Microsoft SQL Azure: The Flat Pack Database

Microsoft Azure

Last weekend, Erika and I stumbled across a coffee table at Ikea that we liked much more than we’d expect for a $50 table.

The Finished Product
The Finished Product

Erika has champagne tastes; she can walk into any store and find the highest-priced item without ever seeing the price tags.  She’s just drawn to expensive stuff.  She’s had her eye on a $1,000 marble-top cocktail table (they’re not called coffee tables anymore, don’t ya know) from Room & Board for months.  Therefore, it was a complete shock when we both really liked this $50 table with exactly the same lines and shape, but a simple white veneer top instead of marble.

$950 savings?  Sold.

Granted, we won’t be passing this table down to our grandchildren, but we don’t even plan on having kids, let alone grandkids.  And this table might not last ten years, but at $50 a pop, we could buy a new one every five years for 100 years straight.  Odds are, our tastes will change over the course of the next 100 years, too.

The catch with Ikea is that the stuff is flat packed – the table comes in a flat box.  You’re responsible for hauling it through the aisles of the store, getting it home in your car, and assembling it yourself.  I’ve done this enough over the years that it doesn’t stress me out (anymore).  My tips for a successful Ikea build are:

  • Read the instructions three times – which is pretty simple, since they’re pictures, not words
  • Use an electric screwdriver to avoid exertion
  • Drink your favorite alcoholic beverage in moderation during assembly
  • Whenever you’re about to curse, stop to think about how much money you saved
  • When you’re done, don’t stand on it to test it

All of those are equally important.

If you don’t read and reread the directions, it’s very easy to end up with a desk that shakes when you type on it – and I happen to be typing on one of those at this very moment.  If you don’t use an electric screwdriver, your arms will be tired before you get halfway through, and you’ll strip out the screw heads.  If you don’t drink, you won’t be mellow enough to laugh at the pictures in the directions.  If you don’t constantly remind yourself of how much money you saved, you’ll be picking up the phone to call Crate & Barrel.

And finally, unless you bought a piece of furniture that was specifically designed for you to stand on, then it wasn’t.  Don’t stand on it to prove a point, because more often than not, you’ll prove that it wasn’t designed with standing in mind.

Ikea Table - Before
Ikea Table - Before

SQL Server is the Marble Coffee Table

When you’re building a brand-new product, company, or web site on the Microsoft stack, SQL Server Enterprise Edition is the sexy marble-top cocktail table.  That’s the one you really want, baby.  You just know all your friends will ooh and aah when you bring ’em over for the opening night party and say, “Yeah, I built it with SQL Server.”

“But it’s so expensive!” they’ll say.

“Yeah, but my app is worth it.  SQL Server Enterprise Edition scales like there’s no tomorrow.  Built-in backup compression, partitioning, database mirroring, active/active clustering, and all that stuff those MySQL guys can only dream about.  We’re ready for the future now, baby.  Want another glass of champagne?  My venture capital guy bought us a couple dozen cases of the good stuff.”

Riiight.  Back to reality.

SQL Azure is the Flat Pack Database

Much like Ikea furniture, Microsoft SQL Azure is a cheap way to get a reasonable facsimile of the database you really want, but can’t justify buying.

There’s drawbacks:

  • Backups are not included – if you want to get your data out, get out your electric screwdriver and build it yourself
  • Scaling is not included – you have to roll your own sharding, and frankly, I don’t know anybody who does a good job of that
  • Database mirroring, partitioning, clustering, and batteries are not included
  • You can’t stand on it – don’t use this for your data warehouse or high-throughput databases, because the data goes through your internet connection

But if you can live with those drawbacks and build your own HA/DR solution – just like you dragged home your Ikea coffee table and assembled it yourself – you can save a lot of money.

Both SQL Server and Azure can – and will – coexist.  Heck, Ikea furniture happily coexists with the good stuff in my house too.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go refresh the Crate & Barrel web site to see when my dining room table and chaise lounge are going to arrive.

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8 Comments. Leave new

  • I love the smell of a good analogy in the morning.
    Nice article Brent, after reading it, I’m going to repeat my wish that SQL Server rename SQL Azure to its Swedish translation: SQL HIMMELSBLÅ. (Literally Heaven’s Blue, or Sky Blue)

  • A friend added wood glue at all the joints, in addition to the screws & lock/cam things, for an Ikea dresser. He said it was solid as a rock, no wobbling. It will still get and look beat up over time, but the joints are super secure.

  • This is the coffee table I want. It’s a functional Nintendo Controller.

  • Once again a nice article, Brent.. Since a while, I am listening about SQL Azure. however, I was not sure, what exactly this is??? This article helps to understand.

  • Nice analog though you last point on high availability is incorrect. SQL Azure offers high availability out of the box. Each database has HA built in; the system automatically creates redundant copies of each database that are maintained automatically. These copies are used to ensure high availability in the case of server or network loss within the data center. The system automatically fails over to a secondary copy without you having to do. In this regard, you can think of the system providing HA (similar to mirroring) directly out of the box.


    • Nigel – I understand your enthusiasm for Azure’s reliability given the fact that you’ve got an email address, but I have one word for you: Sidekick.

      Nobody in their right mind would trust a cloud vendor with all aspects of their data protection without a second option.


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