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What the heck is Hekaton and why is it important?

Much of the energy around in-memory data management systems including Microsoft’s existing in-memory offerings targeted analytical workloads and columnar storage. But, what about OLTP?

Hekaton is the code-name for a main-memory database project that Paul Larson, principal researcher with the Database Group, along with his colleagues from the SQL Server team embarked on in early 2009.

Hekaton is from the Greek word ἑκατόν for “hundred”. Microsoft’s design goal was to achieve 100x acceleration for database transactions during the proof-of-concept phase.

Fast-forward to 2013, Hekaton is scheduled to ship with the next major release of SQL Server (SQL Server 2014). Microsoft did a demonstration that showed how SQL Server with Hekaton delivered a 30x performance increase without code changes to existing applications or hardware. This product is currently in Community Technology Preview (CTP1).

You might ask, “What about current in-memory features available in today’s SQL Server platform?”.

This is different from the in-memory databases currently available in the market. Microsoft has been investing in, and shipping, in-memory database technologies for some time. “PowerPivot”, an add-in for Microsoft Excel, provides a column based storage engine. The same technology is used by xVelocity in-memory analytics engine as part of SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services and this same engine, is used by xVelocity memory optimized columnstore index in the SQL Server RDBMS server. The columnstore index has made its way into the Microsoft parallel data warehousing product (PDW) as well.

Much of the energy around in-memory data management systems including Microsoft’s existing in-memory offerings targeted analytical workloads and columnar storage. Hekaton takes an altogether different, yet complementary, route.

Hekaton is a row-based technology focused on accelerating online transaction processing (OLTP). Hekaton is designed to meet the requirements of the most demanding TP applications. Though different, as per Dave Campbell, a Microsoft SQL Server Technical Fellow, “these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. The combination of Hekaton and SQL Server’s existing xVelocity columnstore index and xVelocity analytics engine, will result in a great combination”.

Hekaton is designed around four architectural principles:

  1. Optimize for main memory data access
  2. Accelerate business logic processing
  3. Provide frictionless scale-up
  4. Built-in to SQL Server

What really sets Hekaton apart is that it will be integrated into SQL Server as part of Microsoft’s suite of xVelocity in-memory technologies. Customers will not need to invest in a separate product. This approach enables existing applications to run without changes to code or hardware, an advantage for IT organizations. Even the programming model is the same, customers will be able to use simple T-SQL statements to take advantage of Hekaton’s capabilities.

It is still SQL Server, Microsoft’s in-memory answer to both SAP Hana and Oracle Database with its Exadata and Exalytics appliance options.

SPR Consulting looks forward to helping organizations overcome performance challenges using these in-memory database technologies.