Microsoft Demos SQL Server 2008

Less than two years after Microsoft Corp. very belatedly shipped SQL Server 2005, it seems oddly early to hear the software vendor talk about launching the next version of the database.

But it looks as if Microsoft will keep its promise to get back onto a two-to-three-year release cycle, after taking five years to develop SQL Server 2005.

Microsoft demonstrated many of the new features that will be in SQL Server 2008 at a conference held in Denver last week by the Professional Association for SQL Server user group. And Ted Kummert, corporate vice president of Microsoft's data and storage platform division, said earlier this month that the upgrade will be released to manufacturing in the second quarter of 2008 -- about two and a half years after SQL Server 2005 became available.

"We understand that five years between major releases is too long," he said.

Kummert doesn't have much choice about delivering SQL Server 2008 when he says he will. Microsoft plans to hold a marketing blowout in February for the new database, as well as for Windows Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008.

But Kummert claimed that Microsoft is injecting a significant amount of new functionality into the database -- enough to make it a worthy upgrade, even for users who have recently migrated to SQL Server 2005.

Microsoft has already issued four Community Technical Preview (CTP) releases of SQL Server 2008, including one late last month that can be run in conjunction with its server virtualization software.

ServiceU Corp., which provides event and box- office management services, is using one of the CTP releases in some business intelligence applications. David Smith, CIO of the Cordova, Tenn.-based company, said he also plans to deploy SQL Server 2008 on mission-critical systems before its official release.

"It's exactly what I need," Smith said. For example, he pointed to new features such as tools for setting automated data management policies and logging all actions inside the database. He also said he's impressed by the upgrade's ability to compress data in three ways: by row, by page or by backing up the entire database.

Smith noted that as far as he knows, Microsoft has fallen behind on development of only a single feature for SQL Server 2008. "Otherwise, they've met their timeline," he said.

First Premier Bank in Sioux Falls, S.D., is testing a new, more transparent data encryption capability on a 2TB data warehouse based on SQL Server 2008, according to Ron Van Zanten, the credit card issuer's directing officer for business intelligence.

So far, "the performance is OK," Van Zanten said, adding that the new encryption tool is much simpler to implement than the one in SQL Server 2005. He also said that Microsoft has made its integrated data analysis reporting software much more "dynamic."

Van Zanten plans to start upgrading First Premier's 100 or so SQL Server instances, which store about 10TB of data, soon after the new version's official launch. "We won't wait until Service Pack 1," he said.

Gartner Inc. analyst Donald Feinberg said he thinks that SQL Server 2008 will put the Microsoft product on an equal technical footing with IBM's DB2 and will match Oracle databases "in terms of base functionality."

But the CTP releases aren't perfect. Van Zanten said some promised policy management features have yet to appear. And Smith wants Microsoft to make SQL Server 2008's fail-over features more sophisticated and to add the ability to automatically compress audit and event logs.

Feinberg isn't calling for wholesale upgrades by companies that use SQL Server 2005. "If you really need one of the new features, I'd recommend becoming an early adopter," he said. "Otherwise, if you're on SQL Server 2005, you can probably afford to wait."

This story, "Microsoft Demos SQL Server 2008" was originally published by Computerworld.

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