoption is it does not yet support all the SQL Server features such as: integrated security, SQL Server agent, transaction log backups, cross-database references, linked servers, fulltext indexes, connection pooling, multiple database collations, data compression, table partitioning, replication, mirroring. See SQL Server Feature Limitations (SQL Azure Database) and Unsupported Transact-SQL Statements (SQL Azure Database)
It’s real simple to get to know how SQL Azure works by creating an account for free and playing with it. Here is how to quickly start:
1) If you have an MSDN subscription, you can create a Windows Azure account for free. To do this, login to MSDN and go to “My Account” and choose “Activate Windows Azure”. Check out the benefits. If you do not have MSDN, you can get a 1 month trial (no credit card required) or a 3 month trial (credit card required).
2) Watch the following short videos SQL Azure at a Glance, SQL Azure: Creating Your First Database, and Interacting with a SQL Azure Database. Another good resource is Introduction To SQL Azure by the Microsoft Virtual Academy.
That’s it! I spent about 30 minutes creating my account and watching those videos, and I was then able to create a server, create a database, and tinker around with creating and querying tables. There is even a wizard to help you migrate databases from SQL Server to SQL Azure.