Since the introduction of SQL Azure, there has been some confusion about how it should be used. Some think that the primary goal for SQL Azure is simply “SQL Server Somewhere Else”. They evaluate a multi-terabyte database in their current environment, along with the maintenance, backups, disaster recovery and more and try to apply those patterns to SQL Azure. SQL Azure, however, has another set of use-cases that are very compelling.
What SQL Azure represents is a change in how you consider your options for a solution. It allows you to think about adding a relational storage engine to an application where the storage needs are below 50 gigabytes (although you could federate databases to get larger than that – stay tuned for a post on that process) that needs to be accessible from web locations, or to be used as a web service accessible from Windows Azure or other cloud provider programs. That’s one solution pattern.
Another pattern is a “start there, come here” solution. In this case, you want to rapidly create and deploy a relational database for an application using someone else’s hardware. SQL Azure lets you spin up an instance that is available worldwide in a matter of minutes with a simple credit-card transaction. Once the application is up, the usage monitoring is quite simple – you get a bill at the end of the month with a list of what you’ve used. From there, you can re-deploy the application locally, based on the usage pattern, to the “right” server. This gives your organization a “tower of Hanoi” approach for systems architecture.
There’s also a “here and there” approach. This means that you can place the initial set of data in SQL Azure, and use Sync Services or other replication mechanisms to roll off a window of data to a local store, using the larger storage capabilities for maintenance, backups, and reporting, while leveraging the web for distribution and access. This protects the local store of data from the web while providing the largest access footprint for the data you want to provide.
These are only a few of the options you have – and they are only that, options. SQL Azure isn’t meant to replace a large on-premise solution, and the future for SQL Server installations remains firm. This is another way of providing your organization the application data they need.
There are some valid questions about a “cloud” offering like SQL Azure. Some of these include things like security, performance, disaster recovery and bringing data back in-house should you ever decide to do that. In future posts here I’ll address each of these so that you can feel comfortable in your choice. I’ve found that the more you know about a technical solution, the better your design will be. It’s like cooking with more ingredients rather than the same two or three items you’re used to.