At its recent Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Redmond, Microsoft reaffirmed its commitment to SQL Azure, the new cloud-based version of SQL Server, by announcing several important enhancements for SQL Azure. Microsoft is serious about addressing customers’ needs with the SQL Azure platform and bringing it more on par with the capabilities of an on-premises SQL Server installation. Four of the most important recent announcements for SQL Azure follow:

4. Database Backup

Announced before PDC as a part of SQL Azure Service Update 4, the ability to back up SQL Azure databases has been added to SQL Azure. I’m not really sure what Microsoft was thinking when it released the earlier versions without the ability to perform backups—perhaps that SQL Azure’s built-in availability abrogated the need to perform backups.

However, it overlooked the need to provide protection for end-user error. Backing up with bcp or SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) wasn’t a suitable replacement for database backup.

With SQL Azure Service Update 4, you can use the new copy feature to make SQL Azure-based database backups. Being copies of the database, they do count toward the SQL Azure limit of 150 databases. SQL Azure database backup is available for SQL Azure now. Learn more about it at Microsoft's MSDN site.

3. Database Manager for SQL Azure

In the past, managing SQL Azure databases was more difficult than managing on-premises systems, mainly because of the lack of management tools. As part of SQL Server 2008 R2, SQL Server Management Studio was modified to be able to connect to SQL Azure. You can find the free SQL Azure compatible version of SQL Server 2008 R2 Management Studio Express at Microsoft's download site.

However, this still means using an on-premises tool to manage your database cloud. Database Manager for SQL Azure is a free web-based management tool that can be used to create schema and run queries against SQL Azure databases. Watch a video demo at MSDN's blog about SQL Azure.

2. SQL Azure Data Sync

Tacitly acknowledging that SQL Azure will need to work in conjunction with one or more on-premises SQL Server systems, Microsoft announced the SQL Azure Data Sync feature. SQL Azure Data Sync is a cloud-based data synchronization service that’s built using the Microsoft Sync Framework. It will be able to synchronize data between on-premises SQL Server systems and SQL Azure in the cloud.

It can also replicate data to remote offices, and it will support scheduled synchronization and conflict handling for duplicate data. A second SQL Azure Data Sync CTP should appear by the end of 2010, and the service is expected in the first half of 2011.

Learn more about SQL Azure Data Sync and download the first CTP at Microsoft's SQL Azure site.

1. SQL Azure Reporting

Without a doubt, the most important new announcement at PDC was support for SQL Azure Reporting Services. Reporting Services is one of the most important features of an on-premises SQL Server installation, and it was definitely needed to drive adoption of SQL Azure.

With SQL Azure Reporting Services, reports can be created using BIDs, published to SQL Azure, and managed using the cloud-based Windows Azure Developer Portal. SQL Azure Reporting is expected to be available in a CTP by the end of 2010 and will be generally available in the first half of 2011.

See the video demoing the new service at the Microsoft website.

Related Reading:

3 Month Free Trial of SQL Azure, by Michael Otey

Azure: Data Mining in the Cloud, by Derek Comingore

Considering SQL Azure, by Caroline Marwitz