Accessing Databases in the Cloud – SAS Data Connectors and Microsoft Azure

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Editor’s note: This is the third article in a series by Conor Hogan, a Solutions Architect at SAS, on SAS and database and storage options on cloud technologies. This article covers the SAS offerings available to connect to and interact with the various database options available in Microsoft Azure. Access all the articles in the series here.

The series

This is the next iteration of a series covering database as a service (DBaaS) and storage offerings in the cloud, this time from Microsoft Azure. I have already published two articles on Amazon Web Services. One of those articles covers the DBaaS offerings and the other covers storage offerings for Amazon Web Services. I will cover Google Cloud Platform in future articles. The goal of these articles is to supply a breakdown of these services to better understand the business requirements of these offerings and how they relate to SAS. I would encourage you to read all the articles in the series even if you are already using a specific cloud provider. Many of the core technologies and services are offered across the different cloud providers. These articles focus primarily on SAS Data Connectors as part of SAS Viya, but all the same functionality is available using a SAS/ACCESS Interface in SAS 9.4. SAS In-Database technologies in SAS Viya, called the SAS Data Connect Accelerator, are synonymous with the SAS Embedded Process.

As companies move their computing to the cloud, they are also moving their storage to the cloud. Just like compute in the cloud, data storage in the cloud is elastic and responds to demand while only paying for what you use. As more technologies move to a cloud-based architecture, companies must consider questions like: Where do I store my data? What cloud services best meet my business requirements? Which cloud vendor should I use? Can I migrate my applications to the cloud? If you are looking to migrate your SAS infrastructure to Azure, look at the SAS Viya QuickStart Template for Azure to see a rapid deployment pattern to get the SAS Viya platform up and running in Azure.

SAS integration with Azure

SAS has extended SAS Data Connectors and SAS In-Database Technologies support to Azure database variants. A database running in Azure is much like your on-premise database, but instead Microsoft manages the software and hardware. Azure’s DBaaS offerings takes care of the scalability and high availability of the database with minimal user input. SAS integrates with your cloud database even if SAS is running on-premise or with a different cloud provider.

Azure databases

Azure offers database service technologies familiar to many users. If you read my previous article on SAS Data Connectors and Amazon Web Services, you are sure to see many parallels. It is important to understand the terminology and how the different database services in Azure best meet the demands of your specific application. Many common databases already in use are being refactored and provided as service offerings to customers in Azure. The advantages for customers are clear: no hardware to manage and no software to install. Databases that scale automatically to meet demand and software that updates and creates backups means customers can spend more time creating value from their data and less time managing their infrastructure.

For the rest of this article I cover various database management systems, the Azure offering for each database type, and SAS integration. First let's consider the diagram below depicting a decision flow chart to determine integration points between Azure database services and SAS. Trace you path in the diagram and read on to learn more about connection details.

Integration points between Azure database services and SAS

Relational Database Management System (RDBMS)

In the simplest possible terms, an RDBMS is a collection of managed tables with rows and columns. You can divide relational databases into two functional groups: online transaction processing (OLTP) and online analytical processing (OLAP). These two methods serve two distinct purposes and are optimized depending in how you plan to use the data in the database.

Transactional Databases (OLTP)

Transactional databases are good at processing reads, inserts, updates and deletes. These queries usually have minimal complexity, in large volumes. Transactional databases are not optimized for business intelligence or reporting. Data processing typically involves gathering input information, processing the data and updating existing data to reflect the collected and processed information. Transactional databases prevent two users accessing the same data concurrently. Examples include order entry, retail sales, and financial transaction systems. Azure offers several types of transactional database services. You can organize the Azure transactional database service into three categories: enterprise licenses, open source, and cloud native.

Enterprise License

Many customers have workloads built around an enterprise database. Azure is an interesting use case because Microsoft is also a traditional enterprise database vendor. Amazon, for example, does not have existing on-premise enterprise database customers. Oracle cloud is the other big player in the enterprise market looking to migrate existing customers to their cloud. Slightly off topic, but it may be of interest to some, SAS does support customers running their Oracle database on Oracle Cloud Platform using their SAS Data Connector to Oracle. Azure offers a solution for customers looking to continue their relationship with Microsoft without refactoring their existing workflows. Customers bring an existing enterprise database licenses to Azure and run SQL Server on Virtual Machines. SAS has extended SAS Data Connector support for SQL Server on Virtual Machines. You can also use your existing SAS license for SAS Data Connector to Oracle or SAS Data Connector to Microsoft SQL Server to interact with SQL Server on Virtual Machines.

Remember you can install and manage your own database on a virtual machine. For example, support for both SAS Data Connector to Teradata and SAS Data Connect Accelerator for Teradata is available for Teradata installed on Azure. If there is not an available database as a service offering, the traditional backup and update responsibilities are left to the customer.

SQL Server Stretch Database is another service available in Azure. If you are not prepared to add more storage to your existing on-premise SQL Server database, you can add capacity using the resources available in Azure. SQL Server Stretch will scale your data to Azure without having to provision any more servers on-premise. New SQL Server capacity will be running in Azure instead of in your data center.

Open Source

Azure provides service offerings for common open source databases like MySQL, MariaDB, and PostgreSQL. You can use your existing SAS license for SAS Data Connector to MYSQL to connect to Azure Database for MYSQL and SAS Data Connector to PostgreSQL to interface with Azure Database for PostgreSQL. SAS has not yet formally supported Azure Database for MariaDB. MariaDB is a variant of MySQL, so validation of support for SAS Data Connector is coming soon. If you need support for MariaDB in Azure database, please comment below and I will share your feedback with product management and testing.

Cloud Native

Azure SQL Database is an iteration of Microsoft SQL Server built for the cloud, combining the performance and availability of traditional enterprise databases with the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of open source databases. SAS has extended SAS Data Connector support for Azure SQL Database. You can use your existing license for SAS Data Connector to Microsoft SQL Server to connect to Azure SQL Database.

Analytical Databases (OLAP)

Analytical Databases optimize on read performance. These databases work best from complex queries in smaller volume. When working with an analytical database you are typically doing analysis on multidimensional data interactively from multiple perspectives. Azure SQL Data Warehouse is the analytical database service offered by Azure. The SAS Data Connector to ODBC combined with a recent version of the Microsoft-supplied ODBC driver is currently the best way to interact with Azure SQL Data Warehouse. Look for the SAS Data Connector to Microsoft SQL Server to support SQL Data Warehouse soon.

NoSQL Databases

A non-relational or NoSQL database is any database not conforming to the relational database model. These databases are more easily scalable to a cluster of machines. NoSQL databases are a more natural fit for the cloud because the loose dependencies make the data easier to distribute and scale. The different NoSQL databases are designed to solve a specific business problem. Some of the most common data structures are key-value, column, document, and graph databases. If you want a brief overview of these database structures, I cover them in my AWS database blog.

For Microsoft Azure, CosmosDB is the option available for NoSQL databases. CosmosDB is multi-model, meaning you can build out your databases to fit the NoSQL model you prefer. Use the SAS Data Connector to ODBC to interact with your Data in Azure CosmosDB.

Hadoop

The traditional deployment of Hadoop is changing dramatically with the cloud. Traditional Hadoop vendors may have a tough time keeping up with the service offerings available in the cloud. Hadoop still offers reliable replicated storage across nodes and powerful parallel processing of large jobs without much data movement. Azure offers HDInsights as their Hadoop as a service offering. Azure HDInsights supports both SAS Data Connector to Hadoop and SAS Data Connect Accelerator for Hadoop.

Finally

It is important to think about the use case for your database and the type of data you plan to store before you select an Azure database service. Understanding your workloads is critical to getting the right performance and cost. When dealing with cloud databases, remember that you will be charged for the storage you use and for the data that you move out of the database. Performing analysis and reporting on your data may require data transfer. Be aware of these costs and think about how you can lower these by keeping frequently accessed data cached somewhere or remain on-premise. Another strategy I’ve seen becoming more popular is taking advantage of the SAS Micro Analytics Service to move the models you have built to run in the cloud provider where your data is stored. Data transfer is cheaper if that data moves between cloud services instead of outside of the cloud provider. Micro Analytics Service allows you to score the data in place without movement from a cloud provider and without having to do an install of SAS.

Additional Resources
1. Support for Databases in SAS® Viya® 3.4
2. Support for Cloud and Database Variants in SAS® 9.4

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About Author

Joe Furbee

Developer Advocate

Joe, a Developer Advocate at SAS, acts as a liaison for the developer community to SAS technologies. His enjoys chronicling his journey as he learns SAS and open source integration. Joe comes to SAS with a software development and testing background.

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