June 24, 2015 marked a change in how Community Technology Previews (aka CTPs) are released for Microsoft SQL Server 2016. In his May 27th blog post, CVP of SQL Server Development, T.K. Ranga Rengarajan announced that for this release of SQL Server, Microsoft would be integrating some of it's Azure-First features into the on-prem product such as Row-level security and Dynamic Data Masking. Not only is this a promise of new features making way to the "boxed" product at a pace closer to Microsoft's increased cadence towards Azure feature deployment - this also means the features have been vetted in the real world and a large scale implying the features coming to the on-prem version of SQL Server 2016 will not face some of the previous releases' growing pains upon deployment. As Ranga stated, "This means all our customers benefit from our investments and learnings in Azure."
Now many of those features we've been hearing about at Ignite or through use in Azure are coming to the SQL Server 2016 "boxed" SKU. Features such as Always Encrypted, Stretch Database, PolyBase, Row Level Security, Dynamic Data Masking, Native JSON support and Query Data Store just to name a few as well as enhancements to existing features such as AlwaysOn Availability Groups and In-Memory OLTP to take advantage of columnstore indexes for greatly-improved performance.
However this announcement from Ranga was not just about the features coming to the SQL Server 2016 on-prem SKU. It was also about how CTP content will be released to public preview. No longer would we need to wait until CTP 3 is released to see new product improvements. Intermediate releases will be available that allows those interested to see and test development changes at a rapid clip.
How rapid? Well we've already received the first incremental release (as CTP2.1) as of June 24. While I'd not anticipate a monthly cadence for new CTP incremental releases I'm pleased that we're seeing Microsoft (at least initially) stick to a promise to roll-out changes to end users to preview at a faster pace than in releases past.
CTP 2.1 is now available on the Microsoft TechNet Evaluation Center site dedicated to SQL Server 2016.