SQL Server 2005 -- What’s in Store

Few things take longer to gestate than Microsoft Corp.’s SQL Server 2005 database. Consider this: When Microsoft delivered SQL Server 2000 almost five years ago, William Jefferson Clinton was still president of the United States, few Americans had heard of Osama bin Laden, and the term “wardrobe malfunction” hadn’t yet entered the pop culture of a nation.

In other words: SQL Server 2005 has been a long time coming.

With this in mind, it’s reasonable to take a look at how the relational database-scape has changed over the last five years. When SQL Server 2000 was a greenhorn database offering, after all, the technology landscape looked a lot different than it does today. Microsoft’s incipient .NET application framework was still very much a future deliverable, after all, and the concept of a service-oriented architecture (SOA) registered on the radar screens of only the most forward-thinking of companies. Similarly, the application server hadn’t yet emerged as a middleware (and SOA) sine qua non, compliance issues weren’t nearly as pervasive, and the idea of incorporating things like XML, support for Web services standards, or business intelligence (BI) features into an OLTP database was still provoking controversy. Or, rather, more controversy than today.

But – it’s worth asking -- have the core requirements of an RDBMS really changed over time? Or are the nuts and bolts of a good RDBMS – namely, columns, rows, tables, stored procedures, database triggers, and (oh yes) SQL itself – more or less unchangeable? And, if that’s the case, what does SQL Server 2005 bring to the table that SQL Server 2000 – with its four service pack updates and relatively fresh 64-bit incarnation – doesn’t?

The answer to the first question, says Tom Rizzo, director of product management for SQL Server with Microsoft, is an unqualified yes. To be sure, Rizzo allows, the basic requirements of an RDBMS are still the same: high performance, high-availability, and the ability to scale for demanding OLTP applications. But, Rizzo insists, today’s OLTP workhorses must also provide native support for things like XML, Web services connectivity, and – of course – commodity BI features, like ETL, OLAP, and reporting.

“This is just the reality of how the market has matured” in the years since Microsoft shipped SQL Server 2000, Rizzo says. “Customers expect [these features], and with SQL Server 2005, we feel we’re raising the bar.”

Trawl Usenet groups like comp.databases.theory, however, and you’ll find anything but a consensus on these issues. In fact, many skeptics believe it’s a mistake to incorporate support for XML directly into a relational data store, and others question the wisdom of so aggressively supporting Web services. “Web services straight from the database seems like an opening for trouble to me,” says SQL Server MVP Adam Machanic, who asks that his employer not be identified. “I'll have to very carefully analyze security and performance implications before deciding how best -- or whether -- to use this feature.”

But such debate misses the point, says long-time industry watcher Mike Schiff, a principal with data warehousing consultancy MAS Strategies, and a veteran of database vendors Software AG and Oracle Corp.

Fact is, says Schiff, native XML, Web services connectivity, and integrated BI are becoming market standards, so it’s no use kvetching about them.

“Relational databases now have to cover more than what used to be considered structured relational data,” he says. “The issue is that over time, you’re just going to see more and more stuff stored in databases, whether you agree or disagree that it belongs there, you’ve got to be able to handle it. A database vendor has to be able to accommodate [these technologies] if it’s going to stay competitive.”

Okay, assuming that support for XML, Web services, and integrated BI are cutting-edge RDBMS requirements – what does SQL Server 2005 bring to the table that SQL Server 2000 doesn’t? After all, Microsoft’s aging SQL Server 2000 database offers non-native support for XML (which some skeptics, obviously, prefer to a native XML implementation), Web services connectivity, and – obviously – a completely integrated BI stack. And on the basis of market research from Gartner Inc. and International Data Corp., sales of SQL Server 2000 have more or less continued unabated, in spite of its relative age.

So what’s to like in SQL Server 2005? The answer to that last question, Rizzo asserts, is an equally unqualified plenty. The two main buckets of plenty come in business intelligence and programmability. See below.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.