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Why the cloud is key to on-premise SQL Server 2016

Azure is also changing how Microsoft is working on the preview of SQL Server 2016, which will reach general availability "sometime in 2016". Customers will still get regular Community Technology Previews, just monthly rather than every six months. And what they get in the CTPs will already have been tested in production – in the Azure Database service.

"We've really synchronised the codebases for all of our SQL assets," explains Rangarajan. "So the current code is the current code across all SQL assets. When we first build a technology, the easiest place for us to share that with the world is to deploy it in SQL Database, where we are fully managed, where we face all the consequences of futzing something up. If it backfires it's us that has to manage.

"We're very careful, we flight that, we incrementally roll out at all hours, we face the music for it if anything goes wrong. So we first roll that out and we stabilise it, we ruggedize it, and then we roll out this capability to our preview customers every month."

There might well be problems with new code along the way: "I'm sure we'll have a couple of hiccups and we'll overcome them," he predicts confidently. "By the time the release is available, we expect most of capabilities of that release to be well baked in production."

Cloud confidence

Thanks to that, he thinks the final release will be ready for customers to adopt quickly. "My expectation is that the box will be more ready to be in production as it comes out." Ironically, Azure is the key to improving the server software. "It's only because of the cloud that we're able to speed up the on-premise world," he points out.

"If we didn't have a cloud, we wouldn't have the confidence that we could distribute this to even CTP customers and have some level of confidence that it will work out fine, because we will have this in a million databases. That gives you a level of confidence that's hard to match."

"This a dramatic switch in our point of view from the previous releases to this release, from SQL Server 2014 to SQL Server 2016. In SQL Server 2014 we said 'let's not mess with the on-premise stuff that runs most of the world's businesses, let's leave it alone and keep it safe and nice and separate'. And we ran SQL Database [on Azure], innovating in the new world. Now we feel very comfortable with the new world and we are taking this deeper cloud-first lifestyle to the server."

But he hopes the process will give customers confidence in Azure too. "We have the opportunity to do these sorts of gentle introductions to the cloud, leading our customers to the cloud. And frankly I think we also have the obligation… Our customers have bet on our technologies. They have spent a lot of lives and their careers becoming experts on these technologies, and we have an obligation to take them to the new world with all of this stuff that is valuable."