CEO Nadella's cloud focus is a result of 'customer obsession', says Microsoft Server and Cloud Director

In tune with Microsoft's focus on data is its recently launched SQL Server 2016. The data platform is born-of-the-cloud, aimed at equipping businesses with advanced predictive analytics capabilities.

After the revolution that the invention of the steam engine brought in, there was an even bigger one with the invention of electricity. More recently, IT and cloud computing ushered in the third one. The fourth revolution, says Microsoft, is Data.

In tune with Microsoft's focus on data is its recently launched SQL Server 2016. The data platform is born-of-the-cloud, aimed at equipping businesses with advanced predictive analytics capabilities. SQL 2016 supports encrypted query processing capabilities for advanced analytics, machine learning, mobile business intelligence, and data integration. Microsoft claims that it is the world’s only relational database to be born ‘cloud-first’ with the majority of features first deployed and tested on Azure. It adds that SQL Server 2016 is powered by cloud capabilities that enable its customers to deploy hybrid architectures that partition data workloads across on-premises and cloud-based systems to help customers gradually move to the cloud, increase agility of their processes and save costs.

A subtle but noteworthy change that we saw when the product was released was the fact that Microsoft stepped up to freely embrace Linux by making the SQL Server 2016 capabilities available on the open source platform too. Microsoft's Server and Cloud Director Srikanth Karnakota adds, "After Satya Nadella has stepped in, there has been a big shift in the company culture – a marked focus on customer obsession. The real idea is not going after the Linux market. The customers have been asking for it and with SQL Server 2016, we have achieved that. Customers are already running SQL servers and Linux environments and running MySQL queries, but when they want to run advanced analytics, predictive intelligence or machine learning, they need to look at re-engineering their entire setup, which is not very feasible most of the times. This is where we thought of putting SQL running on Linux - and help make it the most logical choice for companies."

One can expect more from the Microsoft-Linux relationship going forward too. As Karnakota explains, "If you were to look at our cloud stack, we run possibly every distribution of Linux on it. So we are really open to these kind of partnerships. A bulk of our revenue, almost 90 percent, comes through partnerships. At every level we are looking possible integrations, how we can open up and, in the end, give the customers what they are looking for."

With this release, Microsoft is also gunning in for competitors very aggressively. The company wasn't shy of putting on its official website its offers for free licenses for Oracle customers moving to Microsoft and its claims about the significant cost savings that Oracle customers would see once they move to Microsoft. "We are confident of bringing Oracle customers on board - we are almost 1/10th the price of Oracle. We have pre-built analytics, predictive analytics, data warehousing, business intelligence, ETL capabilities built into the database that significantly cuts the TCO for the customer," justifies Karnakota.

Karnakota says that the product will be available for general availability in June this year, certain Microsoft customers like HDFC Bank, for instance, has already started using some of the preview features. The bank is effectively using it to predict churn – it can predict which customers are going to churn in say, the next month, and can they do proactive upsells or cross sells to retain those customers.

This launch is the epicentre of out entire data platform story, he adds. “Data is already being touted as a revolution, almost 90 percent of the data we see today was created in the last two years. So, all these decades of our IT existence has created only 10 percent of it. The volume expected to go up to 94 percent in the next two years. Every time you are connected to the Internet you are inputting data or receiving data. Data from sensors and wearables is only exploding the data further. With cloud, all that data is collected at various points in the network and volume of data has truly gotten to the Big Data stage where unstructured and Structured data sets are merging together. And you need specialised systems to take care of it all -- this is where we believe SQL Server 2016 fits in. The economics of storing data also shifts when the volume and velocity with which data is growing exponentially. Companies can't afford to store them on expensive SAN based systems, the cloud is essential. SQL 2016 took its birth in cloud, so it's that much more deeply connected to the cloud."

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