Doctrine supports SQL Database Federations for massive scalability on Windows Azure

Symfony and Doctrine are a popular combination for PHP developers, and now you can take full advantage of these open source frameworks on Windows Azure. We covered in a separate post the basics of getting started with Symfony on Windows Azure, and in this post we’ll take a look at Doctrine’s support for sharding via SQL Database Federations, which is the result of ongoing collaboration between Microsoft Open Technologies and members of the Symfony/Doctrine community.

SQL Database Federations

My colleague Ram Jeyaraman covered in a blog post last December the availability of the SQL Database Federations specification.  This specification covers a set of commands for managing federations as objects in a database. Just as you can use SQL commands to create a table or a stored procedure within a database, the SQL Database Federations spec covers how to create, use, or alter federations with simple commands such as CREATE FEDERATION, USE FEDERATION, or ALTER FEDERATION.

If you’ve never worked with federations before, the concept is actually quite simple. Your database is partitioned into a set of federation members, each of which contains a set of related data (typically group by a range of values for a specified federation distribution key):


This architecture can provide for massive scalability in the data tier of an application, because each federation member only handles a subset of the traffic and new federation members can be added at any time to increase capacity. And with the approach used by SQL Database Federations, developers don’t need to keep track of how the database is partitioned (sharded) across the federation members – the developer just needs to do a USE FEDERATION command and the data layer handles those details without any need to complicate the application code with sharding logic.

You can find a detailed explanation of sharding in the SQL Database Federations specification, which is a free download covered by the Microsoft Open Specification Promise. Questions or feedback on the specification are welcome on the MSDN forum for SQL Database.

Doctrine support for SQL Database Federations

The Doctrine Project is a set of open-source libraries that help ease database development and persistence logic for PHP developers. Doctrine includes a database abstraction layer (DBAL), object relational mapping (ORM) layer, and related services and APIs.

As of version 2.3 the Doctrine DBAL includes support for sharding, including a custom implementation of SQL Database Federations that’s ready to use with SQL Databases in Windows Azure. Instead of having to create Federations and schema separately, Doctrine does it all in one step. Furthermore, the combination of Symfony and Doctrine gives PHP developers seamless access to blob storage, Windows Azure Tables, Windows Azure queues, and other Windows Azure services.

The online documentation on the Doctrine site shows how easy it is to instantiate a ShardManager interface (the Doctrine API for sharding functionality) for a SQL Database:

The Doctrine site also has an end-to-end tutorial on how to do Doctrine sharding on Windows Azure, which covers creation of a federation, inserting data, repartitioning the federation members, and querying the data.

Doctrine’s sharding support gives PHP developers a simple option for building massively scalable applications and services on Windows Azure. You get the ease and flexibility of Doctrine Query Language (DQL) combined with the performance and durability of SQL Databases on Windows Azure, as well as access to Windows Azure services such as blob storage, table storage, queues, and others.

Doug Mahugh
Senior Technical Evangelist
Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc.