Microsoft to partners: we're data-driven

Redmond GAs its data warehouse and embedded BI cloud services, as its data fever grows ever stronger.

Yesterday, on the second day of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), data-related announcements were in abundance. And even on Monday, a day largely free of news, data and analytics figured heavily into CEO Satya Nadella's keynote address. Any doubt that Microsoft has become a serious, all-up data and analytics company should now be dispelled. Cloud is the company's rallying cry but, as I've written before, Redmond sees data as its cloud enabler.

Also read: Why Microsoft needs SQL Server on Linux

Today, the company announced that the Azure SQL Data Warehouse (Azure SQL DW) service is now generally available (GA). Power BI Embedded went GA today as well, though that news had been announced, and covered by me, last week. Another piece of older news, the inclusion of Power BI Professional in the new Office 365 E5 subscription, was also promoted heavily in the WPC day 2 keynote. Microsoft is firing on all data cylinders.

Also read: Power BI features released, Microsoft Data Science Summit announced

Get it from the warehouse
Like Microsoft's Application Platform System (APS), Azure SQL DW combines in-memory, columnar and massively parallel processing technologies to optimize the underlying relational database engine for analytical queries. Also in common with APS (and SQL Server 2016 Enterprise edition), SQL DW includes PolyBase technology for unifying the relational data with data stored in Hadoop and in Azure blob storage. PolyBase is a good Hadoop-to-Azure-DW ingestion tool, too.

Also read: Cloud data warehouse race heats up

The release of Azure SQL Data Warehouse is significant, as it means Microsoft now has a GA challenger to Amazon's similar Redshift service. Moreover, it means there's a DW solution, from a top public cloud provider, that scales storage and compute separately (Redshift scales the two in lockstep). It's also the first such service to be compatible with SQL Server which, by units sold, is the most popular relational database platform on the market (Redshift is derived from the former ParAccel platform - now Actian Matrix - and is compatible with PostgreSQL). With SQL Server 2005 having reached "end of life" three months ago, customers looking to modernize their SQL Server infrastructure may give Azure SQL DW a look.

Feel the power, embedded
The database is important, but so is analyzing and visualizing the data inside it. To that end, Power BI Embedded brings interactive reports from Microsoft's increasingly popular cloud BI platform into 3rd party and custom applications. Pricing for that service is $0.05 per report, and any application rendering fewer than 100 reports in one month yields no charge at all. Embedding BI inside applications makes it more accessible, as most users are less likely to benefit from a technology if they have to go to a separate application to get it.

The same can be said for standalone cloud subscriptions. While Power BI's freemium model may already be tempting, it usually requires its own separate sign up, and that creates friction. Bundle the service in an Office 365 Enterprise subscription, though, and that friction is gone. That's what the E5 subscription is all about. E5's various components, if procured separate would be $41/user/month, while the E5 subscription is only $35.

Suite, dude
More generally speaking, Microsoft used WPC to talk up its Cortana Analytics Suite, which bundles Power BI and a number of Azure data-related services under a unified pricing model. It also includes the new Bot Framework technology that Microsoft first talked up at its Build conference, this past March/April. While it's still early days for bot development, the fact that Microsoft keeps chatting it up is a decent sign of commitment to something that will need a lot of adoption to move forward.

Ever since Microsoft released Access, its desktop database application, in 1992, it has seen the value of data technology for its information worker customers, especially in line-of-business applications. It also saw how that power helped sell Windows and Office. With its WPC data announcements (as well as those around PowerApps - a platform for SaaS-based business applications), Microsoft sees, almost a quarter century later, how the power of data technology can help sell cloud services.