Microsoft promises a ton of new features for SQL 2016 but will you need the “full fat” Enterprise Edition to get the total experience?
Earlier this month, Microsoft launched SQL Server 2016 and with it comes a slew of goodies, such as integration of Hadoop, improved query handling, security features such as point to point encryption, hybrid cloud abilities, and R Analytics to its database server, to name but a few.
Of course you could go ahead now and download a free 180-day trial of the software and test it out but here’s our executive review to help you along the way.
Price and Specs
The Enterprise version of SQL Server 2016 will cost $14,256 per core, while the standard version costs $3,717 per core. More details on pricing and licencing can be found here. There is currently a promotion if your organisation is running a competitor’s database such as Oracle or SAP HANA, where free licenses will be given out (although conditions do apply).
There are ways to get the software for free but conditions have to be met. SQL Server 2016 is free for developers in a non-production environment. There is also a free Express version of the database server if you need a database application for a small operation under 10GB in size.
To install SQL Server 2016 requires the pre-installation of .NET Framework 4.6. It also needs at least 6GB of hard drive space and at least 1GB of RAM memory. It also doesn’t support 32-bit x86 processors, requiring x64 processor with a recommended clock speed of at least 2GHz so beware if you’ve got some older hardware as it may be time for an upgrade!
As mentioned above, SQL Server 2016 has many new features aimed at the enterprise. Of particular note is a focus on business intelligence and analytics. The strategy here for Microsoft is to have enterprise analytical infrastructure processed within the database by SQL Server 2016, instead of this being done by an external application. The upshot of this is transactional analysis on a real-time basis, increasing speed and efficiency. No longer will data need to be pulled out of the database in order to figure out what’s happening within the dataset.
There is also now support for the R programming language which is integrated into the application and is used for statistical analysis. This is based on Microsoft’s acquisition of Revolution Analytics.
Advanced data mining and reporting using multi-dimensional data models are also included and integrate with an Excel spreadsheet via the PowerPivot add-in.
Other components are the database engine, which supports Transact-SQL and includes high-availability features such as failover and replication.
It also features Data Quality Services, which provides tools to enhance data quality by discovering incorrect, incomplete, or duplicated data by reference to an internal of external knowledge base.
Another new feature is PolyBase, which allows you to run queries on external data in Azure and Blob storage of Hadoop. It can push computation to Hadoop where appropriate, so that an analytical application can join and integrate data from big data stores with the data in the relational store.
Microsoft is touting SQL Server 2016 as having “ground-breaking” performance optimisations and efficiencies. As an example, it set up a 100TB data warehouse, a single server with four Xeon E7 processors, and SQL Server 2016. It took just 5.3 seconds to run a complex query on the entire 100TB database.
There is also a focus on enhanced security with an Always Encrypted feature, which protects data at rest and in memory; Transparent Data Encryption, which encrypts all user data with low performance overheads; Dynamic Data Masking and Row Level Security, which enables developers to build applications that control access and protect data.
Is It Enterprise Ready?
For years, SQL Server has had its root in the SME market, with SQL Server 2016 in our opinion it’s ready to step up into the big leagues and challenge the traditional BI and analytics solutions within the enterprise.
If we believe Gartner, the total cost of ownership (TCO) of SQL 2016 compared to Oracle and SAP HANA implantations could be a saving of as much as 90% which tends to focus the mind! So when making a decision, think about what your needs are now as well as what you will need in the future. While you can start with a basic version and upgrade in time, those upgrades can take time and money and may not go as well as planned.
Before embarking on an SQL Server upgrade, you should always assess your readiness for it. In doing so, you can ensure that you are not overpaying for licences, reduce your exposure to potential compliancy problems and provide an appropriate hardware infrastructure to allow for the optimisation of the new technology.