Whats Next for SQL Server?

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2003-09-26

Whats Next for SQL Server?

Users demanded SQL Server bond tighter with Visual Studio .Net, and Microsoft Corp. has since heeded the call, putting into beta testers hands a version that opens the database up to .Net-compliant languages.

The next version of SQL Server, code-named "Yukon," was originally slated for a spring 2004 release. That deadline was pushed out to the second half of next year after customers said they expected Yukon to fit hand-in-glove with the next version of .Net, code-named Whidbey. The Yukon beta was released in July to some 2,000 customers and partners.

eWEEK recently talked with Microsoft Group Product Manager Tom Rizzo to find out how the .Net integration that customers demanded, along with upcoming features such as native XML and Web Services support, will benefit enterprises.

eWEEK: Were hearing that customers are asking for greater interoperability, greater flexibility and greater choice in programming models. What kind of interoperability are they seeking?

Rizzo: Theres a couple different levels in interoperability. One is interoperability between the data of data-base vendors. They want data to go from Oracle [Corp. databases] into SQL Server or from Sybase [Inc. databases] into SQL Server. Then theres interoperability between the database vendor and the data stored in the database vendors products.

The next level of interoperability is more around interoperability in their application development platform and application server environment. Thats things like, Make sure it works in .Net as well as J2EE so I can access the data in my database. So a customer can say, Im a Java shop, Im a .Net shop, Im both, and I can still build applications that work in SQL Server.

Were hearing more and more not just about those two things, but business interoperability, which is, I have partners outside my firewall. I need to interoperate with them with my data. Make sure I can expose my data in an Internet-friendly way. And thats XML and Web Services.

eWEEK: SQL Server 2000 already has XML support. How are you deepening that in Yukon?

Rizzo: From the data level, we have things like native XML support. You take data from SQL Server, put it into XML format and ship it to anything that understands XML, such as Oracle has some XML support, and [IBMs DB2 database].

XML is ultimate interoperability—its an industry-standard format, and its self-describing. You know both the schema of the data as well as the data itself. You dont lose the context when you pass your data around.

We upped the level of XML support in Yukon through a number of things. In 2000 we had XML support but … it was shredding. [Shredding is the parsing of XML tag components into corresponding relational table columns.]

In Yukon the key thing is we have an XML type. Like you have STRING and NUMBERS and all that inside the database, now you can declare [with the native data type] XML. Although we had XML support in 2000, and many leveraged it and were happy with it, now we have native support.

eWEEK: Why is a native data type for XML so important?

Rizzo: One reason we did it is to support XQuery. Also to support XQuery we had to build code so as to combine XML with relational query language. You can take the relational sorts of queries youre used to in the database world, where people select things from tables with filters on that data. You can combine XQuery statements [with such relational queries].

Imagine, you have a database table of information, maybe sales information. It has customer information, but thats stored as XML type within the table. Maybe it comes from another application as XML. Maybe you want to store it as XML so you can give it to another application, say a CRM application. Maybe you have a million rows in the database: not only customer information in XML but maybe what they bought and when they bought it.

[In SQL Server 2000] we allow you to query the data with existing relational queries, so you can say, Show me all orders over $1 million. That datas stored as relational. But now [with Yukon] you can say, Show me all orders over $1 million in Pennsylvania. Since the customer information is in XML, you can do a standard relational query and query into the XML document.

We call this cross-domain queries. You have a relational domain and the XML domain. We allow you, in a seamless way, to do things across the two domains that are much, much easier.

eWEEK: Whats up with Web Services in Yukon?


Rizzo: Today in SQL Server 2000 we support Web Services. We have a tool kit customers can download. It does require you to have IIS [Internet Information Services Web Server] running in your environment. With Yukon we remove that requirement. SQL Server can expose Web Services without having to have IIS running in your environment.

The benefit is now the relational database can expose anything—for example, a stored procedure or data itself—as a Web Service, without requiring that infrastructure. Youve got this component between you and the database now. Theres a little performance hit, with two pieces instead of one. Now we get even better performance.

eWEEK: Will performance improve in Yukon?

Rizzo: Our goal is that Yukon will at least meet the same performance as SQL Server 2000, but were hoping it exceeds it. Thats in all aspects, not only in terms of what SQL Server 2000 has, but some new capabilities. For example, writing code in .Net should be the same as writing code in the T-SQL environment.

eWEEK: Which gets us to the question of integrating the database with the .Net framework. Whats the motivation behind that?

Rizzo: .Net code today doesnt run within SQL Server. It runs separate, outside the database. In Yukon weve put it into the database. Our plan is that T-SQL and .Net technologies will run at the same speed.

The reason were putting .Net inside the database is now customers can write SQL Server business logic inside the database using any .Net language. For example, you can use C# or Visual Basic. Were also talking with Fujitsu, who builds Cobol .Net.

Customers like the productivity of .Net, in terms of time to market. It allows them to build code faster. They dont have to build their own functions, because .Net has a framework that takes advantage of base things you have to do in programming. Customers want to take the skills, languages, Web sites and certifications they have in the .Net world and allow them to come into internal database business logic.

Heres the scenario: A business has all its DBAs trained in Visual Basic. They go to SQL Server and have to use this thing called T-SQL. Its not hard, but theyre not 100 percent trained on it. A lot say, Hey, I want Visual Basic everywhere. So were providing customers the ability to have flexibility.

Were also working closely with Borland, not only with C# but with J Builder, a Java-based product to support SQL Server 2000 and Yukon. Wed love for the entire world to be .Net-based. But customers make decisions based on their business needs, and some choose Java. We want to make sure we support whatever customers decide to program with.

eWEEK: What are some other highlights of Yukon?

Rizzo: In Yukon, well enhance Reporting Services. Well also ship a very much improved business intelligence platform.

Weve seen great adoption of business intelligence technologies inside SQL Server as well as Microsoft Office. With Yukon were turning up the crank another notch, adding things like more advanced data mining technologies. One thing we heard from customers, they said Hey, business intelligence is great, it helps me figure out what happened in my business in the past. But computers should help me predict what will happen based on data they have stored and algorithms. Thats why were investing in business intelligence.

There are two data-mining algorithms in SQL Server today. Six more will be added to Yukon. Integrated data mining, integrated reporting, business reporting overall, is really what makes data youre storing come alive.

eWEEK: What about security in Yukon?

Rizzo: Were doing a ton of work in security. We did a ton of work inside SQL Server 2000. We did a ton of work in Service Pack 3.

Yukons one of many things in the road to secure computing for Microsoft. One thing youll see us do over the next couple months for SQL Server 2000, well come out with Microsoft Update. It will allow you to patch SQL Server in the automated way you now do with Windows.

Well also add new security features like secure by design and secure by default. We wont have services turned on by default; youll have to opt on. Well have secure default settings, so passwords have to be strong, with characters, numbers and symbols. You cant put password as your password.

eWEEK: What about improving manageability, scalability and availability?

Rizzo: Those are our bread and butter. When it comes to databases, you can have great programming environment, great business intelligence features, but if the servers down, or if its not secure, well, youre done.

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