Microsoft's recently-launched database platform SQL Server 2014 is already proving a hit with customers in Hong Kong, with the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Centaline Group already leveraging the in-memory and improved BI and analytics capabilities to derive new insight on their business operations.

Launched globally just last week by new CEO Satya Nadella, the new data platform aims to meet next-generation data demands as businesses seek to make better use of their data assets.

The launch represents Microsoft's latest effort to crack an increasingly competitive market of in-memory database platforms and BI technologies as the industry moves in the era of big data. New IDC research indicates companies that take a comprehensive approach to data stand to realize an additional 60% return on their data assets.

For Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC), use of Microsoft's latest SQL Server has been leveraged in a proof of concept project to help HKJC to identify possible platforms for its next-generation core betting system which is over 20 years old and based on Mainframe and OpenVMS technologies.

While still operating with 100% percent reliability and in recent memory zero downtime, the Club's leadership recognized the need to prepare for a new platform to address future demands. At its busiest, the current platform has to handle up to 10,000 tickets a second in the leadup to race-starts and the proof-of-concept was created to simulate this surge in traffic.

According to Leo So, executive manager, IT Infrastructure Services of HKJC, the project served to both evaluate the performance viability of new platforms like SQL Server 2014 but also the ability to add online analytical capabilities so that Club do real-time analysis on the massive volume of transactions.

So noted the stress test involved an environment with a high traffic rate of 10,000 tickets per second with each ticket having 1.5 to 2 bets and a low latency requirement of less than a few seconds to aggregate and display summary data in a single dashboard.

"The proof of concept with SQL Server 2014 provides us with very positive results in terms of performance and total cost of ownership. SQL Server 2014 with In-Memory Database achieved faster data processing performance, taking only 1.5 seconds on average to do the calculations and display on the dashboard," So added.

Other great benefits include In-Memory built into the core engine, meaning no need to rewrite the entire app to get the performance gain and with good upgrade and backward compatibility," added So. The proof-of-concept is still ongoing and So expects to discover further performance gains from the testing of Microsoft's latest platform.

Mining for property insight

At property group Centaline, SQL Server has been used for the past 15 years with experts having acquired SQL programming and schema skills to provide analytics and data manipulation for the group's content workers that demand key information such as transaction trends and property related data.

Centaline has adopted SQL Server 2014 tools such as Power BI to provide improved data analytics capabilities to a wider group of people within the group. According to Kelvin Tsang, Director of Information Services at Centaline, content workers in the past must have specific SQL skills and expertise to manipulate the data for their needs.

After adopting the Power BI tool, staff with limited training can now directly access data, conduct analysis and create much improved data visualization of key trends.

According to Tsang, this has proved very beneficial to the content workers in generating relevant business insight to help staff at all levels from senior management to customer-facing staff in making decisions and forming strategies.

"Our challenge is to effectively mine insights from data of all sizes and sources regardless of the data's structure. This is precisely where Power BI comes into play -- it enables our teams to quickly respond to data user demands and encourages them to be more creative in translating data into meaningful insights," Tsang added.

"As we enter the new era of connectedness, Power BI's broad capabilities also enable our staff to access to business insights via mobile devices. New Power BI functionalities like Power Map, Power Pivot, Power Query and Power View are all intuitive features at fingertips that are empowering our staff to be more efficient than ever possible," he said.

A new era of data

New research commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by IDC estimates that organizations could realize a "data dividend" of roughly US$1.6 trillion in additional revenue, lower costs and improved productivity over the next four years by putting in place a holistic approach to data that spans datasets, analytics and more. The research was conducted among more than 2,000 mid-sized and large organizations in 20 countries worldwide.

"Customers who take a comprehensive approach to their data projects realize a higher data dividend than customers who take a point-by-point approach," said Dan Vesset, Program Vice President, Business Analytics and Big Data, at IDC. "This new research shows that by combining diverse data sets, new analytics and insights to more people -- at the right time -- businesses worldwide can tap into a more than trillion-dollar opportunity over the next four years."