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What is MS SQL?

MS SQL is Microsoft’s database management application, built using the Structured Query Language (SQL). This versatile, powerful application enables you to create, manage and access databases on both local and remote machines to serve multimedia content, organize customer information, and create personalized content for visitors to your site.

Whether your hosting provider offers Linux-based or Windows-driven servers, chances are you’re going to need access to a database management program built around the Structured Query Language (SQL). Creating and managing databases is an essential part of many Web applications, including eCommerce, interactive games, and content management systems (CMS) like WordPress. SQL isn't generally a primary factor in choosing a host, but it can be an important factor in the specific plan you select.

For Windows-driven servers, the most popular SQL solution is MS SQL (also known as “SQL Server”), Microsoft’s proprietary database management application. Designed and optimized to work seamlessly with the company’s .NET framework and ASP.NET (in this context, “ASP” stands for Active Server Pages, Microsoft’s script engine for designing dynamic Web content), MS SQL is a key part of application development for Windows environments. It also boasts very high compatibility with Web 2.0 solutions from industry leaders like HP, Dell and SAP. And like other SQL applications, MS SQL also provides enhanced security for databases; an important feature when you are transporting sensitive data like customer credit card numbers or activation codes.

Unlike open-source solutions, MS SQL is backed by the extensive Microsoft support system, and its power and standardization have made it a leader in enterprise-level database management and application development. Whether you’re building a blog or supporting a fully-featured online storefront, if your site and staff require support for Windows and Windows-based applications, MS SQL may be your best bet.

One caveat: the software is not free, and may require the purchase of a license, although many providers include both support and licensing for MS SQL in their Windows hosting plans. Add in the fact that Windows hosting remains slightly more expensive than Linux-based hosting, and you could find yourself paying moderately more than you would for a comparable level of hosting on a Linux server. Double-check with your host for full details.

Microsoft SQL Server (MS SQL) is the database you'll use if you choose Windows web hosting. MS SQL uses the same Structured Query Language (SQL) that alternative solutions, such as MySQL, also use. Switching between the two is simple providing you have a reasonable command of Windows server management.

Background to MS SQL

Microsoft SQL Server has been in development since 1989 when it was released for the OS/2 operating system. OS/2 was developed by IBM and Microsoft in tandem at first, and Microsoft eventually took it over. Later, Microsoft purchased the SQL Server solution from Sybase and continued to develop it for its own product family, starting from Windows NT onwards.

SQL Server has been continually evolving for almost a decade. The 2005 version of SQL Server was notable for supporting eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and Common Language Runtime (CLR), allowing MS SQL Server to integrate with Microsoft's .NET framework and greatly expanding its potential audience. The 2005 version also included SQL Server Management Studio, a graphical tool which made management much easier. Media support was added in the 2008 release, and this was critical for its use on the web.

MS SQL exists in several versions concurrently, so it is never automatically phased out when a new iteration is released. MS SQL can therefore be installed on single user computers, dedicated servers or entire data centers, since there is a version suitable for most purposes.

The Enterprise edition of SQL Server 2014 is designed to support massive organisations and can handle database sizes up to 524 petabytes (549,453,824 gigabytes), utilising 2 terabytes of server memory and up to 160 physical processors.

Web Hosting With MS SQL

If you need a Windows server to host your website, you'll probably also need support for an MS SQL database. The two go together, and key Windows technologies like ASP require both parts in order to function. While it is possible to run the open-source alternative, MySQL, on Windows, it's not conventional (and your host may not offer unconventional set-ups). Likewise, it is technically possible to run MS SQL on Linux, but most hosts would not recommend it.

Microsoft also now provides Azure SQL, its database as a service solution that provides scalable resource in the cloud. This is provisioned on a typical cloud pricing model, where resource is closely metered and users are billed for each hour of resource usage.

Like all cloud technologies, care needs to be taken to control cost. While the cloud sounds appealing, an always-on application can quickly hog resources in the cloud, and this can result in much higher bills than an on-premise solution. Microsoft points out that a virtual machine with MS SQL Server installed is a perfectly valid alternative to Azure SQL, particularly if you want a fast and easy move to the cloud without the worry of per-hour billing.

MS SQL vs MySQL

Sometimes, the choice of MS SQL or MySQL is made for you. If you want to run a particular application, there's only one way to go, and you'll have to live with the one that's prescribed. As mentioned above, it's best to stick with MS SQL on Windows and MySQL on Linux for a trouble-free approach.

But MS SQL and MySQL are not directly equivalent, and they are not necessarily equal. Anyone developing from scratch must understand their limitations and individual pros and cons:

  • MySQL is an open source technology, while MS SQL is not open source
  • This means MySQL uses several storage engines while MS SQL only uses one: Microsoft's own
  • MS SQL has a graphical interface which is relatively easy to use if you're competent in Windows Server tools and utilities
  • Microsoft has placed security at the core of MS SQL, while MySQL does not offer the same extensive security features
  • MS SQL is more fully featured
  • Given the right hardware, MS SQL is potentially better for enterprise customers who have invested heavily in Windows servers and infrastructure
  • Microsoft software is always designed to integrate. If you're developing on Windows, it makes sense to stick with MS SQL long term
  • MySQL is usually free or very cheap for a host to implement, and this saving normally gets passed on to customers in the form of cheaper hosting for their websites
  • MS SQL is designed to scale to truly massive applications

Extending MS SQL: MS SQL is designed to be used with a variety of services, including replication tools, OLAP support and Visual Studio.

MSSQL Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is MS SQL?

    MS SQL is Microsoft SQL Server. It's a database technology produced by Microsoft.

  • What is an RDBMS?

    MS SQL is an RDBMS. RDBMS stands for relational database management system. An RDBMS is a software application that creates and manages data that is saved in a table format, where all tables are related to other tables - hence the word 'relational'. The table structure is sometimes referred to as a relational model. MySQL and MariaDB are also relational databases.

  • Is Microsoft SQL Server open source?

    No. It is closed source, proprietary software that is developed and sold by Microsoft.

  • Is there a free version of Microsoft SQL Server?

    Yes, the Express version is free. However, it's designed for very small projects. In a business or hosting situation, the free version is usually not powerful enough.

  • Can I use Microsoft SQL Server on Linux?

    Microsoft SQL Server does not support Linux. While there are workarounds, such as running SQL Server on Wine, this isn't a reliable solution and would be risky for a business critical application. Additionally, newer versions of SQL Server rely on the .NET framework, which is difficult to recreate in a Linux environment.

  • Can I use Microsoft SQL Server on Mac?

    It isn't officially supported, but third party software does exist.

  • Why would I use MS SQL instead of another database?

    If you're developing applications on Windows servers, using Windows technologies, MS SQL is probably the most logical database to use. It is the best option if you need to tightly integrate an application with Windows authentication, and the easiest choice for developing .NET applications.

  • What are the most popular alternatives to MS SQL?

    There are many alternatives to MS SQL, and if you don't need Windows, a Linux-compatible RDBMS will be cheaper to obtain on a hosting environment. The most commonly deployed relational database system is MySQL, which is open source. The vast majority of hosting providers include at least one MySQL database with every hosting account, as part of the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). Some developers prefer to use MariaDB, which is also widely supported.

  • What features does MS SQL have that other databases don’t have?

    SQL Server has tight integration with the .NET framework, so if you are working in that environment it just makes sense to use Microsoft for the database as well. Additionally, SQL Server has a lot of built-in analytical capabilities that allow you to do things in the database which you would otherwise have to do in an application.

  • What database management tools are available for MS SQL?

    SQL Server has a built-in graphical user interface (GUI) called SQL Server Management Studio. This provides all of the features a DBA (database administrator) would need to manage a database in a production environment.

  • What development tools are available for MS SQL?

    Microsoft Visual Studio has built-in support for MS SQL Server. Developers can use it to write queries and debug code. It also includes a visual interface for data designers to graphically create a database schema.

    Microsoft also develops an application called the Business Intelligence Development Studio, which is an IDE used for developing data analysis.

  • Are MySQL workbench and PHPMyAdmin the same as MS SQL?

    If you're developing for Windows, you probably need MS SQL, because it has advanced integration and support for Windows technologies. If you just want to set up a website, and you aren't tied to any Windows technologies, then Linux-based alternatives will probably work just as well.

  • Is MS SQL more secure than MySQL?

    MS SQL does offer better security features, but it's important to note that MySQL is secure too.

    MS SQL provides more granular control over what a user can access. In most applications, this doesn’t matter. Typically, especially in normal web apps, the only meaningful user is the application itself. There’s no need to create multiple users with specific access restrictions.

    However, in certain Enterprise-level systems (such as a central database for a large company, which is accessed by a number of internal but independently developed programs), this level of control is critical.

  • Is MS SQL a good choice for a new CMS?

    Probably not. Content management systems are relatively easy to create, and MS SQL could be overkill in that situation.

    Additionally, if you are hoping that other people will use your CMS, it is probably better to use something that has more cross-platform support, like MySQL.

  • Do all hosts offer support for MS SQL?

    No. Many hosts don't support Windows hosting at all, and those that do can offer very different versions of Microsoft software applications. Check the fine print carefully before you sign up to your plan.

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