Learning from Microsoft

I know that many data professionals out there are skeptical of the cloud. Certainly there are problems with reliability, security, and more that prevent many of you from migrating to some online database. However that doesn’t mean that everything being done in platforms like the Azure SQL Database is a bad idea.

One of the interesting things that has occurred at Microsoft is a completely new engineering effort for SQL Server. It seems there is one SQL Server development team that works on the Azure SQL Database. This is (I guess) the main branch in version control, and what we see with SQL Server 2016 is a subset of the code being built for the on-premises, boxed product.

Certainly there are some features that exist in the box that aren’t in Azure, but relatively few of them. Those features, and many new ones, have to be included in the version control system, but they can’t be activated. Microsoft must be making extensive use of feature flags, allowing their developers to build and test features in the Azure cloud, but not make them available to customers, or potentially even other parts of Microsoft.

If you really think about the effort to build a platform like Azure SQL Database and allow it to be a development environment as well as a production environment, that’s an amazing engineering effort. From the outside, I’m amazed at how far the SQL Server team has come in the last few years. I’ve seen a number of features released in the cloud first, and then appearing in the SQL Server 2016 CTPs.

I think there are some amazing lessons here for software development. Certainly I think many of us could learn from how feature flags and multiple versions of software can co-exist in systems. That would certainly help many of us deploy new software in a way that minimizes interruptions to customers and clients. Or manage those multiple clients with different requirements from the same codebase.

I hope that Microsoft will continue to evolve, as well as share their knowledge with the world. There are other companies that seem to be accomplishing amazing things at scale, Netflix, Amazon, Google, and more. Some of them share their techniques, but I truly hope that the methods they all use for building software become spread throughout the industry and help all of us build better, more secure applications.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

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