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DH2i teams containers as a service with Microsoft SQL Server

Microsoft SQL Server databases garner little glory, but they remain a key part of the Windows stack. Containers as a service ensures they won't be replaced anytime soon.

DH2i, a provider of portability tools for applications and services running on Microsoft Windows Server,  today is launching what it claims is the first of containers as a service, or CaaS, for Microsoft's SQL Server database.

"There is a lot of SQL out there, and in terms of transitioning to SQL Server as a container, there will be an audience for this," said Robert Stroud, a principal analyst on Forrester Research's infrastructure and operations team. "This could be an extension of SQL Server's lease on life."

On-premises databases are a long way from disappearing into the cloud, and that is the target for DH2i's container as a service, according to company CEO Don Boxley. "The truth is, what people are using to run their enterprises on is either Oracle or SQL Server or IBM DB2 on premises," he said. "By containerizing SQL Server instances or other Windows workloads, developers can look inside to understand performance characteristics, and then move those containers to optimize performance and meet established service-level agreements," he said.

Just as a physical container in the real world is used to hold or transport its contents, a container in the virtual world of cloud computing allows the software it holds to easily be transported from one environment to another. That transport could be from a platform as a service, where applications are developed to a production environment. Once in production, it might even be from one cloud computing provider to another, as price wars wage and advancing feature sets leapfrog one another.

Typically, when SQL Server is deployed, it is one instance per virtual or physical machine -- a situation that can lead to database and operating system sprawl, according to Boxley. "When you move this to the cloud, even with the low cost of virtual machines, running SQL Server 24/7 and making sure it is highly available gets very expensive," he said. By containerizing, the number of workloads per virtual machine can be stacked, leading to significant savings and simplifying management. "Without containers, you'd have to do this with Microsoft clustering, and that can be very expensive," Boxley said.

It is the very situation that faced Asante, a major provider of healthcare services and operator of hospitals in northern California and southern Oregon.

Database sprawl was a pain point, and licensing had put us in a bad place monetarily.
Michael Yorksenior systems engineer, Asante

"We had between 50 and 100 homegrown and commercial applications that each used a SQL Server back end," said Michael York, a senior systems engineer in Asante's IT services department. "Database sprawl was a pain point, and licensing had put us in a bad place monetarily."

Adopting containers as a service is allowing Asante to move from one instance per server, implemented because it was quick and easy, to a model in which multiple instances are stacked on fewer machines, York said. "Containers as a service boils down to the economics. You need to look at how much [you] pay for your Microsoft licenses and software assurance. We saved $200,000 in 2015."

Designed to run as a companion to its DxEnterprise container manager, DH2i is partnering with managed cloud provider Rackspace to provide customer service and to guarantee performance levels. With DxEnterprise, developers can containerize applications and decouple them from the underlying operating system. The result is simplified portability from development to production environments and a likelihood that the number of SQL Server licenses an enterprise requires can be reduced, according to Boxley.

"Containers are the rage at the moment," Stroud said. "As a methodology, it is a good way to make workloads transportable."

DH2i CaaS supports Windows Server 2008R2 through 2016. Pricing is expected to start at $495 per month for five containers.

Next Steps

Are you staying on top of continually plummeting cloud prices?

AWS, Azure, Google do battle with competing container services

Rackspace's CaaS widens the audience for Docker

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