Azure brings SQL Server Analysis Services to the cloud

Azure Analysis Services will help companies with data analysis in the cloud

SQL Server Analysis Services, one of the key features of Microsoft's relational database enterprise offering, is going to the cloud. The company announced Tuesday that it's launching the public beta of Azure Analysis Services, which gives users cloud-based access to semantic data modeling tools.

The news is part of a host of announcements the company is making at the Professional Association for SQL Server Summit in Seattle this week. On top of the new cloud service, Microsoft also released new tools for migrating to the latest version of SQL Server and an expanded free trial for Azure SQL Data Warehouse. On the hardware side, the company revealed new reference architecture for using SQL Server 2016 with active data sets of up to 145TB.

The actions are all part of Microsoft's continued investment in the company's relational database product at a time when it's trying to get customers to move to its cloud.

Azure Analysis Services is designed to help companies get the benefits of cloud processing for semantic data modeling, while still being able to glean insights from data that's stored either on-premises or in the public cloud. It's compatible with databases like SQL Server, Azure SQL Database, Azure SQL Data Warehouse, Oracle and Teradata. Customers that already use SQL Server Analysis Services in their private data centers can take the models from that deployment and move them to Azure, too.

One of the key benefits to using Azure Analysis Services is that it's a fully managed service. Microsoft deals with the work of figuring out the compute resources underpinning the functionality, and users can just focus on the data.

Like its on-premises predecessor, Azure Analysis Services integrates with Microsoft's Power BI data visualization tools, providing additional modeling capabilities that go beyond what that service can offer. Azure AS can also connect to other business intelligence software, like Tableau.

Microsoft also is making it easier to migrate from an older version of its database software to SQL Server 2016.  To help companies evaluate the difference between their old version of SQL Server and the latest release, Microsoft has launched the  Database Experimentation Assistant.

Customers can use the assistant to run experiments across different versions of the software, so they can see what if any benefits they'll get out of the upgrade process while also helping to reduce risk. The Data Migration Assistant, which is supposed to help move workloads, is also being upgraded.

For companies that have large amounts of data they want to store in a cloud database, Microsoft is offering an expanded free trial of Azure SQL Data Warehouse. Users can sign up starting on Tuesday, and get a free month of use. Those customers who want to give it a shot will have to move quickly, though: Microsoft is only taking trial sign-ups until December 31.

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joseph Sirosh said in an interview that the change to the Azure SQL Data Warehouse trial was necessary because setting up the system to work with actual data warehouse workloads would blow through the typical Azure free trial. Giving people additional capacity to work with should let them have more of an opportunity to test the service before committing to a large deployment.

All of this SQL news comes a little more than a month before AWS Re:Invent, Amazon's big cloud conference in Las Vegas. It's likely that we'll see Amazon unveil some new database products at that event, continuing the ongoing cycle of competition among database vendors in the cloud.

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Blair Hanley Frank

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