What Can Azure Do For Your Data?

February 13, 2017

In 2010, Microsoft released what they called at the time “Windows Azure”, a service-providing Windows Server operating systems in the cloud.  In 2014 the service/product was rebranded as Microsoft Azure because it became so much more than simply offering Windows in the cloud.

Fast forward to today, Microsoft Azure provides companies with over 600 Azure services in the following main categories: Infrastructure, Platforms, Development, Mobile, Storage and Data Management Services, and more (To see all that is available: https://azureplatform.azureweb...). Of course, as a SQL Server Consultant, I want to know how the Data Management services offered can help you, my clients.

Currently, there are too many offerings in the “Databases” category of resources to list all of them, but some of the more popular include: SQL Database, SQL Data Warehouse, DocumentDB, SQL Server 2016 (with VM server), Oracle, Cassandra, and NoSQL.

You're probably wondering why you would want to trust your most valuable digital asset, your data, in the cloud? Well, I hope this blog ensures you that there are major advantages and benefits with using Microsoft Azure for data, more specifically: 1) backups 2) development and 3) reduced production costs.

Azure Backups

Since SQL 2014, backing up databases to Azure Blob Storage Account has been available natively. There is an additional install for SQL 2012. I currently use a Blob Storage Account to backup all my local development databases to the cloud for safe-keeping.

Setting up a Blob Storage is as easy as just three clicks.

Blob Storage
Creating Blob Storage in Azure

Then, it is a matter of simply answering the questions of naming your container. Just 4 easy steps will create an off-site, secure, backup solution.

Blob Storage1
Naming Blob storage in Azure

Configuring SQL Server to use Azure as a destination is just as simple. The “Back Up Database Task” found in the Maintenance Plan Tools is a very simple, intuitive tool to use. Select which databases you would like to backup; then, select “Back up to: URL” (see picture below). 

Backup Url
Selecting the URL option for backing up to Microsoft Azure

Then, click on the Destination Tab to configure the blob storage as the destination. You will need to provide the SQL Credential that you associated with the blob storage. Azure provides a downloadable certificate that SSMS recognizes, so this step is preconfigured every time you setup a backup. And, that’s it! You have now configured SQL Server to backup your databases to a secure, off-site, redundant data center.

Backup Destination
Selecting the backup destination.

Developing in Azure SQL Databases

Are you one of those DBA/Developers that ransacks through old computers to cannibalize anything you can to build your own development box?  Been there, done that; VERY overrated. Now, there is a more simpler way to develop databases.

Using Azure SQL Database is simple, efficient, tested, relatively cheap compared to the cost of physical hardware and always uses the most up-to-date version of T-SQL. 

If you are in the position of needing a few databases, especially for development, then Azure SQL Database is the way to go. Personally, I have been running several databases in Azure for development purposes, and it has only cost me $10/month over the last several months. 

I believe this is far cheaper than buying separate hardware or taking resources from a VM host for just development purposes.

And, the best part about it - if you sign up for Visual Studio Essentials (which is FREE, as in FREE BEER) you get $25/month credit towards Azure services for the sole purpose of developing.

Once again, it is as simple as three clicks: naming the database and server, then you are off developing. With the right setup, you can even use SQL Server Management Studio or SQL Server Data Tools for your developing.

Databases

One of the best part about Azure SQL Databases is that it is scalable. Meaning, when you are ready for production, all you have to do is give it more horsepower when needed. You don’t have to move databases to a new server or build an SSIS package to migrate data, etc.

Reducing Total Cost of Ownership

The “Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)” is a major buzz phrase with CIOs these days. Many individuals will tell you virtualizing is a way to reduce your TCO. However, to virtualize, you still need the storage and powerful host server to run all those virtual machines.

When it comes to databases, Azure can be a serious TCO saver. Using the TCO calculator, the price for the Basic Tier, 5 DTUs, 2 GB storage per DB is only $33.66/month (I don’t know of many servers that can be operated for that amount!), and stepping up your database to the Standard Performance tier adds 5 DTUs and 250 GB of storage per DB for only $10/month extra!

If you are in the market for a secure off-site backup, lowering the cost of development as well as possibly lowering your TCO in general, then, I would definitely recommend looking into what Microsoft Azure has to offer.

Prices1
Sample Pricing for a Azure SQL Database

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