Microsoft's Upcoming Database Release An Expanding Database

SQL Server 2008 is adding functionality in all directions, opening new opportunity areas for partners. One area that isn't growing: the price tag.

Now that your customers finally have SQL Server 2005 in place and running smoothly, Microsoft is launching the next version of its venerable database: SQL Server 2008. ¡ But don't worry. There are some major improvements in the 2008 version that make an upgrade a no-brainer in several situations. For example, unlike similar offerings from competitors Oracle Corp. and IBM Corp., Microsoft's database comes with integrated business intelligence (BI) functionality, along with new support for spatial, location-based data -- all at no additional cost. And the new data types, in addition to new management and visualization tools, promise to kick-start a wealth of new applications for your customers -- and new services for you. ¡ The spatial tools open up a lot of opportunities for us," says Alex Machinis, CEO of SpatialPoint LLC, a Certified Partner in Des Plaines, Ill., that specializes in Microsoft MapPoint and Virtual Earth solutions. "This is a major release because they're providing the capabilities to store spatial data in the system and query it."

Machinis says 2008's spatial-data support enables his developers to store and query parcel data for real estate, environmental data, economic zones and even wireless coverage areas, among others. He says using the new version's capabilities is like working with a database that didn't support dates, but suddenly gains that ability. "All of a sudden, a lot more people can use it," he says. "We're storing that coverage data inside SQL Server 2008, gaining the security and ease of use, and that's something we couldn't do before."

As always, a big differentiator for Microsoft is price. At $24,999 per processor, the 2008 version costs the same as 2005 and significantly less than comparable versions from Oracle or IBM. Plus, learning its lesson from 2005, Microsoft promises an improved upgrade experience, something your customers will not only welcome, but require.

Microsoft Corp.
SQL Server 2008
  • Q3 2008
  • Pricing is unchanged from SQL Server 2005-$24,999 per processor

  • Key Features
  • Full-featured database with integrated business intelligence (BI) features
  • Policy-based management
  • Resource Governor for performance optimization
  • Advanced visualization capabilities for bolstered BI
  • New support for spatial, unstructured data

  • Oracle 11g
  • IBM DB2 9.5

  • Spatial data capabilities enable variety of GIS and location-based services
  • New features, level price and smoother upgrade promise increased interest
  • Combined kickoff with Windows Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008 could spark customer buy-in

    To view an application that leverages SQL Server 2008's new spatial data support, see SpatialPoint's "Follow the Game" here.
  • Other Notable Features
    Although its new support for spatial and unstructured data tends to top the list, Microsoft is also touting SQL Server 2008's key new management features. For example, 2008 now supports policy-based management for easier administration. With one click, admins can ensure that all databases meet a defined policy for encryption, access and other functions.

    "Most customers have hundreds of databases they need to manage, and ensuring that the right policies are in place is pretty challenging," says Francois Ajenstat, Microsoft's director of product management for SQL Server. "They probably have to manually go to each database, run a script, determine the status and then run another script to get it where they want. With 2008's policy-based management, they can now, with one click, enforce the right policy. It's a major benefit."

    Similarly, 2008 ships with a new Resource Governor, which is designed to ensure optimal performance when multiple applications are being run off the same SQL Server 2008 database. "So if you have a payroll application that's mission-critical and you may want to give it 80 percent of the CPU," Ajenstat says. "But reporting's not mission-critical, so maybe it can get lower priority. In 2005, we didn't have a way to separate those two different workloads. This gives us a lot more control."

    The third feature Ajenstat cites is improved dashboard-like visualization capabilities within the BI portion of SQL Server 2008. "You can create dashboards, enhance reports and have a lot more options than you did before," he says.

    Figure 1
    [Click on image for larger view.]

    Lemme, Lemme Upgrade Ya
    Some of those new features will sell themselves. But in most cases, customers won't be banging at your door to help them upgrade to Microsoft's latest release. It will take a little effort to identify which customers will benefit most from new capabilities in the database server. Many customer scenarios are strong fits for upgrades from older versions of SQL Server to the newest release. What are some of the best candidates?

    An environment with a large farm of SQL Server databases will also be a good fit for upgrades to the 2008 release. New management and performance tuning capabilities, such as the Declarative Management Framework (DMF), make it easier to manage and support distributed SQL servers across an enterprise. In a midsize environment, the tools that ship with the database server may justify the upgrade costs for your customers by bringing elements of third-party enterprise database management tools to the out-of-the-box experience.

    For customers whose databases must be up 24x7, new high-availability features may make sense, and for those with complex business-logic requirements, new features such as hierarchical IDs, the spatial data types and advanced XML manipulation may prove compelling.

    In a better-together pitch, Microsoft is introducing a new robust data tier called the Entity Data Platform (EDP). The EDP is provided by running SQL Server 2008 on Windows Server 2008 and is coded in Visual Studio 2008. Partners who see opportunities in developing solutions on the EDP will need to get their customers running SQL Server 2008 on the latest server OS.

    Hardware Cross-Sell
    There are few installations in an enterprise where hardware configuration is as important as in a database server. A database upgrade provides one of the best opportunities to revisit a customer's hardware needs, and the SQL Server 2008 release is no exception.

    Storage is an obvious area to check. Obviously, you would want to make sure a customer has ample disk space for a bigger and better database with the capacity to address any budgeted expansion of the business. The database upgrade is also a good time to review whether the redundancy built into the customer's array is sufficient for the business priority that a particular database holds. For that matter, SQL Server 2008 moves the ball forward in terms of clustering and availability, and a discussion about the release is an opportunity to consider configuring and installing redundant servers in secure offsite locations.

    It's also a chance to look at whether some of the scale-out deployment scenarios enabled in SQL Server 2008 make more sense than any multi-processor configuration the customer might currently have.

    Launch Window

    Technically, Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008 all launched in Los Angeles on Feb. 27, but what that really means depends on your definition of "launch."

    Windows Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008 were actually available at the time. SQL Server? Well, if you haven't nailed down your go-to-market plan, let's just say it's not too late.

    SQL Server 2008 was only available as a feature-complete community technology preview by Feb. 20. Actual release to manufacturing for SQL Server 2008 is now planned for the third quarter.

    The Competition
    The main competitors of SQL Server 2008 are the latest databases from IBM and Oracle, IBM's DB2 9.5 and Oracle's 11g. Although IBM and Oracle's offerings have traditionally been considered more robust and mission-critical application-ready, SQL Server 2008 does much to even the playing field. And it's made even more attractive by the fact that it comes bundled with BI, while Oracle and IBM (with its recent Cognos acquisition) both charge extra for that functionality.

    "We put the new spatial data support into all of our various editions, from the smallest Express edition, all the way to our high-end Enterprise edition," Ajenstat says. "With Oracle, spatial is an option on the Enterprise edition. So if you want spatial with Oracle, not only do you have to pay a lot more money for their core product, but you also have to pay an extra $10,000 for that functionality."

    Marketing and Sales
    Ajenstat says customers are taking notice, adding that market researchers at two analyst firms, Gartner Inc. and IDC, cite SQL Server as the fastest-growing database and BI vendor on the market. "We're selling more units than Oracle and IBM combined," he says. And that can only be good news for partners as they look to support their customers in the move to SQL Server 2008, as well as helping them build new services on top of it.

    Figure 2
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    With that head start in mind, Microsoft offers a wealth of tools for partners looking to get a handle on SQL Server 2008, and most can be found at the main 2008 Web site. The site is stocked with webcasts, white papers, data sheets, e-learning tools and videos detailing the new capabilities of SQL Server 2008 and the technologies and the solution areas that the new database enables. However, Ajenstat says, in-person training won't be available until later this year.

    That's because although SQL Server 2008 was part of Microsoft's Feb. 27 blockbuster "launch wave" kickoff, which also featured Visual Studio 2008 and Windows Server 2008, it won't be released to manufacturing until sometime in the third quarter of this year.

    "Even though SQL Server won't be released yet, we're kicking off the three products together because customers look at them together when they make purchasing decisions," Ajenstat says. He adds that partners able to create compelling visions around all three will be poised to make huge gains as they roll out: "The compelling aspect for partners is that through the launch, we're going to create a ton of awareness for these products. Partners have a great opportunity to take advantage of the noise we're creating out there in the market and to be the first ones to help customers understand the release and help them unlock what it can offer them."

    The Bottom Line
    With SQL Server 2008, Microsoft has continued the path it set with 2005, making SQL Server a reliable, secure platform for high-profile, mission-critical applications, but at a price you and your customers can live with.

    "It's a good implementation," SpatialPoint's Machinis says. "In the past, we've done some things with Oracle, and SQL Server is definitely comparable. We were able to do a pretty decent application with it without any problems. It works as advertised."