SQL Server 2016: Cloud, Olympics and SQL Server

Welcome to the second leg of Learning Tree’s SQL Server newsletter. By the time you read this newsletter the Olympics in Rio will likely be in full swing. I’m a big sports fan and I like the Olympics. With the Olympics being the pinnacle of so many different sports all in a two-week long event it’s a pretty entertaining and exciting to watch.

Often the Olympics is the pinnacle event for sports that otherwise wouldn’t make primetime television or draw huge television audiences if the event was run outside of the Olympics. I don’t have any official figures at hand but I’m thinking of sports like fencing, archery and judo. Which I don’t see a great deal of on television in the UK outside of an Olympic games event. It gives those less high profile sports and the athletes that participate in them their moment in the spotlight.

The multitude of sports participating and the Olympics being the main event that top athletes want to compete at it, it is understandable that the Olympic is is hugely popular and is truly global event. The event generates quite a fanfare and expectation from both the host nation and its population and the millions of people from around the world who maybe participating, travelling to watch the games or like me, watching on Television. This means that the organizers and the host country have a huge amount of logistical work to do and work they need to get right for the event to be a success. This includes IT infrastructure.

If there was ever an event and organization that you think might be able to benefit from all the advantages that ‘the cloud’ has to offer you would have think the Olympic would be right-up there as a prime candidate.


What makes an organization suitable for the cloud computing?

  • Variation in demand for computing resources
  • Ability to scale quickly if needed
  • The need for highly available applications and systems
  • Mobility and remote access

These are probably just a few.

Applying these principles to the Olympics and the organisation that runs and supports the olympic events, There can be no doubt with its four cycle between summer events that demand for computing will fluctuate greatly during that time period. Six months after one event has completed I suspect demand on the IT infrastructure will be very low and can possibly be scaled back. Compare that to a time closer to the next event say when tickets are being sold or when the event is actually running. Undoubtedly demand will be high during these times and likely the olympics will want to expand and scale up its computing resources. High availability will also be important; if a ticket allocation system for example or the volunteer portal become unavailable it could potentially have a significant knock on effect to the event itself. The frequent location changes on the four yearly schedules and the general distributed multi-site locations of an Olympic games mean that IT services will need to be distributed too. The Rio Olympics will span more than just a few sites and in four years time we’re off to Japan so we’ll have a change of location on the other side of the world to manage.

ATOS the official IT provider to the games are quoted as using cloud technology to provide their services. The fact at times of peak demand the cloud be so quickly and easily scaled out makes it a great tool for large organizations such as the Olympics and their entourage in delivering services needed to run a successful event.

ATOS state on their website state

“Cloud has definitely made it into the squad for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. For the first time in a Summer Games, the core planning systems will be delivered over the cloud including the systems for accreditation, sport entries & qualification and workforce management as well as the volunteer portal. The Rio 2016 cloud computing solution is delivered in partnership with other technology partners.”

The systems that run sports entries, even the volunteer portal are delivered using cloud technology.

There are some great examples about  how other large technology companies such as Microsoft are using their Azure platform to support large US television networks in delivering their coverage of the Olympics.

What all this got to do with SQL Server I hear you ask? And I’ll reply with a question of my own. Would you want all this flexibility, elasticity, scalability and high availability in your SQL Server environment? I think the answer I yes. Can you get a SQL Server deployed ASAP? With the cloud that’s not a problem, a couple of clicks in the Azure or AWS portal and your all setup and good to go. It can be a full SQL Server virtual machine, that is part of an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering or it could be the  platform as service (PaaS) of Azure SQL Database or Amazon RDS for SQL Server.

SQL Server 2016 was the first release of SQL Server that took a cloud first approach. The new features of SQL Server 2016 were made available in the Azure SQL Database offering first. SQL Server 2016 is also much more closely coupled to Azure too, with features like stretch databases allowing the integration of tables in your on premises databases to be ‘stretched’ and reside on an Azure SQL Databases. You can also backup your on-premises databases to azure storage. You can even have availability groups that span from local on-premises instances to infrastructure hosted on public clouds.

As a DBA in the field the advantages of running SQL Server on some form of cloud platform are obvious. You can quickly scale-up and build out your SQL Server environment. Changing the computing resources of your SQL Server on the fly. I have done a lot or work with retail and finance companies and much like the Olympics they have times during the year when demand for their services is so much higher than other times. I’m thinking of the Black Friday sale after the Thanks Giving holiday in the US or the Boxing Day sales after Christmas in the UK where demand for websites and e-commerce platforms goes through the roof. Wouldn’t it be good if we could use these trends and historical data to analyze our resource usage and then expand the resources available to our SQL Server just for these times only and then reduce it back when demand was not so great? I think this provides a tremendous advantage in terms of flexibility and the potential to make cost savings. The ability to backup our on premises SQL database to cloud storage relatively cheaply means that we get offsite-protected backups at the drop of a hat. The fact we can have an availability group node that spans to the cloud means it even goes someway to offering a disaster recovery site…without the initial cost of the disaster recovery site. I’m sure many of us have databases that have that huge table with all that archive data stored in it? Wouldn’t it be good if we could offload that to a different cheaper storage device but keep using it like it was still part of the on-premises databases? Well with stretch databases now we can easily and simply implement this storing the archive table in the cloud.

The ability to scale and the elastic nature of cloud technology allowing you to expand and shrink your IT capacity extremely quickly, on demand, as needed provides businesses and organizations large and small with flexibility that was not other wise available before cloud came along. There is no need for a large-scale investment in infrastructure right-up front. The fact you can pay for the cloud resources you use as you go and only pay for what you need means that capital that would have otherwise be invested in infrastructure can be invested in other areas of the business to allow it grow.

The cloud has a lot it can offer the DBA, when I ask my students in my Learning Tree classes about cloud uptake and whether their organizations use it or plan to use it in the future, when I first started asking that question a few years ago the response from the attendees in class was minimal, nobody put their hand up. As time has gone on this has changed a little and I now get the odd one or two hands go up. I think going forward this will increase further and the DBA needs to be prepared, have an understanding of the technology and how it works and how it can benefit the business. So as you sit there watching the Olympics on mobile device that is likely using some streaming service hosted by a cloud provider ask yourself if you will have a use for cloud technology as a DBA in the near future?

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