Microsoft has announced the beta release of something called Microsoft Codename “Atlanta”, which is being described as a “Cloud-Based SQL Server Monitoring tool”. Atlanta is deployed as an agent that embeds into SQL Server 2008 databases and sends telemetry information back to the Microsoft ‘cloud’ on your behalf. This data is analyzed and compared against a set of configuration policies, generating alerts when Microsoft discovers database misconfiguration.

How does it do this? It looks at configuration data and some runtime system statistics. The policies seem geared toward helping DBAs with advanced SQL features such as mirroring, clustering, and virtual deployments. It’s looking at version and patch information, and it’s collecting some telemetry data to assist with root cause analysis for performance issues and failures. And finally, the service gets information into Microsoft’s hands faster, in an automated fashion, so support can respond faster to requests. The model is a little different than most cloud offerings, as it’s not the infrastructure that’s being pushed to the cloud, but rather the management features. Analysis does not appear to occur in real time, but this limitation may be lifted in the production product.

If you are like me, you might have gotten excited for a minute thinking that Microsoft had finally released a vulnerability assessment tool for SQL Server databases, but alas, “Atlanta” does not appear to be a vulnerability assessment tool at all. In fact, it does not appear to have general configuration policies for security either. Like most System Center Products, “Data Protection” for SQL Server actually means integrity and reliability, not privacy and security. If you have ever read the “How to protect Microsoft SQL Server” white paper, you know exactly what I mean.

So if you were thinking you could getting protection and configuration management for security and compliance, you will have to look elsewhere. The good news is I don’t see any serious downside or imminent security concern with Atlanta. The data sent to the cloud does not present a privacy or security risk, and the agent does not appear to provide any command and control interface, so it’s less likely to have be explotable. Small IT teams could benefit from automated tips on how the database should be set up, so that’s a good thing. As the feature sets grows you will need to pay close attention to changes in agent functionality and what data is being transferred. If this evolves and starts pushing database contents around like the Data Protection Manager, a serious security review is warranted.