There has been a lot of discussion over the years about whether or not it's a good idea to introduce new functionality in service packs (for SQL Server, the OS, and others). The concern is that it can invalidate testing, invalidate documentation, books, courseware, etc. However, it can also introduce much-needed features without having to wait for another version of the product. It's been even-less likely that new functionality would be introduced in a cumulative update (or CU), which are basically a set of rolled-up hotfixes.
However, interesting new functionality has appeared in CU2 for SQL Server 2012 SP1.
The BACKUP command now supports TO URL when specifying a backup device. That allows you to specify the location of an Azure storage account as the backup destination. This avoids the need to create a backup locally, and to then have a process to copy it to Azure storage. Similarly, RESTORE now also supports a FROM URL option.
This is very interesting news for a number of reasons.
For customers using SQL Server within Azure Virtual Machines (VMs), it provides a way to specify the use of a storage account as the backup destination. While you could do that before by mapping a drive letter to a storage account (and that's what you do when setting up a VM in the first place), the number of drive letters available is limited and this avoids using them up.
For customers using SQL Server on-premises, this provides a direct cloud-based backup option with low-cost, large storage available. The biggest limitation for these customers will no doubt be network bandwidth but for some customers, that isn't an issue. It's also an interesting new DR option for customers that have relatively smaller databases that don't take too long to send over the network but which are none-the-less critical to the organisations.
Another group of customers that would benefit from this would be any customer that needs to distribute a single copy of a database to multiple locations. A backup can be done once, and each secondary location can restore directly from the cloud. I can imagine this being an interesting way to push out new versions of reference data, etc.
A notable group of customers that would benefit from this would be those using Windows Azure SQL Databases. However, the syntax is not yet supported in WASD. I have no advanced knowledge on this but I'm guessing that adding this looks pretty likely, as it would be so beneficial.
When you connect to a storage account, you need to provide both the URL and a storage key. There are two types of keys. One type of key allows for unlimited access. The other type of key can be time-bombed, handed out for short-term purposes and can easily be revoked. Both these types of keys should work with this new option. The BACKUP and RESTORE commands both support a WITH CREDENTIAL option for providing the link to this key.
Credentials were introduced in SQL Server 2005. They are basically a way of giving a name to a set of authentication details (name and secret/password). Previously we have used them with SQL Server Agent Proxy accounts, to allow us to fine tune the permissions that are granted to steps in SQL Server Agent jobs. Now they have an interesting new use.
You'll find details of the changes, with samples of the syntax in this article: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/windowsazure/archive/2013/01/24/sql-server-backup-and-restore-to-cloud-simplified.aspx