El Reg talks to Azure Data veep as Microsoft flicks the switch on Azure Arc for SQL Managed Instances

Longevity, PostgreSQL, and 'the default relational database of choice'


Interview Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Azure Data, Rohan Kumar, told The Reg the org had no “thought process” around changing current long-term support terms for SQL Server. We were talking to the corporate veep as Microsoft slapped the Azure Arc sticker onto its veteran SQL product, with Kumar discussing both the update and the future of the enterprise database software.

The Azure Arc-enabled SQL Managed Instance has now finally made it to General Availability, having been announced a few weeks previously.

The Azure Arc-flavoured version of Microsoft's trusty database has a claimed near 100 per cent compatibility with the SQL Server database engine of old and is aimed at lifting and shifting apps to Azure Arc while maintaining data sovereignty.

Microsoft has long taken a hybrid cloud approach and is happy to take its customer's money wherever they want to run their databases, making the addition of Azure Arc to the line-up inevitable.

"This cannot become like a one size fits all," Kumar said. "That was a key learning for us.

"It's not like all of them [customers] are going to move to containers tomorrow, there are some workloads that will be running on VMs and your control plane needs to help manage that as well."

And, frankly, as long as one is splashing the cash on a SQL licence, one needn't necessarily pop all one's eggs in Microsoft's basket.

"One of the big promises that we have with Arc," said Kumar, "is you should be able to deploy SQL, now that we've made it generally available, wherever you choose. It could be a private cloud, it could be in other clouds, AWS, GCP, Azure."

That said, Microsoft would dearly like customers to pick its platform for their database and plans such as Azure Hybrid Licensing, which permits customers to use their own Software Assurance-enabled Windows Server and SQL Server licences on Azure, are not entirely friendly toward its cloudy rivals.

While Kumar will cheerfully boast of running SQL wherever, those responsible for Microsoft's byzantine licensing rules have at least one eye on the company's own cloud platforms.

Support is also a thorny topic for Microsoft's customers. The company has infamously wielded the axe on some of its Long Term Servicing options, slicing the time customers can expect support for from 10 to five years in many cases.

SQL Server support tends to hover around the 10-year mark, meaning the clock is ticking for users of SQL Server 2012 while those with the 2019 release get until 2030 before time is up.

Could that change as Microsoft continues to nudge customers to a subscription model? "No," said Kumar, "there is no thought process that we have around changing…"

Never say never, though. After insisting that any changes would be "in the best interests of our customers," Kumar said that as the traction of migration to the cloud increased, "we basically have to rethink about our support, because it's no longer just your database on-prem."

However, noting that there were plenty of relatively elderly setups out there running mission-critical applications, Kumar had some reassurance: "We will never let any of our customers run into challenges because Microsoft decided, 'hey, we're not going to support you'."

Quite the promise, considering how keen other parts of the company seem to be when it comes to yanking support.

Kumar said that one impact of the pandemic had been a further acceleration of cloud adoption for SQL Server, although accepted that things will never get to 100 per cent in the cloud. "We will do as many on-prem releases as needed to serve our customers," he said.

Postgres is becoming the default relational database of choice

Unsurprisingly, however, even as the next version of SQL Server makes its way through Microsoft's internals, a key focus will be on Azure.

"How do we add value through Azure for our existing sequence of customers?" he said. "Even if they're maintaining their data on prem, there's a lot of value that we can add through Azure connectivity." Synapse and High Availability spring effortlessly to mind.

The immediate future for Azure Arc-enabled SQL Managed Instances, however, revolves around Postgres. "We've seen a lot of traction among open-source developers," explained Kumar.

"That really is becoming the database of choice both from migrations, a ton of migrations were all from Oracle to Postgres as an example and, as open-source developers think about building out new applications, Postgres is becoming the default relational database of choice."

And as for Microsoft's globally distributed Azure Cosmos DB, which is very much a product of the cloud, the plan remains to find a way to allow customers to keep hold of their data.

"When we talk about Arc, and even supporting the edge, it really is around having customers create their own regions where they're storing Cosmos DB." ®

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