Today, Microsoft announced that SQL Server 2014 has been released to manufacturing (RTM) and will be generally available April 1. Coming just two years after the SQL Server 2012 release, Microsoft skipped the expected minor 2012 R2 release because of the significant changes that they made to the database engine to support the new in-memory relational database enhancements.

Related: New Features in SQL Server 2014

The past few releases of SQL Server have focused on more on the business intelligence (BI) side, which makes SQL Server 2014 especially compelling to relational database professionals. SQL Server 2014 provides several new relational database features as well as new BI features and enhanced Windows Azure integration.

Relational Database EnhMicrosoft SQL Server logoancements

Without a doubt, the most important feature in the new SQL Server 2014 release is the new In-Memory OLTP engine. The new In-Memory OLTP engine (formerly code named Hekaton), provides significantly improved OLTP performance by moving selected tables and stored procedures into memory.

The In-memory OTLP engine works with standard x64 hardware. The new In-Memory OLTP engine uses a completely new optimistic locking design that’s optimized for in-memory data operations. In addition, stored procedures are compiled into native Win64 code. The end result is far faster application performance. The built-in Analysis Migrate Report (AMR) tool helps you to select the tables and stored procedures to use with the In-Memory OLTP engine.

Related: Rev Up Application Performance with the In-Memory OLTP Engine

There are other significant new features as well. SQL Server 2014 also supports encrypted backups. AlwaysOn Availability Groups now support up to eight secondary replicas. The Resource Governor can now manage I/O requirements. For more information on the SQL Server 2014 relational database enhancements, check out What’s New (Database Engine).

Business Intelligence Enhancements

The BI side of SQL Server 2014 has also had a number of important enhancements. Power View now has the ability for Power View to work against multidimensional cube data, in addition to tabular data models. SQL Server 2014 will include the new data visualization tool, Power Query (code named Data Explorer). Power Query enables data analysis in Excel and its can work with a wide variety of sources including relational, structured and semi-structured data like OData, Hadoop, and the Azure Marketplace.

A new visual data mapping feature, Power Maps (code named GeoFlow) will able to provide data mapping in Excel. Other BI enhancements include updatable clustered column store indexes and an enhanced BI Sematic Model. The new version of SQL Server Data Tools uses the Visual Studio 2013 shell. You can learn more about the rest of the SQL Server 2014 BI enhancements at What's New in Analysis Services and Business Intelligence.

Azure Integration

Like you might expect with Microsoft's new push to be a devices and services company, SQL Server 2014 also has several new integration points with Windows Azure. There's a Windows Azure backup option that is integrated into SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) and T-SQL that allows you to back up a SQL Server database directly to Azure. You can also use these backups to restore SQL Server databases to Azure virtual machines (VMs). AlwaysOn Availability Groups have also been integrated with Azure. The new AlwaysOn-Azure integration enables you to create asynchronous Availability Group replicas in Azure for disaster recovery. Like the new Azure backup feature, the Azure AlwaysOn Availability options are completely integrated into SMSS.

Related: Changes to SQL Server 2014 AlwaysOn Availabillity Groups

Better Together

SQL Server 2014 also has very tight knit integration with Windows Server 2012. SQL Server 2014 will have the ability to scale up to 640 logical processors and 4 TB of memory in a physical environment. Plus, it has the ability to use up to 64 virtual processors and 1 TB of memory when running in a VM. New buffer pool enhancements increase performance by extending SQL Server's in-memory buffer pool to SSDs for faster paging. SQL Server 2014 will also provide ReFS support as well as support for Windows Server 2012's new Storage Spaces feature. Storage Spaces enables you to create pools of tiered storage that can improve application availability and performance. SQL Server 2014's Resource Governor can take advantage of Windows Server 2012’s automated storage tiering.

Microsoft's new SQL Server 2014 release brings a lot of value to the table and I'm sure that many organizations can't wait to take advantage of the new In-Memory OLTP enhancements. You can learn more about Microsoft's new SQL Server 2014 release from the Offical Microsoft Blog, SQL Serrver 2014 released to manufactures, will be generally available April 1 or on the SQL Server Blog, SQL Server 2014 releases April 1.