SQL Server 2016 Has a Little Something for Everyone

by Jun 20, 2016

This Thursday, June 23, IDERA is sponsoring a virtual Windows IT Pro event to discuss what’s new with SQL Server 2016 — which was released on June 1st — and how companies can take advantage of its capabilities. I’m looking forward to the event so I thought I’d get things rolling early by discussing some of the features that have us at IDERA the most excited.

With this release, we see Microsoft stepping up to the plate with an impressive quantity and variety of new features with touchpoints all across the surface area of the product. This is not niche functionality either: virtually any business using SQL Server will find a new feature which will benefit them.

Database developers will appreciate the new System Versioned Temporal Database feature, which adds SQL 2011 Temporal support to SQL Server, allowing changes to data over time to be both transparently tracked and easily queried. New support for JSON, including a new FOR JSON clause, will be a welcome sight to those who have moved away from XML and pairs nicely with some of the analytics enhancements to allow users to work with data at varying levels of structure and schema stability. And both developers and administrators will benefit from the impressive Query Store, which automatically tracks the query plans and resource utilization of queries against a given database, allowing users to identify changes and degradations to performance over time.

On the security front we see the much-anticipated Always Encrypted feature, which allows data to remain encrypted on disk, in memory and in network transit, as well as Row Level Security. The complementary Dynamic Data Masking feature provides a convenient way to mask out sensitive data in end user applications, though keep in mind that it’s not a security feature unto itself.

For business intelligence and data analytics purposes, SQL Server 2016 offers both integration of the R analysis language and compatibility with Hadoop via the Polybase feature. This will enable new kinds of processing to be accomplished within the SQL Server space, allowing manipulation of both relational and non-relational data. Enhancements to the In-Memory OLTP and Columnstore features support what Microsoft has named Real-Time Operational Analytics. This allows complex aggregation and BI style reporting to be run atop an active OLTP database with minimal overhead. However, it remains to be seen which of these technologies will find broad real-world adoption, as some of the use cases seem to be suited for pure NoSQL implementations.

Microsoft has committed to a cloud-first strategy, meaning that many of the features in SQL Server 2016 made their first appearance in Azure SQL Database. This early availability and field testing, along with an extended community preview, means that the old advice to “wait until SP1” is most likely outdated. This release will be in very active use by organizations around the world before the end of the month, and we’re looking forward to helping our customers take full advantage of SQL Server 2016 to further streamline their databases and business processes.