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Microsoft's Azure Synapse Analytics now generally available

After more than a year in preview, Microsoft's new analytics platform that brings together data integration, data warehousing and big data analysis is now generally available.

Microsoft released Azure Synapse Analytics in general availability on Dec. 3, a little over a year after first unveiling the platform in preview.

Azure Synapse Analytics, which the tech vendor publicly revealed at Microsoft Ignite in November 2019, is a cloud-based analytics service that aims to bring together data integration, data warehousing and big data analytics in one product to enable customers to easily and quickly derive insights from data sources.

Among the beta customers of Azure Synapse Analytics were Walgreens and P&G, according to Microsoft.

In addition to the general availability of Azure Synapse Analytics, which Microsoft revealed during a virtual event, the tech giant unveiled Azure Purview, a new data governance platform now in preview.

"Synapse is the foundation for unified analytics and insights," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during the virtual event. "It brings together all your data capabilities in one place."

Azure Synapse Analytics is not, however, designed to replace existing Microsoft data platforms such as Power BI and Azure Machine Learning. Instead, it's intended to integrate with them.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduces new analytics and data governance products during a virtual event entitled 'Shape Your Future with Azure Data and Analytics.'
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella discusses Azure Synapse Analytics during a virtual event entitled 'Shape Your Future with Azure Data and Analytics.'

It's also designed to solve the problem of having to maintain both a data warehouse and a data lake and query them separately.

The data storage options each have unique features that make them appealing, and therefore many organizations use both. The two do not, however, work in concert with one another, and when organization maintain both but they can't communicate with one another, it slows the ability to generate data-driven decisions.

Azure Synapse Analytics attempts to bring data warehouses and data lakes together in a single experience so the data they each house can be prepared for analysis and machine learning.

Synapse does a good job of delivering a single, integrated platform with cohesive management and governance for all data requirements.
Doug HenschenPrincipal analyst, Constellation Research

"Synapse does a good job of delivering a single, integrated platform with cohesive management and governance for all data requirements," said Doug Henschen, principal analyst at Constellation Research. "It's also built on Azure with serverless provisioning, so it promises advantages in ease of deployment, scaling and ongoing administration."

Henschen added, however, that Azure Synapse Analytics may be better for users whose entire data management and analytics operations exists within the Microsoft ecosystem than those who use tools from other vendors in addition to what they use from Microsoft.

"They insist there's openness to use with third-party BI and data science offerings, but there's a big emphasis on seamless integration with Power BI and Azure data science capabilities," he said. "Thus, I see Synapse as being most attractive to Microsoft-centric customers and those looking to consolidate as they migrate more workloads onto Azure."

While Azure Synapse Analytics is designed to simplify the analytics process, Azure Purview is a data governance service to enable organizations to get a complete understanding of their data, including its lineage, whether it's stored on premises, across multiple clouds or in SaaS applications.

Using the service, customers will be able to map and catalog their data and manage compliance risk.

Fueled by augmented intelligence capabilities, Azure Purview can search for terms and information relevant to industry-specific regulations and flags what may be out of compliance. In addition, it's integrated with Microsoft Information Protection, enabling the application of the same sensitivity labels organizations define in the Microsoft 365 Compliance Center.

"Azure Purview is an important advance for Microsoft in the area of metadata management and data governance," Henschen said. "Customers were previously underserved by Azure Data Catalog, which was limited to data discovery and data understanding. Azure Purview steps up in a big way to address data governance requirements."

He added that Azure Purview's ability to enable data governance in hybrid and multi-cloud environments is also an important feature.

"Purview is still in preview at this point, but I see it as a promising advance and a step Microsoft had to take," Henschen said.

Nadella, meanwhile, maintained that these latest Microsoft moves are as critical amid the current economic environment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic as analytics advancements have ever been. The pandemic has heightened the importance of data-driven decision making, and Azure Synapse Analytics and Azure Purview are aimed at enabling organizations to make data-driven decisions more easily than they could previously, he said.

"If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that no business is 100 percent resilient," Nadella said. "But those who are better equipped to understand what happened, predict what will happen and take action in real time will recover faster and emerge stronger."

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