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Rimma Nehme, product manager for Azure Cosmos DB, introduces a new feature for Microsoft’s cloud database at Build 2018. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft’s Azure Cosmos DB database was probably the most important thing it announced last year at Build, its annual conference for developers. A year later, Azure Cosmos DB is on a pace to do $100 million in revenue a year, and a key addition unveiled this week at Build 2018 should draw new interest from companies building applications for the internet of things.

Azure Cosmos DB now supports multimaster writes, a shift in database design thinking brought on by the shift in computer usage from consuming data to producing data. In an interview with GeekWire, Dharma Shukla, technical fellow at Microsoft and the force behind Cosmos DB, explained that this trend will accelerate even more as the internet of things creates a deluge of data that will need to be written to a database.

Dharma Shukla, technical fellow, Microsoft (LinkedIn Photo)

“This is a very important milestone in the industry, this is the next big step in terms of globally distributed databases,” Shukla said.

Public cloud vendors spent a lot of time competing on the database front last year. Google introduced Cloud Spanner, which provides similar capabilities to Cosmos DB but in a slightly different fashion, and Amazon Web Services introduced multimaster capability for its Aurora database in preview mode at re:Invent 2017. Microsoft’s pitch for Cosmos DB is that it is globally distributed, meaning customers can serve their users from basically anywhere on the planet with replications of their data across Microsoft’s 50 data center regions.

But while multimaster read capability was available on the first generation of Cosmos DB, that did not extend to writes. Databases have traditionally been read-intensive, designed to let multiple users access data at the same time, but in the modern era of social media and enterprise SaaS, applications are writing data to databases more than ever.

This is particularly true for applications involving the internet of things, where sensors, cameras, and other input devices are generating lots of data across large geographical areas. Multimaster write capability will allow those devices to write quickly to any data center running Cosmos DB, whereas current customers are restricted to writes at a single data center region, Shukla said.

That means database writes can scale as quickly and easily as reads, which improves performance and availability because you aren’t locked into one region — which could be thousands of miles from your user — to write data to the database. Shukla thinks this feature, combined with the global distribution and the choices for consistency models within Cosmos DB, should give Microsoft an edge in the never-ending competition for database supremacy.

Microsoft put the internet of things front and center this week during the Azure portions of the Build presentations. All cloud vendors are investing in products for those types of applications, but Microsoft signaled this week that it might see that area as a way to differentiate itself from its larger and smaller rivals.

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