Microsoft readies near-final SQL Server 2016 release candidate

Microsoft is inching closer to rolling out SQL Server 2016, with the near-final release candidate due out any day now.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is readying the near-final Release Candidate version of its SQL Server 2016 database, and plans to release it "this week," officials confirmed on March 3.

An evaluation version will be available for testers to check out just ahead of the Microsoft "Data Driven" event on March 10. The Data Driven event, at which CEO Satya Nadella and Microsoft customers will be speaking, will focus on "how data insights are driving business transformation." One of the stars of that show, product-wise, will be SQL Server 2016.

A page on Microsoft's MSDN site highlights the features in SQL Server 2016 RC0 that will be new this month. Among those features are support for UTF-8, new string functions and parallel scan of nonclustered indexes on Memory Optimized tables.

There also will be a preview of a new version of Stretch Database on Azure that will support 60 TB of data in the RC0 release. (To register for preview access, users should go here.) Microsoft also is adding the option to use a federated service account for SQL Server to communicate with the remote Azure SQL Database server to the release candidate.

Microsoft released the first public preview of SQL Server 2016 in May 2015. At that time, Microsoft officials said to expect the following pieces to be part of SQL Server 2016:

  • Always Encrypted - a new capability developed by Microsoft Research that is designed to protect data "at rest and in motion"
  • Stretch Database - new technology that lets allows users to dynamically stretch warm and cold transactional data to Microsoft Azure
  • Enhancements to Microsoft's "Hekaton" in-memory technologies for real-time analytics
  • New in-database analytics with R integration
  • Polybase -- an engine that, to date, has been part of the SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse Appliance, for more easily managing relational and non-relational data
  • Row-level security, allowing users to control access to data based on characteristics of the user, without modifications to applications
  • Dynamic Data Masking -- supports real-time obfuscation of data to prevent access to unauthorized dataTemporal database support for tracking historical data changes
  • Query Data Store -- a "flight data recorder" for database administrators
  • Enhanced server management for Master Data Services
  • Enhanced hybrid backup to Azure and faster restores to SQL Server in Azure virtual machines

In other data-platform news this week, Microsoft availability of StorSimple Virtual Array, initially announced last December, which brings StorSimple to virtual machines on Azure.

Update (March 7): Microsoft made SQL Server 2016 RC0 available today, March 7.

Update (March 9): For anyone who was a bit confused about the different Stretch Databases in Microsoft's SQL Server 2016 work, here's an explanation from Microsoft.

SQL Server's Stretch Database feature became publicly available in May 2015 with SQL Server 2016 CTP 2.0. With CTP 2.0, customers could stretch data to Microsoft's database as a service, Azure SQL Database. When Microsoft launched in May 2015 the max database size was 1TB.

On February 17, 2016, Microsoft announced the public preview of a new Azure service - SQL Server Stretch Database. This new service is designed for use in stretching data from SQL Server 2016 to Azure, and it is engineered from the ground up for large data volumes.

In preview, the new SQL Server Stretch Database service in Azure already supports up to 60TB of data. By general availability, Microsoft expects to support much larger stretched databases. (Maybe even up to a petabyte, as a typo on Microsoft's web page regarding the amount of data available in its initial Stretch Database on Azure preview claimed. The correct figure as to what's available in the preview now is 60 TB, as the updated web page notes.)

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