SQL Server

SQL Server - Features, Pricing, Alternatives, and More

Matthew Guay
Written by Matthew GuayLast updated December 21, 2016

If you started your computing education with Microsoft Office, chances are the first database you used was Microsoft Access. It's a simple database app that makes it simple to build your own lite data powered apps, with a form to enter data and simple queries to find data in your database. And so, unsurprisingly, it's the first tool many small businesses turn to when they need to build a new small app for their team.

Yet it's far from the only—or most important—database tool Microsoft builds. Three years prior to Microsoft's original launch of Access in 1992, it shipped the first version of Microsoft SQL Server for OS/2, Microsoft's ill-fated professional operating system collaboration with IBM. OS/2 disappeared, replaced by Microsoft in 1993 with Windows NT—the core for all modern versions of Windows. But SQL Server lived on, becoming one of Microsoft's most importing enterprise offerings.

Microsoft SQL Server today is at home on Windows and Linux, or on macOS via Docker, so you can run it on a desktop or in a server with a free version for small projects and development. Or, thanks to Microsoft Azure, you can run SQL Server in the cloud, and pay for the data storage and server time you use. Need to manage a large amount of data both locally and in the cloud? SQL Server includes a hybrid storage option as well. You can run your core databases on your own servers, define how long data is considered active, and then let SQL Server automatically archive older data to Azure to free up space on your server. That'll keep your local database running fast, without needing to purchase additional hardware, while still letting you query all of your data with the same commands.

In fact, that's one of SQL Server's core features. Using T-SQL (for Transact-SQL), SQL's core query language, you can query data across different databases. Say your core user data is on one server, your product info in another, and your historical sales data in Azure. SQL Server lets you query data from all of the servers together, optimizing the query automatically to use the least resources possible. And, it keeps your data encrypted the entire way, with encryption keys stored on your local machine.

You can also interact with your data more directly, in SQL Server Management Studio, a Windows app designed to easily query and explore your data tables. You can write SQL scripts, re-use them across your different databases, and explore the data tables in a spreadsheet-like interface. Then, using the companion Report Builder app, you can turn your data into reports that can then be displayed in a web viewer with SQL Server Reporting Services. It's a simple way to turn your data into something anyone on your team can use to quickly see how your company is performing.

For the most advanced data workloads, or for simpler internal reporting, Microsoft SQL Server is designed to simplify your data management. It can store your data wherever you want, pull it all together when you need it, and turn it into reports in a few clicks, so you can focus on taking action on your data instead of trying to find it.

Microsoft SQL Server Resources:

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SQL Server Features

  • A relational database manager designed for everything from personal workflows to enterprise-level data management
  • Keep your data secure with an always encrypted database
  • Query data across databases with PloyBase and T-SQL queries
  • Built-in business analytics and reporting with mobile interfaces
  • Create predictive models from data
  • Store data on-premise, in the cloud, or both with a hybrid system

SQL Server Pricing

  • Free Express edition for desktop and small server databases up to 10GB
  • Free Developer edition for building and testing applications
  • From $0.10/hour Microsoft Azure SQL Server for up to 5GB storage and 5 eDTUs
  • From $931 per server and $3,717 per core Standard edition for core data management and business intelligence
  • From $14,256 per core Enterprise edition for mission-critical performance with enterprise databases

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