Get Set for SQL Server 2005

With improvements in business intelligence and development tools, on top of greatly enhanced performance, Microsoft's long-awaited database should present ample partner opportunity.

Microsoft wants to keep Joe Ciconte happy.

A business analyst with Urban Retail Properties Co. in Chicago, Ciconte oversees a variety of systems, including the company's PeopleSoft installation, one of several applications it currently runs on SQL Server 2000.

"We'd certainly consider upgrading to SQL Server 2005, but with Oracle buying PeopleSoft, it's not so straightforward," he says. Oracle could dangle financial incentives, making a migration to its enterprise-strength database platform attractive, he says.

Microsoft isn't about to let that happen. And if Oracle is in the hunt for SQL Server customers, it's fair to say that SQL Server 2005 is all about convincing existing Oracle users that this new platform is ready to handle enterprise databases, no matter their size or transaction velocity.

"Our key message is enterprise credibility," says Lucho Torres, SQL Server group product manager for Microsoft. "We want partners and customers to understand that we are ready for the high end, ready to scale to the largest, highest volume, most demanding, mission-critical applications."

The company is seemingly sparing no expense in getting that message out. It has been offering training programs for more than a year, and in late September, it launched the Front Runner program, which is aimed at helping partners quickly get their solutions into the market (see "Be a Front Runner").

Be a Front Runner
Microsoft program aims to help partners get SQL Server 2005 apps to market quickly and profitably.
To get new partner-developed SQL Server 2005 solutions into the marketplace quickly, Microsoft in late September launched a major limited-time initiative called Front Runner.

Expiring on March 31, 2006, Front Runner is open to partners that plan to have a SQL Server 2005 application built and tested by then. Participants receive technical and marketing assistance to help build, test and market their applications.

One key element of the program is a Front Runner logo that identifies applications built for SQL Server 2005 and tested for compatibility.

"The key for us is logo certification," says Emanuel Errico, president of STFB Inc., a Gold Certified Partner in Pembroke Pines, Fla., that develops SQL Server-based accounting software that other partners can embed into their own solutions. "It will say volumes about the quality of our product before we speak a single word."

Front Runner includes 10 hours of Microsoft technical support for up to five applications and an $800 voucher good for one SQL Server 2005 Platform Test with VeriTest, an independent provider of testing services with six locations in the United States. A 50 percent discount is available for testing up to four additional applications.
Emmanuel Errico

"[The Front Runner logo] will say volumes about the quality of our product before we speak a single word."

Emmanuel Errico, President, STFB Inc.

"If you ever wanted to build an application for SQL Server, Microsoft is listening to you through Front Runner," says Jamie Cooper, vice president of Boise, Idaho-based ProClarity Inc. "It would be a huge missed opportunity not to get close to them right now."
Once a partner's application receives logo certification, Front Runner then offers a public relations toolkit that includes a customizable, professional press release template and authorized quotations from Microsoft to show support for the certified application. A customizable postcard template, 750 postcards and a 50 percent discount on additional printing and shipping charges also are included. After the program concludes in March, Microsoft will run a trade publication advertisement identifying certified partners.

"We've never before connected both technical and marketing resources to the release of a new technology in such a significant way," says Pradeep Rathinam, general manager of ISV Strategy in Microsoft's U.S. Partner Group.

Front Runner is likely to serve as a model for the launch of future technologies. The company is "very serious" about continuing to support the Microsoft Partner Program, using it to deliver benefits for partners that bet on Microsoft technologies, according to Rathinam.

— Joel Shore

Betting on BI
The goals of SQL Server 2005 are threefold, says Ilya Bukshteyn, Microsoft's director of product management for SQL Server: "Enabling better decisions through business intelligence [BI] and reporting tools, getting better results with advanced tools and seamless integration with Visual Studio, and creating a trusted platform for the world's largest, most demanding mission-critical applications."

BI means providing knowledge workers with the data they need to make informed business decisions. To accomplish that, Bukshteyn says Microsoft has revamped reporting services, data warehousing and application development with SQL Server 2005.

Joe Ciconte

"We'd certainly consider upgrading to SQL Server 2005, but with Oracle buying PeopleSoft, it's not so straightforward."

Joe Ciconte, Business Analyst, Urban Retail Properties Co.

SQL Server 2005 provides tools to evaluate product performance, interpret customer trends, analyze the results of marketing campaigns and measure sales performance. Microsoft has devoted an entire subsection of its SQL Server 2005 Web site to BI and has provided a lengthy technical white paper on how to get started.

ProClarity Inc., a Gold Certified Partner in Boise, Idaho, jumped on board early, developing a client front-end BI system for the Project REAL initiative, says company Vice President Jamie Cooper. A cooperative effort between Microsoft and eight BI technology partners, the aim of Project REAL (which stands for the rather awkward "Reference implementation, End-to-end, At scale and Lots of users") is to develop best practices for creating BI applications, based on actual customer experiences with SQL Server 2005.

"We are already out there doing seminars, educating customers about migrating their existing BI applications to SQL Server 2005," says Cooper, who notes that attendance at the seminars is standing room only.

Report Builder, a new component of SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services, leverages the Reporting Services platform to bring ad hoc reporting to end users. Through an interface with a look and feel that borrows from Microsoft Office Excel and PowerPoint, users define reports using the Report Builder client application. The resulting reports are compatible with Microsoft Office applications and SharePoint Portal Server. With SharePoint, users can subscribe to reports, create new versions and distribute them.

Microsoft's position is that bolstering the reporting and analytics capabilities of SQL Server 2005 eliminates the need to acquire third-party reporting add-ons, something that Bukshteyn says Oracle and IBM, with its DB2, still require. "Once you pay us to get data in, you shouldn't have to pay us again to get it back out," he says.

The new BI Development Studio (BIDS) is a common development environment for building BI solutions based on Visual Studio 2005. It includes a database engine, analysis services, reporting services and a graphical interface for designing SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) packages for data management applications.

Advanced Development
BIDS is just one example of the synergy between SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005. Working together as an integrated environment, they provide developers with the ability to create Common Language Runtime (CLR) stored procedures, functions and user-defined types directly from within the Visual Studio development environment. The resulting database objects can be deployed directly from Visual Studio, without having to switch tools, a significant time-saver.

Visual Studio 2005 supports new SQL Server data types, such as native XML, directly. And CLR database objects can be added to the same source control system used for all Visual Studio projects. The result is enhanced development-process integration and security.

"There's so much that's new. Anyone developing in SQL Server 2005 needs to take a step back and understand what's here before plunging in," says George LaVenture, president of Trinity Consulting Inc. in Marlborough, Mass. "Being able to include .NET code in stored procedures is essential to developers, but only if handled correctly."

Microsoft's Bukshteyn is quick to point out that even with its portfolio of development tools greatly expanded, SQL Server 2005 doesn't make prior programming expertise obsolete. SQL Server 2005 still supports Transact-SQL (T-SQL) and past methods for building applications. But through Visual Studio and its included Data Designer Extensibility software development kit, database applications can leverage new types of application navigation.

Improved Availability
However you decide to develop your applications, they should see improved availability with SQL Server 2005, says Robert Beatty, vice president of Gold Certified Partner Scalability Experts Inc.

Its database mirroring function works on standard server hardware and requires no special storage devices or controllers. Transaction log data continuously streams from a source server to a destination server. Should the primary system fail, applications immediately reconnect to the database residing on the secondary server.

"I consider database mirroring to be the new killer app," he says. "It's high availability made simpler and cheaper—you've got to love that."

While mirroring will be adequate for many general business applications, Beatty says clustering remains the fault-tolerant solution of choice for very large, complex databases processing millions of transactions per day, such as an airline reservation or stock-trading system.

Failover clustering leverages Microsoft Windows Clustering Services to create fault-tolerant virtual servers that provide fast failover in the event of a database server failure. In SQL Server 2005, support for failover clustering has been extended to SQL Server Analysis Services, Notification Services and SQL Server replication. The maximum number of cluster nodes has also been increased from four to eight.

Hitting the High Notes

On comparable hardware, SQL Server 2005 scales better than SQL Server 2000 and Oracle 10g. Results below come from the industry standard TPC-C online transaction processing benchmark. The tests are all run on configurations anchored by Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Superdome server with 64 Itanium 2 processors. The tpm-C metric measures how many complete business operations can be processed per minute.

Database tpm-C RAM System Cost TPC-C Rank Date
SQL Server 2005 1,082,203 1TB $5.8 million 4 6/7/05
Oracle 10g (HP-UX) 1,008,144 1TB $8.4 million 6 11/4/03
SQL Server 2000 786,646 512GB $5.1 million 8 8/28/03
SOURCE: The Transaction Processing Performance Council (, as of Oct. 18, 2005.
Jamie Cooper

"We are already out there doing seminars, educating customers about migrating their existing BI applications to SQL Server 2005."

Jamie Cooper, Vice President, ProClarity Inc.

More Horsepower
SQL Server 2005 can also take advantage of more powerful hardware than its predecessor. Although the Enterprise Edition of SQL Server 2000 included support for 64-bit processors, SQL Server 2005 expands this capability and blows away past limitations. In SQL Server 2005, native 64-bit support is offered in both the Enterprise and Standard editions.

Where SQL Server 2000 maxed out at 64 processors and a database size of a million terabytes (1 exabyte, or 1EB), the Enterprise Edition of SQL Server 2005 has no practical limit on either. And where SQL Server 2000 could address a maximum of 512GB of memory, SQL Server 2005 doubles that, fully leveraging the 1TB of addressable RAM offered by Windows Server 2003 Datacenter x64 Edition. By contrast, Oracle Database 10g Enterprise Edition has a maximum database size of 8EB.

"This is where SQL Server 2005 really steps up to the market for high-volume transaction processing," says Trinity Consulting's LaVenture. "A whole new class of potential customers is now fair game."

Optimized for Intel's Itanium processor, the 64-bit versions leverage advanced memory-addressing capabilities for resources such as buffer pools, caches and sort heaps. The aim, according to Bukshteyn, is to reduce the need to perform multiple I/O operations to bring data in and out of memory from disk. Greater processing capacity without the penalties of I/O latency opens the door to new levels of application scalability.

LaVenture sees added opportunity in such hardware developments. "Any installation of SQL Server 2000 is probably running on servers that are reaching the end of their service life," he says. "This is the time to add power, not just by upgrading to SQL Server 2005 and adding BI capabilities, but by implementing these applications on far more powerful hardware."

Getting in for Free

Microsoft is providing a way for users with modest requirements to dip their toes in the SQL Server pool, and to do so without spending a penny. In addition to the familiar workgroup, standard and enterprise editions, the company is offering a fourth edition, the entry-level SQL Server Express.

Replacing the not-always-loved Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine (MSDE), the Express product supports up to 1GB of RAM and databases of up to 4GB. Though Microsoft’s official position is that Express targets users of Access who may want to upgrade, it seems clear that Express is a response to the open source MySQL phenomenon. "Express is a free development tool designed to engage the developer community," is as far as Lucho Torres, SQL Server group product manager for Microsoft, is willing to go.

— Joel Shore

Cranking up the Marketing
To counter the slow adoption for past new generations of SQL Server, Microsoft ramped up its marketing efforts far earlier for SQL Server 2005.

In July 2004, a full 16 months before the official product launch, Microsoft took the wraps off Ascend, a program to provide industry partners and customers with technical training, tools and hands-on labs. The idea, says Tom Rizzo, Microsoft's director of SQL Server Product Management, was to accelerate the process of migrating to next-generation technology.

According to Scalability Experts' Beatty, the Ascend program has succeeded in raising the awareness of the BI components in SQL Server 2005. It has allowed his company to share with customers "what it takes to be successful with SQL Server 2005 in the high-end enterprise." Though it's still early, Beatty says his customers are expressing interest in the scalability, availability, reliability and cost of ownership benefits the platform could provide.

Microsoft also has thousands of Oracle installations clearly in its sights. At the Nov. 7 SQL Server 2005 launch event, the company was scheduled to close its Cost Chopper Competition, in which it promised a $60,000 custom motorcycle to each of two customers with the most compelling Oracle-to-SQL Server migration stories. Additionally, Microsoft has been touting its SQL Server Migration Assistant (SSMA), a set of tools that is said to simplify the migration process by automating many of the required steps.

TechNet also is doing its part; an on-demand webcast, titled "How to Migrate Your Oracle Database to SQL Server 2005," has been available for several months. It explores the SSMA tool and explains in detail how to convert Oracle PL/SQL code to Transact-SQL.

"It's true that the technology leaps ahead with each new generation of SQL Server," says Microsoft's Bukshteyn. "With SQL Server 2005, we are satisfied that the marketing, education and other services our partners need to be successful are just as advanced."

For Urban Retail's Joe Ciconte, that's a good start. "I have had a lot of success with Microsoft SQL Server." And as his company works with Chicago-area resellers CDW Corp. and JDM Infrastructure to acquire SQL Server 2005, Ciconte is about to start formal training for its installation and administration. "We've been dedicated to SQL Server in the past," he says, and the company plans to stick with it as long as the PeopleSoft application supports it.

More Information

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