One of the exciting announcements that came out of the Microsoft Ignite conference in Chicago was the announcement of SQL Server 2016 being made available for preview this summer. Microsoft has provided a compelling case for upgrading by building upon the powerful in-memory features introduced in SQL Server 2014, extending on premise servers further with hybrid solutions and a much needed update of business intelligence features.
As a data professional with a focus on delivering business intelligence solutions, the feature enhancements in SQL 2016 are really exciting.
Reporting Services (SSRS)
Some of the enhancements in SSRS 2016 include additional chart types and support for non-IE browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Report parameters are able to support autocomplete, search and hierarchical tree display. Developers can take advantage of using an improved development interface and additional themes and templates (similar to those available in Power BI). Finally, PowerBI.com is a report publishing option, meaning you have an option to publish local reports out to the cloud. This is really significant as we’re starting to see how the online-only service will fit into the BI ecosystem.
Analysis Services (SSAS)
Both Multidimensional and Tabular versions of SSAS are getting performance enhancements and additional connectivity features. Multidimensional updates include support for unnatural hierarchies, improved performance on distinct count measure groups and DBCC consistency check command support. Tabular mode received a bit more attention in order to make it an enterprise-ready component of the analytical family. Many-to-many relationships are supported along with the cross-attribute relationship filtering you should expect with it. This functionality is incredibly valuable and widely used in the multidimensional mode of SSAS. For many developers, myself included, the missing functionality marginalized tabular mode and kept it only for prototyping.
Integration Services (SSIS)
SSIS has a number of usability enhancements including improved connectivity to Oracle and Teradata along with upgraded/new connectors to OData (v4), Azure Data Factory (ADF), Hadoop File System (HDFS) and JSON data. For organizations leveraging Azure, admins are able to orchestrate on premise package execution through ADF. Last, but not least, there are incremental deployment options with the package deployment model, support for Power Query inside the SSIS Designer and custom execution logging levels.
The database engine is becoming more powerful, more secure and will provide several attractive options to take advantage of hybrid environments out of the box. PolyBase, previously only available inside the Analytics Platform System, is inside the on premise engine and allows for structured and unstructured data to be queried as a single object. In-memory database objects have been enhanced with higher performance and support for a wider array of T-SQL functionality. A new feature called Always Encrypted provides options to keep data encrypted whether at rest or in motion by storing encryption details within the application.
Additional database enhancements:
- R analytical engine integration
- Natively parsing and storing JSON data
- Row-level security policies
- Additional Extended Events monitoring options
The PowerBI app connects mobile users to their PowerBI instance in the cloud. SQL 2016 enables publishing directly to the cloud service and effectively enables dynamic information delivery. Another mobile option that we’re all learning more about is DataZen. Microsoft recently purchased the company (April 2015) and provides its product free to any organization. DataZen is a whole blog topic on its own, but will be a very cool and welcome addition to the Microsoft reporting architecture.
SQL Server 2016 promises to be the best version of SQL Server yet! We’re looking forward to getting our hands on the preview and kick the tires on our favorite features. Keep an eye out for future blogs and events where we’ll showcase these features and others.
In the meantime, head over to Microsoft and review the datasheet or the announcement blog.