Azure DocumentDB Preview


It was only a matter of time. With the wave of enthusiasm for NoSQL databases and document store databases in particular, big hitters in the software industry had to come out with their own offering. Microsoft was no exception. However, the way that the vendor has approached the NoSQL market differentiates its solution – Azure DocumentDB or ADB for short – in a number of ways. Microsoft is making ADB available as an online service, not as an on-premises software license. The company has not ruled out the second possibility. However, heading straight for the cloud means it has leapfrogged into the online/IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) space, bypassing its traditional packaged software route to market.

What Does ADB Do?

In Microsoft’s own words, Azure DocumentDB is for “web and mobile applications when predictable throughput, low latency, and flexible query are key.” This sounds similar to the way that Amazon DynamoDB, a key-value store service, is positioned. However, Microsoft’s use of the ‘DocumentDB’ nametag clearly positions its offering in the NoSQL document store space. ADB offers SQL-type commands without the need to specify data schema upfront. JSON and JavaScript are supported directly within ADB, there’s a RESTful HTTP interface, and data are automatically replicated for high availability. Consistency can be tuned against performance (latency) and availability needs with four pre-defined consistency levels: Strong, Bounded Staleness, Session and Eventual.

Going for the Popular Vote

Marketing is certainly a Microsoft strength (apart from hiccups like failing to get in on mobility at the start). ADB has all the hallmarks of the Microsoft marketing machine. It has strong mass-market appeal in terms of wide-ranging access methods, simplicity in its internal operations, and convenience as a ready-to-go service that needs no extra on-site machines for customers to install. It also speaks directly to the large community of users and developers of Microsoft’s own SQL Server software. In short, it covers all the bases. Those who are comfortable with SQL syntax and looking to ease their way into NoSQL working are likely to appreciate the ADB approach. Like McDonald’s in fast food and Madonna in pop music, Microsoft seems to working that magic of coming up with something new while reassuring fans that they can still have the old too.

But Wait… Doesn’t Microsoft Already Offer a NoSQL Azure Service?

Indeed, it does. In fact, Microsoft now offers two NoSQL data store services – Azure DocumentDB (new) and Azure Table (an existing service). Just for the record, it also offers Azure SQL, which is an SQL database service. ADB and Azure Table have different capabilities and positioning, however. ADB can store petabytes, offers advanced indexing for ease of storage retrieval and you can make the server jump through hoops (program it). By comparison, Azure Table is a simple NoSQL storage service with a 200 TB maximum, limited indexing with a primary key only, and no server-side programmability. But it is also relatively inexpensive, at least compared to current pricing announced for Azure DocumentDB and for that matter Azure SQL. In other words, the two NoSQL offerings from Microsoft for Azure are destined to meet different levels of user requirements and budgets.

Impact on NoSQL Document Store Incumbents

Azure DocumentDB has initially been made available as a “technology preview”. General availability may follow enhancements after user trials with Xomni – this Microsoft Azure user is specialized in helping retailers gather data from various CRM and online sources for use in digital advertising campaigns. ADB will then be up against the likes of MongoDB (fifth most popular database system in the world), CouchDB (with the Apache community behind it) and RavenDB (a strictly .NET player). RavenDB points to its own ease of use, development and deployment for business applications, while suggesting that the ADB focus is more on very big datasets (for which MongoDB and CouchDB are also well-known). But the indications are that Microsoft wants to offer an alternative to all of these other three document store technologies. If Microsoft can achieve critical mass with Azure DocumentDB, then things are likely to heat up considerably for MongoDB, CouchDB and RavenDB.

Getting Started

To get started, log into your Azure Portal and navigate to the Azure Gallery.  From the Gallery left menu select the Data and Storage section and there you should find the Azure DocumentDB icon.











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