When a software package has been around as long as Microsoft Windows™, Office™, or SQL Server™ (all dating to circa 1990), it seems to become harder and harder to add significant new features to such a mature product. Other than pivot and the ribbon, Office™ is virtually unchanged from the early days. Windows™ has taken more risk yielding successes as well as flops like Millennium™ and Vista™. But SQL Server™ just seems always to get better and better while maintaining continuity. The upcoming 2016 release (June 2016) is no exception.
- Anyone who has had to implement a scheme togive “some of the users only some of the data” will welcome ROW-LEVEL SECURITY . Which allows the database engine to filter (read operations) and block (write/operations) specific rows from a table based on row content and User ID without specific query, report, or application programming. No longer do you need 50 different copies of a budget report for 50 different departments.
- By ensuring on-premises database administrators, cloud database operators, or other high-privileged, but unauthorized users, cannot access the encrypted data, ALWAYS ENCRYPTED  enables customers to store sensitive data confidently outside of their direct control. No longer will IT know everyone’s salary. Of course, if you are that administrator maybe you don’t think this is an improvement.
- DYNAMIC DATA MASKING  is a similar feature at the field level which supports showing only a part of a field such as the last four digits of social security or credit card number, or the first 50 characters of comment.
- When troubleshooting a performance problem, the two most important questions are “What was happening when it ground to a halt?” and “What changed?”. Of course, no one ever knows, and the only helpful things were third party tools which themselves impacted performance and consumed vast areas of disk. Well QUERY DATA STORE , available in SQL Server 2016, shows promise because it doesn’t record everything, just every DIFFERENT thing like queries, query plan changes, execution times, etc. and has configuration parameters for each item as to what to record and how long to hold it. Expect this to become the new standard for how to administer a system as DBAs become more familiar with it.
- Are you looking to Azure for efficiencies and cost savings? You may want to consider STRETCH DATABASE  – new technology that lets allows data to be partitioned with some locally and some in the cloud transparently to users.
- If you have been struggling with Azure backup, then Enhanced hybrid backup to Azure and faster restores to SQL Server in Azure Virtual Machines  should be of interest. Microsoft claims greater capacities and increased speed with SQL Server 2016
- POLYBASE  is a technology that accesses and combines both non-relational and relational data, all from within SQL Server. It allows you to run queries on external data in Hadoop or Azure blob storage. The queries are optimized to push computation to Hadoop.
SQL Server 2016 will be available in Standard, Enterprise, and Business Intelligence Editions and will be licensed in both Server with Cal, and per core options .
So, should you upgrade even if you are not excited by any of the above? It probably depends on what you are running now and how important support is to you. 
- SQL Server 2005 - Extended Support ends in December 2016. So YES!
- SQL Server 2008 or 2008R2 – Service Pack and Mainstream Support ended in 2014. So YES!
- SQL Server 2012 - Service Pack Support ended Jan 2014 and Mainstream Support will end in Nov 2017. So Start planning!
- If you are one looking forward to SQLServer on Unix, this is the version which will be released in Mid-2017.
Thinking about upgrading? Check out our SQL Server Healthcheck offer to make sure you are ready!