Microsoft Azure wants to make working with data on its platform easier

At its Ignite conference today, Microsoft announced a number of new features for its Azure data platform. These range from a first preview of the 2022 edition of its venerable SQL Server line to updates to the Azure Synapse Analytics platform and new tools that make it easier to move Cassandra workloads to the cloud. But at the core of many of these updates is a deeper integration between the platform’s various services — and that’s no coincidence.

As Rohan Kumar, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Azure Data, told me, the plethora of data services available in the cloud has become a pain point for customers. “There’s a purpose-built service for everything. Pick your favorite tasks that you want to do for data and there’s a service for that,” he said. “The thing that we heard loud and clear from our customers is that gets super challenging. First of all, there’s this plethora of options, things are changing almost on a daily basis. And then, a lot of customer pain truly comes from stitching a bunch of these things together.”

From a user’s perspective, they have to manage their operational databases that power their various applications, but there’s also analytics, business intelligence and predictive services based on machine learning, usually backed by data warehouses and data lakes. And then, all of this data, which often includes sensitive information, also has to be governed to ensure compliance with various regulations — all that data may also be spread across multiple clouds and on-premises data centers.

With Synapse Analytics, Cosmos DB, Azure Data Lake, Purview and its other tools, Microsoft has a solution for all of these use cases, but it is now explicitly focusing on tying them all together into more easily manageable systems.

As Kumar noted, the team believes that it is able to provide best-of-class services across its data portfolio. “But if you look at truly how we differentiate — what is unique about Microsoft’s data [products] and about Microsoft itself, it’s the fact that we have all these pillars […]. For us, this integration is as important as being the best in class in each pillar,” he said.

That’s easier said than put in practice, of course, but some of today’s updates at Ignite show the direction Microsoft is going. SQL Server 2022, for example, which is now in preview, features integrations with Synapse Link, Microsoft’s tools for using their databases for both analytical and transactional workloads, and Azure Purview for easier data governance. It’ll also feature support for Azure SQL Managed Instance for deeper cloud integrations and disaster recovery.

Synapse Link is going to be a key piece of the Azure Data integration story, Kumar noted. “You can imagine the sheer amount of technical innovation that needs to go in. We had to optimize both the source and the target. So Synapse [Analytics] is optimized for this, Cosmos DB is optimized for this — and in time, Azure SQL and other [data] stores are going to be optimized for this as well,” he said.

In addition to these new features — and a continued focus on Azure Purview to help enterprises with their data governance — the Azure Data team is also introducing a number of other new features. There is support for migrating Apache Cassandra data to Cosmos DB. Azure Advisor is getting new cost-control features. There are other updates to Azure SQL Managed Instance. It’s Microsoft Ignite, so as usual, there are more new features than you can sum up. But what matters more than these individual features is the renewed focus on integrations between the various products.