Five years from now, in March 2018, what will be different about databases? I’m a Microsoft SQL Server guy, so keep that in mind when reading my thoughts.
Looking Back at 2008-2013
The big story here for me was virtualization. In mid-2008, Microsoft added support for SQL Server running under Hyper-V, and later they added support for VMware as well. Today, almost all of my clients have at least one virtual SQL Server. They typically start with development/QA/test instances, then disaster recovery, then production.
For the remaining physical servers, cheaper memory and solid state storage meant you could get insane performance out of commodity hardware. Microsoft got caught without a good scale-out story, but cheap scale-up prices meant it didn’t matter. I don’t know whether this was luck or strategy, but good on ’em either way. In 2008, I’d never would have believed that 2013 Brent would have a dozen clients with 2TB of memory per server. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a few companies think they needed to switch database platforms in order to get the performance they need, but the real answer has always been quick (and relatively cheap) changes to code, configuration, and hardware.
Management tools didn’t really change at all, and that’s a story in and of itself. Microsoft made several attempts to change how DBAs and developers interact with databases – Visual Studio Data Dude, DACPACs, Utility Control Points. When SQL 2008R2 came out, I wrote about why these features wouldn’t really have an impact, and today, I’m not surprised that they’re just not getting any serious adoption. Microsoft threw in the towel on Data Dude and replaced it with SQL Server Data Tools, but didn’t include all of the functionality. I don’t see a lot of developer confidence in Microsoft’s short attention span here, so tooling hasn’t been a big story. (We did get an all-new SQL Server Management Studio under the hood, but Microsoft went to great pains to ensure it looked/worked basically the same as the old one, so…yeah.)
Business Intelligence (BI) got a lot of headlines, but here we’ve got another hyper-distraction story. Microsoft threw so many different tools against the wall that the naming even became a joke – does PowerPivotPointPro use the XVelocitySuperMart in v3.14? I don’t envy the BI pros who have to keep up with this jumbled mess of licenses, features, and names, but I do think Microsoft is heading in the right direction. The combination of Excel, SharePoint, columnar storage, and hella fast laptops means Microsoft is in a good spot to give insight to managers. It just wasn’t a huge revolution in 2008-2013 because the stories and products kept changing.
Looking Forward at 2013-2018
When our servers were physical, they had a built-in expiration date. The hardware support would grind to an end, and we’d be under pressure to migrate them onto more reliable hardware. We often included a SQL Server version upgrade in that same project.
Those days are over. The combination of virtualization and SQL 2005/2008 will leave an interesting legacy challenge for DBAs. Once your SQL Server is virtualized, it’s really easy to get it off old hardware – just VMotion or LiveMigrate it to another host. You can do it even while it’s still powered on. Does that old version need some more horsepower? Shut it down, add a couple of virtual CPUs and more memory, and power it back on. What used to be a big ugly maintenance project is now a matter of just a reboot.
This means you’ll be supporting SQL Server 2005 and 2008 forever.
SQL Server 2000 has thankfully (mostly) already been exterminated from serious production work. Its lack of management tools and mainstream support means it’s painful to troubleshoot, so most of us have already migrated production work to 2005 and 2008. Support for those newer versions doesn’t end for years, so settle in and get comfy. Sure, SQL Server 2005 and 2008 have bugs, and they’re missing cool features like backup compression in Standard Edition, but for the most part, they just work. Businesses will stick with ’em for most applications because they don’t see enough compelling features in 2012.
In SQL Server 2012 and beyond, we’ve got:
- AlwaysOn Availability Groups – high availability, disaster recovery, and scale-out reads
- Hekaton – in-memory storage with optimized stored procedures and new data formats on disk
- Column store indexes – faster data retrieval for certain kinds of queries
Call me maybe crazy, but I don’t see really widespread adoption for any of these. To do them right, we’ve gotta make changes to application code. The changes won’t pay off for the majority of customers, so it’s risk without much reward. Don’t get me wrong – when you need this kind of speed, then you need it, and the features are fantastic. I do see widespread adoption coming in 2013-2018 for AlwaysOn, but only for high availability and disaster recovery, not the scale-out reads part.
The virtualization/SQL2005-is-good-enough combination also means we’re not going to see massive, widespread migrations from on-premise SQL Servers to cloud services like SQL Azure. (We’re also not going to see people call it by its official product name, Microsoft Windows Azure SQL Database.) Your app would require code changes to make that switch, and code changes are risky.
New development, on the other hand, means you can pick the features and compatibility you want. In those environments…I still don’t see a lot of widespread SQL Azure adoption coming. If I’m a developer building a new app from the ground up, I’m going to pick the cheapest, easiest database possible. These days, that’s probably PostgreSQL. Like SQL Server, it’s a platform that is available in a lot of different delivery mechanisms – on-premise on bare metal, on-premise virtualized, colo boxes, cloud-based services, etc. It’s open source, and it has all kinds of cool features we don’t get in SQL Server. I’m not changing horses mid-stream, but if I was starting again as a developer, I’d go that route.
What Do You See Changing?
When you look at your company’s needs, the job you do, and the tools you use, what do you see coming down the pike? In 2018, what will be the defining thing that changed your work?