At Ignite, Microsoft enhances its cloud database, warehouse and lake services

Microsoft unveils new capabilities within Azure Synapse Analytics, Cosmos DB, and its stable of open source databases.
Written by Andrew Brust, Contributor

As Microsoft's Ignite digital event kicks off today, the company is announcing a range of new capabilities in its database platforms as well as within Azure Synapse Analytics, its combination cloud data warehouse/data lake service. One big announcement is the preview of a new version of SQL Server, which I've covered in a separate post. This post will cover the announced goodies in Azure Cosmos DB, Azure Database for MySQL and PostgreSQL, Azure Managed Instance for Apache Cassandra, and Azure Synapse Analytics.

Also read: Microsoft's cloud-connected on-prem database: SQL Server 2022 rolls out in private preview

Open source database, the SQL

Microsoft launched its Azure Database for MySQL and PostgreSQL services to general availability (GA) in 2018. When those services began their preview the year before, the notion that Microsoft itself would support open source platforms that compete with its own SQL Server platform was big news. It made sense, though; if it's something Microsoft's customers want, and it drives cloud compute and storage revenue, it's in Microsoft's interest.

Also read: Microsoft cloud to SQL Server: Let's have an open (source) relationship

Newsworthiness aside, though, the initial offerings were somewhat barebones. That's often the case with a 1.0 release, but Microsoft has steadily improved the offerings, including adding a hyperscale option on the Postgres side, made possible by the company's 2019 acquisition of Citus Data. From that point, it was clear that Microsoft wanted to go further than just offering "vanilla" MySQL and Postgres.

Also read: Microsoft buys Citus Data

Today, Microsoft is enhancing the offering with a deployment option, which it's dubbing Flexible Server. As the name would imply, the new option fills a middle-ground position between the default Single Server offering, which is entry-level, and the Hyperscale offering, which is for large scale-out applications. Flexible Server provides high-availability options to help ensure zero data loss, a burstable compute tier, and built-in capabilities for cost optimization -- including the ability to stop the server (and billing) when not in use. Flexible Server will be made generally available this month.

On the NoSQL side, meanwhile, Microsoft is moving its Azure Managed Instance for Apache Cassandra to GA, effective today. Cassandra is an open source, column family store NoSQL database, comparable to Apache HBase and Google Cloud Bigtable. The Azure Cassandra service includes an automatic synchronization feature that can sync data between with customers' own Cassandra instances, on-premises and elsewhere.

Also read: Microsoft Ignite Data and Analytics roundup: Platform extensions are the key theme

Cosmos-ic improvements

Interestingly, the Managed Instance for Cassandra service is managed by the Cosmos DB team -- not the Azure Database folks. But considering Cosmos DB is itself a NoSQL database and offers the Cassandra API as one of its many supported interfaces, it starts to make sense. For customers running Cassandra on-premises who want to move to the cloud, Cosmos DB may ultimately be a worthy destination. But the compatibility offered by genuine Cassandra may make the cloud journey a less bumpy one before further migration to Cosmos DB, should the time for that come.

Also read: Microsoft debuts Azure Cosmos DB, a superset of its DocumentDB service

Cosmos DB also offers an SQL interface and is announcing today that partial document updates using that interface -- among the most-requested features by customers, according to Microsoft -- is now a GA feature. So too are customizable provisioned throughput spending limits and cost-savings alerts in Azure Advisor. Sometimes, the most dev-friendly features are the ones that prevent unintended spending.

Crossing the Synapse

In my post on SQL Server 2022, I provide details on Azure Synapse Link for SQL Server, which provides for replication of data from SQL Server into Synapse-dedicated SQL pools. In its own right, this is an important advance for Azure Synapse, but Microsoft is announcing other improvements today as well.

Key among these is the integration and adaptation of Azure Data Explorer (ADX) -- a platform for real-time analysis of huge volumes of log/machine/telemetry and other time series data -- into the Azure Synapse platform. Just as Azure Data Factory capabilities were implemented as Synapse pipelines, ADX capabilities are being integrated as Azure Synapse data explorer. 

Also read: Fastly, Microsoft partner on real-time analytics with Azure Data Explorer

Azure Event Hubs Premium, which hits GA today, is another integration in Azure Synapse. Azure Event Hubs is a streaming event data platform, conceptually similar to Apache Kafka, and can even operate in a Kafka API-compatible mode. Its availability as a linked service means that Synapse users can perform event streaming, ingestion, and analysis right in the platform -- and do so with the reserved compute, memory, and store resources offered by the Premium level of the service.

Microsoft is also integrating a set of industry-specific database templates into Synapse Studio. Templates for retail, consumer packaged goods, and financial services (including banking, fund management, property, and casualty insurance) are being added as a preview feature, at no additional cost.

And on the partner side, data management juggernaut Informatica, fresh off its IPO, is announcing a partnership with Microsoft specifically around Azure Synapse. It's aimed at helping the two companies' joint customers migrate their Informatica PowerCenter ETL/on-premises data warehouses combos to Informatica's Intelligent Data Management Cloud (IDMC) on Azure and Azure Synapse Analytics. According to Informatica, the offering, available on the Azure Marketplace, includes Migration Factory for Informatica PowerCenter; access to cloud data warehousing and cloud data management experts from both companies at no cost; financial incentives for software and professional services; and the ability to acquire IDMC via the Azure Marketplace, thus retiring Azure Consumption Commitment spend with an IDMC subscription.

Also read:

No sleep 'til cloud-land

The IDMC-Azure Synapse joint incentive package shows important enterprise ecosystem adoption and endorsement of the Azure Synapse platform. This shows Synapse to be an emerging industry standard, and it also shows cloud data warehousing, analytics and data management to be the emerging new normal.

Add in the enhancements to the cloud-native Cosmos DB, the cloud elasticity features in Flexible Server, the hybrid cloud capabilities of Managed Instance for Apache Cassandra, and SQL Server 2022's major cloud-connected slant, and the trend out of Ignite is crystal clear. More workloads are moving to the cloud, vendors are working hard to make those moves smoother for customers, and even on-premises database implementations will be cloud-savvy.

Microsoft is a customer of Brust's advisory firm, Blue Badge Insights. He is also a Microsoft Data Platform MVP.

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