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Microsoft builds distributed ledger for Azure SQL database

The tech giant debuted new database services, including more security for Azure Database for PostgreSQL and MySQL, and a distributed ledger for Azure SQL.

Microsoft rolled out a series of new capabilities across its Azure cloud database portfolio, including new serverless, security and distributed ledger capabilities.

The tech giant unveiled the new database capabilities at the Microsoft Build virtual conference on May 24. The new Azure Cosmos DB serverless offering is now generally available, providing users with a consumption-based model for the NoSQL database.

Also, Azure SQL, a cloud version of Microsoft SQL server database, is getting a new distributed ledger. It will bring blockchain-type functionality to Azure SQL to enable a cryptographically secured and validated ledger of transactions.

Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond cited the Azure Cosmos DB serverless offering as particularly interesting. One of the issues he said he has seen as more developers pick up functions is that when they need to access data from a database, it's possible to overwhelm a database that can't scale in parallel with the logic tier.

Without paying for actual database consumption, developers tend to overprovision capacity or risk overwhelming their database connection pool, Hammond noted. Meanwhile, a serverless approach enables teams to further extend the types of workloads they can modernize, he said.

Distributed ledger comes to Azure SQL

The new distributed ledger capabilities for Azure SQL can address a set of applications in which ledger tech is useful, but distributed ledgers like blockchain can't be deployed due to complexity. Hammond said he'd expect the Azure SQL distributed ledger implementation to be significantly easier than blockchain, making it more appealing to organizations.

Overall, a cryptographically verified ledger is a good thing for database administrators, Hammond said.

"In the bad old days, I remember implementing a log table by hand so that we could preserve changes and change records -- a total pain for not a lot of value," he said. "I wish we had been able to just implement a feature and have tamper-evident logging for all DBMS changes."

Screenshot of distributed ledger of Microsoft's Azure SQL database
Microsoft is rolling out a distributed ledger capability for its Azure SQL database that can help protect against unauthorized tampering.

In a technical session at Microsoft Build, Rohan Kumar, corporate vice president, Azure Data, explained that the distributed ledger capability is not an entirely new database, but rather a capability within the widely used Azure SQL database. Microsoft currently hosts more than 8 million SQL databases in Azure.

"This is exciting news for enterprise developers because the ledger feature eliminates the additional cost, complexity and performance overhead of a decentralized blockchain technology, while providing many of the benefits of blockchain, such as tamper evidence, in a fully managed and familiar SQL environment," Kumar said.

Azure Database for PostgreSQL gets more security

Alongside the Cosmos DB and Azure SQL announcements, Microsoft unveiled a series of updates to its open source-based Azure Database for PostgreSQL and Azure Database for MySQL managed services.

Microsoft itself relies on Azure Database for MySQL for one of its most popular gaming titles.

"One application you may have heard of -- Minecraft -- generates 17 billion transactions per day on Azure Database for MySQL, " Kumar said.

Among the updates for Microsoft's MySQL and PostgreSQL services is the general availability of the Azure Defender service for both databases. Azure Defender protects application data and detects unusual access attempts.

Kumar said Microsoft is an active member of the open source community and, in particular, has been working on improving the PostgreSQL database for its next major release due out later this year.

"Our team at Microsoft is also contributing innovation code and leadership into the global PostgreSQL open source project," Kumar said. "Our PostgreSQL experts have committed key capabilities to the upcoming PostgreSQL release, including significantly faster crash recovery and increased connection scalability."

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