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5 trends for SQL Server environments as SQL Server 2019 looms

SQL Server is undergoing new changes, as Microsoft prepares to release the 2019 version of the database software. Other changes are also on tap for SQL Server users.

The SQL Server landscape is changing fast. Less than two years after the SQL Server 2017 release, Microsoft is poised to roll out SQL Server 2019. You can tell a lot about where it thinks the database market is headed based on the big data management and analytics features showcased in the new version, which is available now in preview mode.

While big data deployments likely will take up a bigger part of the planning and operational processes in SQL Server environments, that's certainly not the only change in store over the course of this year. Let's take a look at some of the major trends that SQL Server database administrators (DBAs) and developers can expect in 2019.

Big data is becoming SQL Server data

First, to go back to where we started: Once just a blip on the SQL Server DBA's radar, big data and the advanced analytics it enables are becoming far more common in business applications. Businesses today often employ a combination of structured relational data and nonrelational data that's usually unstructured or semistructured; in many cases, they need to consolidate all of that information for analytics and reporting uses.

Reflecting this change, enhanced big data integration is a primary focus of SQL Server 2019. It increases the number of external data sources that Microsoft's PolyBase data virtualization software can access and allows users to build big data clusters that combine SQL Server with the Apache Spark processing engine and the Hadoop Distributed File System. These additions will help businesses incorporate modern data processing technologies and AI-enhanced applications into their SQL Server environments.

Capsule list of SQL Server 2019's key new features
A summary of key new features in SQL Server 2019

More SQL Server on Linux and in containers

While its current adoption rate is still rather low compared to SQL Server on Windows, there's no doubt that SQL Server on Linux will continue to gain users in the coming year. With SQL Server 2019, Microsoft is bringing the feature set available on Linux into parity with what's in the Windows version, including new support for data replication, distributed transactions and the company's machine learning software. SQL Server on Linux could be a more cost-efficient option for many businesses than both its Windows counterpart and Oracle Database.

In 2019, more businesses likely will also evaluate whether to put their SQL Server environments in containers. Docker containers enable fast and easy SQL Server deployments. Developers can fire up new containerized SQL Server instances -- complete with databases -- in a matter of seconds. The ability to do so is becoming more important as organizations adopt fast-moving DevOps processes and continuous integration and continuous deployment methodologies.

As the use of SQL Server in containers grows, the need to manage and orchestrate them becomes essential. Kubernetes has emerged as the container orchestration tool of choice for many organizations, and it's an important part of SQL Server 2019. The Linux version of the new release enables users to create Always On Availability Groups for SQL Server in Kubernetes-managed containers, which provides a more robust high-availability setup than the container instance failover support in SQL Server 2017.

Moving SQL Server databases to the cloud

While DBAs typically aren't eager to embrace the cloud, the migration of SQL Server environments to the cloud will certainly continue to grow in 2019 and beyond. The cloud offers cost and scalability benefits that are hard to keep ignoring, while barriers to cloud deployments continue to shrink -- in general and for SQL Server users in particular.

Microsoft has adopted a cloud-first development model under which new SQL Server features are tested and implemented in its Azure SQL Database cloud service before they're moved into the on-premises product. Most Transact-SQL features are now fully supported in both SQL Server and Azure SQL Database, and Microsoft said the Managed Instance version of the cloud service it launched in late 2018 can run existing SQL Server applications without any changes.

It's abundantly clear that the meaning of data in a business sense continues to expand, and the capabilities of SQL Server are continuing to grow in response.

Also, both SQL Server 2017 and 2019 have built-in hybrid cloud features that can span on-premises and cloud database instances.

Data growth remains rampant for users

Most businesses face unprecedented data growth. Different organizations have adopted diverse solutions to cope with that. Some simply continue to buy more storage, while others have adopted more efficient storage systems that support flash memory, data deduplication and compression or hybrid cloud setups in which infrequently accessed data and applications are moved to lower-cost cloud storage. Whatever course is taken, storage management should be a top to-do item for SQL Server DBAs, even more so if their organizations plan to use the big data features in SQL Server 2019.

Time to update your SQL Server skills

It's abundantly clear that the meaning of data in a business sense continues to expand, and the capabilities of SQL Server are continuing to grow in response. The new features call for a shift in how we think about SQL Server and the data it holds; it's also imperative to learn how to best use Microsoft's rapidly evolving technologies to ensure that SQL Server environments can meet changing business requirements.

Learning how to integrate SQL Server with big data platforms and AI, machine learning and IoT tools will be a priority for many SQL Server DBAs. It also makes a lot of sense to bone up on Linux basics, Docker containers and Kubernetes, and to keep up with Azure SQL Database, SQL Server's hybrid cloud capabilities and related new cloud services offered by Microsoft.

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