At its Build developer conference, Microsoft today announced what it calls its “Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform.” That’s not so much a new platform but an effort to bring the company’s existing database, analytics and governance services closer together.
As Rohan Kumar, Microsoft’s Corporate VP for Azure Data, told me, the shift toward this platform approach started a few years ago. “Four years ago, I saw that in analytics,” he said. “We saw where we had data integration as a separate service, data warehousing, big data analytics, Power BI. The big thing we saw customers struggle with was putting them together. ‘Oh, I have to integrate data, land it inside the lake, then do some warehousing queries, dashboard it in Power BI, maybe do a machine learning workflow.'”
With Azure Synapse, the company made the first step in this direction by helping its customers work with different kinds of data across different services, mostly with a focus on data lakes and warehouses. Now, Kumar noted, the company is extending this across operational databases and governance. Specifically, this means Microsoft is now launching Azure Synapse Link for SQL, for example, that, in combination with Azure Synapse Analytics, allows for real-time analytics for SQL Server 2022 and Azure SQL Database.
As for SQL Server 2022, which is now in preview, Kumar described it as the “most cloud-connected release yet,” with support for Synapse Link so that all new commits will be sent to Synapse and Azure for analysis, all without impacting the performance of the transactional workloads. SQL Server 2022 connected to Azure also enabled disaster recovery to Azure AQL Managed Instance in the cloud, and Microsoft Purview, the company’s data governance platform, now integrates with SQL Server 2022.
And talking about Purview, which can already manage a number of third-party assets on-premises, Kumar noted that there is not just the integration with SQL Server but also new capabilities like the ability to get deeper insights into a company’s entire data estate (and Microsoft is working with third-party service providers to expand these capabilities, too). “One of the big questions we hear from our customers is, ‘look, our data estate is spread across multiple regions of the world but we don’t want our European data to ever leave the boundaries of Europe, so we need to have those insights, we need to have alerts if that rule is ever broken.'” With the new Data Insights feature, enterprises will now be able to do just that.
Of course, there are also a number of new product features that aren’t directly related to the overall platform. There’s a new ‘Business Critical’ tier for Azure Database for MySQL, for example, that promises 1.5x performance improvements, as well as the new Microsoft Graph Data Connect that will empower “customers to securely export their Microsoft 365 data estate” (though I’m not sure anybody really knows what the Microsoft Graph is all about these days).
Maybe more importantly, there’s also a preview of a self-service feature for Power BI datamart that will allow analysts to create these data marts inside of Power BI. “Today, if you’re a business user and you want a data mart, your normal course of action is to go talk to IT,” explained Kumar. “Now, with Power BI datamarts, we’ve made that into a self-service capability within Power BI so you can select the data and there’s an entire workflow that makes it very easy, while ensuring that all the governance pieces around data governance and security are respected.”