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Forecast: Azure Skies Over the Amazon

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Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services are taking over.

Last week, a client approached me to migrate their complex environment in two phases from two physical data centers, first to Azure VMs, and ultimately to an Azure SQL Database, doing away with logical servers completely.

In my mind, this trend is only going to accelerate. There are obvious exclusions that I won’t go into around privacy, large data and so on, but in general, I see a mass migration to “the Cloud”.

The primary motivator for virtualisation has always been cost. For example, Azure Blob Storage offers fully redundant global replication, where your data is copied to two other centers in other parts of the world, for a very small price bump and zero additional administration. In a traditional hosted environment, you would be looking at a significant outlay for ensuring global redundancy, not to mention maintaining and administering it.

A trade-off of virtualisation is performance. Virtual machines, by their nature, incur at least a 5% resource overhead, and if set up incorrectly or over-provisioned, can cut performance by as much as 50%. That is slowly changing as we become wise to the needs of SQL Server in a virtual environment, and Microsoft is driving the recommendations.

Licensing is also changing as a result of the Cloud. When setting up a traditional environment, software licenses can easily account for 80% or more of your initial outlay, depending on number of CPU cores, SQL Server edition, and so on.

With Azure and Amazon, just as you would pay a monthly fee for a Windows VM, you can now pay an additional monthly fee for a SQL Server license, that (depending on configuration) could take up to six years to become more expensive than buying a SQL Server Enterprise license outright. Plus, in those six years, you can get the latest version of the product as quickly as it takes to spin up a new virtual machine.

An operational expense like that makes developing for a SQL Server platform very attractive for developers, especially for companies that don’t necessarily have capital to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars on licensing.

It behooves us, as data professionals and consultants, to understand these risk factors, to ensure that our customers can get the most bang for their buck. If they want performance, and their budget is limited, Azure virtual machines, or even database-as-a-service, might be the best thing for them.

Yes, the Cloud is just someone else’s data center, but Microsoft and Amazon are lowering the barrier to entry for a number of businesses, large and small, to scale up their environment and help grow their businesses. It would be foolish to dismiss it out of hand.

If I ran a large data center, I’d be concerned. Take me to the clouds above.

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