Which Service in Azure Should You Use for SQL?

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I remember when Azure SQL Database was first released in 2010. Microsoft has tweaked the name a couple of times over the years, and back then it was called SQL Azure. The largest database you could create was just 50 GB, and there were quite a few restrictions, such as heaps not being supported. Since then, Microsoft has invested heavily in this platform, and most of the differences between it and on-premises SQL Server have to do with the fact that it’s a “database as a service.” You don’t have to worry about or have control of the underlying server that hosts the database. Today, some new features show up first in Azure SQL Database while we usually must wait for a new version in on-premises SQL Server.

Not only has Microsoft improved Azure SQL Database, but it has also added several other database services like SQL Managed Instances, Azure SQL Data Warehouse, SQL virtual machines, and containers.

The Azure SQL Data Warehouse is one of the most interesting offerings, in my opinion. To get the same functionality in your own data center, you would have to build an Analytics Platform System (APS) (known previously as Parallel Data Warehouse). The hardware costs alone run over a million dollars. In Azure, you could set up an Azure SQL Data Warehouse to learn about it or run a proof of concept for no up-front hardware investment and then just delete it when you are done.

You might not need the kind of power that comes with Azure SQL Data Warehouse and be more interested in the other offerings, like Azure SQL Database. To accommodate performance, Azure SQL database supports a feature called Elastic Pools so that your databases have the resources they need during peak times. The Hyperscale feature of single databases let you scale to 100 TB.

For “lift and shift” to Azure scenarios, you might be interested in SQL Server running in a VM or a SQL Managed Instance.

Depending on what you want to do, there is probably a service that would fit your needs when migrating to Azure, but how do you decide what to choose? Fortunately, Microsoft has a new feature of the Azure Portal (in preview at the time of this writing) to help you figure that out. When you click to view your Azure SQL Databases, you’ll see this message:

“Try our new Azure SQL resource browser! This experience offers a unified view of all your SQL Server resources in Azure as well as improved working and filtering. Click here to go to the new experience.”

When clicking to use the new portal functionality, you’ll see a centralized view of your Azure SQL resources including SQL Database, Elastic Pools, Virtual Machines, and Managed instances instead of navigating to different areas of the portal to see each type. Even better, when you create a new Azure SQL Database, you’ll see a screen that explains each type of service so that you can decide what makes sense for your use case. For more information, here is the announcement. You decide how much control you want and how much performance and scale you need.

Azure SQL database has come a long way from its humble beginnings almost ten years ago. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

 

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