Top 10: New Features in SQL Server 2012

Microsoft's enterprise data platform gets simpler licensing plus performance and development enhancements

The release of Microsoft SQL Server 2012 brings a whole host of important changes to Microsoft's enterprise data platform, including changes in the editions that Microsoft will offer as well as a new licensing model. In addition, SQL Server 2012 introduces many performance, business intelligence (BI), and development enhancements. Here's a rundown of the top 10 most important new features in SQL Server 2012.

10. Simplified editions -- SQL Server 2012 will be delivered in three main editions: Enterprise, Business Intelligence, and Standard. The Enterprise edition contains all of the product's features. The Business Intelligence edition contains all of the BI capabilities but lacks some of the higher-end availability features. The Standard edition provides basic relational, BI, and availability capabilities. Microsoft has retired the Datacenter, Workgroup, and Standard for Small Business editions but will continue to provide the Developer, Express, and Compact Editions. The Web edition will be offered only to web hosting providers who have a Services Provider License Agreement (SLPA).

9. Processor core licensing model -- With SQL Server 2012, Microsoft has moved away from counting sockets to a new core-based licensing model. The Enterprise edition can be licensed only per core. The list price is $6,874 per core. The Business Intelligence edition is licensed only per server; it goes for $8,592 per server. You must also purchase Client Access Licenses (CALs) per user. The CAL price has increased to $209 per CAL. The Standard edition has the option of being licensed either per core or per server; it costs $1,793 per core or $898 per server.

8. Support for Windows Server Core -- Windows Server Core is designed for infrastructure applications such as SQL Server that provide back-end services but don't need a GUI on the same server. The inability to run previous versions of SQL Server on Windows Server Core always seemed ironic. SQL Server 2012's support for Windows Server Core enables leaner and more efficient SQL Server installations and also reduces potential attack vectors and the need for patching.

7. Data Quality Services -- Data Quality Services (DQS) is a knowledge-based tool that helps ensure your databases contain high-quality, correct data. DQS performs data cleansing, which can modify or remove incorrect data. It also does data matching to identify duplicate data and profiling that intelligently analyzes data from different sources. DQS is integrated with both SQL Server Integration Services and Master Data Services.

6. T-SQL enhancements -- SQL Server 2012 provides many T-SQL enhancements, including support for sequences, a new TRY_CONVERT operator for data conversions, OFFSET and FETCH for data paging, a new FORMAT() function for easier data formatting, a new THROW operator for enhanced error handling, and improved T-SQL windowing functions.

5. Contained databases -- Contained databases make it easy to deploy new databases and to move databases between different SQL Server instances. Users of a contained database don't need logins for the SQL Server instance. Instead, all authentications are stored in the contained database. Contained databases have no configuration dependencies on the instance of SQL Server that they're hosted on.

4. Columnar index -- Primarily intended to support data warehousing, the columnar index feature incorporates the same high-performance/high-compression technology that Microsoft uses in PowerPivot into the SQL Server relational database engine. Columnar indexes store data column-wise, and only the necessary columns are returned as query results. Depending on the data, Microsoft states this technology can provide up to 10 times improvement in query performance with reduced I/O.

3. SQL Server Data Tools -- One of the most important developer-oriented features in SQL Server 2012 is the new SQL Server Data Tools development environment (formerly coded-named Juneau). SQL Server Data Tools uses the Visual Studio 2010 shell, and it enables model-driven database development as well as T-SQL and SQLCLR development and debugging. SQL Server Data Tools can connect to SQL Server 2005 and later as well as to SQL Azure.

2. Power View -- Power View (formerly code-named Crescent) is a graphical data navigation and visualization tool that enables end-user reporting. Power View provides a report designer that lets users take elements from a semantic data model that's constructed by IT and use them to create powerful interactive reports that can be embedded in .NET applications or published to SharePoint.

1. AlwaysOn Availability Groups -- The most important feature in the SQL Server 2012 release is the new AlwaysOn Availability Groups high availability technology. AlwaysOn Availability Groups is essentially the evolution of database mirroring. AlwaysOn can protect multiple databases. It supports up to four replicas and lets you mix and match both synchronous and asynchronous connections. In addition, unlike database mirroring, the data in the replicas can be actively queried.

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