Why Developers Should Consider Microsoft SQL Server


I know, I know, I’m biased because I’m a SQL Server guy. Hear me out, though, and I’ll give you both sides.

The Good

It’s stable and mature. SQL Server has been out for forever, so it’s easy to find blogs, videos, books, and people who can help.

Everything integrates with it. Visual Studio, reporting tools, everything is aware of SQL Server. Everything has drivers for SQL Server.

High availability is relatively easy to implement. SQL Server has a few features (failover clustering, log shipping, and database mirroring) that work pretty well out of the box with a minimum of expertise required. If you want to get fancy, you can scale out reads and do powerful stuff with Always On Availability Groups – although I’d be the first to tell you that feature isn’t nearly as easy.

The query optimizer is really, really good. Even if you suck at writing queries, the optimizer does a pretty doggone good job of turning your typewriter-monkey act into a decent execution plan. With just a little bit of education about how it works, you can do a phenomenal job of scaling. Since SQL Server 2014 SP1, you can even watch query plans unfold live. Other databases post things like “we now have histogram-based stats” or “we have parallel scans” and I think, “woohoo, welcome to 2000!”

The built-in instrumentation is super-detailed and free. SQL Server exposes all kinds of internal data in a query-friendly format. Some platforms call these system tables – in SQL Server, we call them dynamic management views (DMVs), system functions, DMOs, etc, and there’s bajillions of them. There’s so many, and they’re so stable, that we’ve written tons of free scripts to make troubleshooting easier.

It checks a ton of enterprise boxes. When I look at feature guides at EnterpriseReady.io, I realize that I just kinda take a lot for granted in SQL Server. Sure, we have encryption, auditing, reporting, SLAs, Active Directory integration, yadda yadda yadda. If you’re building a new app today, you may not think you need that stuff – but the instant you try to sell into a big enterprise, you’ll hit walls without these features.

The community is great – not just for a closed-source product, but for any kind of product. #SQLhelp is active on Twitter, questions get answered fast on DBA.StackExchange.com,

There are a lot of storage features in the box. If you’re just getting started building something, you don’t want to hassle with half a dozen specialized persistence layers for relational data, key/value stores, spatial, XML, JSON, columnstore analytics, in-memory OLTP, full text search, R, etc. You can use one driver, dump your stuff in SQL Server, and call it a day.

The Bad

Few people use those storage features. Yeah, about columnstore, in-memory OLTP, JSON, XML, R, all that? Nobody uses those. If you run into performance problems, you’re gonna be out on your own.

It’s kinda expensive. Standard Edition (128GB max RAM) is about $2,000 USD per CPU core, which means a dual-socket, quad-core box is $16K of licensing. Enterprise Edition – and you may want to be sitting down for this – is $7K per core, which would be $56K for that same dual-socket, quad-core box. And then there’s the ongoing maintenance fees.

I try to keep the costs in perspective by saying SQL Server is one of my most valuable and reliable employees. It’s like a member of my development team. But yeah, it costs as much as a member of the team, especially when I start to scale. (But hey, it’s way cheaper than Oracle.)

The Ugly

It phones home. Starting with SQL Server 2016, it phones home by default, and in the free editions (Developer/Express/Evaluation), you can’t turn it off.

It’s closed source. I don’t have some kind of philosophical problem with closed source stuff, but you need to be aware that you’re not going to be able to examine the source code and suggest a fix for an issue that’s killing you. Your options are:

  1. Open a $500 support ticket – and if it’s a real bug, they’ll refund your money, and might even give you a hotfix.
  2. File a bug at Microsoft Connect – there’s no SLA here, and while sometimes they fix bugs in a matter of weeks or months, you still have to wait until the Cumulative Update is made public. The CU/build # isn’t posted in the Connect item, either, so you’re left reading knowledge base articles trying to figure out whether your fix is in yet.
  3. Cultivate relationships at Microsoft – I’ve had more than one Microsoft person tell me, “You could get what you want from us a lot faster if you would just network the idea with us politely.” Uh, okay, in the words of a timeless philosopher, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Disclaimer: I blatantly stole this idea from the excellent post, Why You Should Learn PostgreSQL.

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19 Comments. Leave new

  • Did you miss a part of a sentence?

    > There’s so many, and they’re so stable, that we’ve written …
    (in the alinea about DMVs)

  • By the way, people use columnstore. And not just me and Niko 🙂

  • “The built-in instrumentation is super-detailed and free. … There’s so many, and they’re so stable, that we’ve written”
    Written *WHAT* man?!? Don’t leave us hanging!

    Seriously though, I think this is a really good breakdown of why SQL Server is a decent product at it’s price point.

  • Alvin Ramard
    March 22, 2017 9:19 am

    It’s kinda expensive? How does it compare to Oracle?

  • Do you have any “columnstore for dummies” posts around? we pay a lot of money for 2014 and I’d love to have something I can give to my friend who doesn’t understand it very well so he can pitch it. Yep. my poor clueless friend…

  • Well… we are switching to MongoDB despite all those positives….
    A Document Store that seamlessly maps into C# classes.
    Can run 256GB Ram and can Scale Function and Features much more rapidly.
    Good query and aggregation capability to bring it into Ram and crunch the data at much higher speeds.
    Plus can split across multiple server nodes and further leverage the commodity hardware.
    Goodby SQL Server Enterprise at $114,000 for 8 cores.

  • Sad but Microsoft has competed somewhat on price. But now it is getting more expensive all the time.
    And the connect item about phone home and their response is a bit alarming. Their reasoning is poor. The few people that would turn it off would not significantly affect their bug fixing goals as they would still get plenty of data. So just kind of uncaring. Having been involved with SQL Server since 4.21 I am also alarmed that it is at the point that cost and feature wise and with the availability of many other choices that migration away from SQL Server must be a strategy for many now. Also most people don’t purchase machines with a low core count which isn’t going to help this either. To me it seems it’s at a possible tipping point and Brent’s point about slow adoption for 2014 and 2016 supports this.

  • I work in an environment with SQL Server, Postgres, Mongo and Cassandra. All I know is that SQL Server is so much easier to maintain than the others. Had Postgres corruption issue and it took days and to figure out a solution, no DBCC equivalent. My biggest complaint of other DB technologies is that their communities really suck. SQL Server community is awesome. A strong selling point in my opinion.

  • How about Azure SQL Database and SQL VMs in Azure. I really believe they are dirt cheap when compared with om prem licenses.

    • Peter – it’s funny, we’re discussing that in our Senior DBA class today. It’s a little beyond what I can do justice to in a comment, though. (We spend about an hour on it in class.)


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