After a number of delays and false starts over the last several years, Microsoft Corp. this week announced the general availability of its SQL Server 2005 database.
Some customers privy to an early kick of the tires on the refashioned database say the product is a major leap forward in terms of enhanced business intelligence tools, application development integration, and management visibility from its previous SQL Server 2000 incarnation.
With the extra time afforded to its engineers, product developers and end users to compare and work various kinks out of SQL Server 2005, Microsoft made sure the product featured improved “enterprise readiness” capabilities such as table partitioning, extended online operations and vastly beefed up online diagnostics, said Paul Flessner, senior vice-president for SQL Server at Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash.
Flessner said the new database is designed to offer significant data management visibility, allowing users to more easily examine current activities inside the server than prior versions.
Built with strong ties to Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 and with the application developer in mind, SQL Server 2005 gives developers the ability to have language-independent code run outside or inside of the database. That will allow developers to write code in whatever language theyre comfortable with, to be decided at run-time and performance tuning.
“We think the database is a technology that is too complicated. We can make it much simpler in terms of auto-tuning, and we can do more to make the database developer more productive,” Flessner said.
“Theres a host of things we did in this area, and extending enterprise abilities in our mind pushed the product to the next level and toward most mission-critical applications. The last bastion for IBM and Oracle [Corp.] in terms of their market has been that Tier One application, and I think [SQL Server] 2005 pushes us inside that space.”
Currently running SQL Server 2005 and taking advantage of its new 64-bit support, Kirk Pothos, software development manager for Xerox Corp., based in Rochester, N.Y., said the new database server has made leaps and bounds in terms of its management tools in areas such as online indexing, tuning wizards and best practices.
For example, Pothos said he is seeing some of his organizations intensive queries run anywhere from 25 to 45 percent faster, which was a big surprise for him. In addition to the unexpected performance boost, Pothos said SQL Server 2005s native encryption has removed security worries from the minds of developers. But the biggest improvement, he said, is with Microsofts Report Builder functionality.
“Customers are always asking for different cuts and slices of the data. We dont have to have a DBA everywhere in the world; analysts can use Report Builder to slice some of those things in a cost effective manager. Thats one area where Microsoft has really done a good job: Reporting is great but the building tool is fantastic,” Pothos said.
Xerox is primarily using SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition to power its XOS (Xerox Office Services) solution. The service, which can be hosted if the customer chooses, manages a Xerox customers printing operation globally, including supply replenishment and deployment, and necessary technology support is available. The XOS application is built on the Microsoft Visual Studio.NET platform.
Interestingly, Xerox is also actively migrating to Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express, a downsized version of the database, for its branch-based customers. Pothos said the diminutive SQL Server tool is a perfect and cheap fit to help remote branch office customers, in terms of linking and managing printing operations with a centralized enterprise.
“We feel that SQL Server 2005 gives us a lot more headroom in terms of new features,” Pothos said. “Xerox leads with technology. We didnt want simply a better SQL Server 2000. If they were only going to release a better version, that was not compelling for us. When we pick a platform we understand customers are very demanding and want new services. We needed headroom to grow and SQL Server will provide that for us.”
Users Prefer Delays to
Microsoft took its share of lumps from critics, major database competitors and industry analysts while SQL Server 2005 encountered numerous beta and general release delays stretching far beyond the software giants initial target release date. Flessner said the repeated delays were not ideal but were necessary to polish the tool.
“Theres no doubt it took a long time. Five years [between product cycles] is longer than I would have liked. We made some big bets along the way and they took longer to come to fruition to what I would have hoped. In the future, Id like to be on 36-month cycle,” Flessner said.
However, in a typical customer reaction, current SQL Server 2005 customer Fabio Catassi, CTO of Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Co., said he has no problems with the delay of a critical product earmarked for his organization as long as it suits a purpose.
In fact, he said Microsofts decision to pull out a mirroring feature from the final code of the just-released version of the SQL Server database proves to him that Microsoft has learned from past mistakes and is committed to improving product development.
“We have been testing the mirroring feature between our New Jersey and New York City facilities. From our experience, we were completely happy. But Microsoft said, We havent tested enough customer validation and we feel some of the facilitating tool we could improve, so if something goes wrong a customer could more easily figure it out,” Catassi said.
“That kind of thing to me is very positive, because it means that they realize that this is not just an access database—this is our enterprise-critical tool. If I wait six months or more its not a big deal if its there when I need it for me to rely on.”
Mediterranean Shipping Co., which features 350 direct offices, runs a massive container ship operation moving across the globe. Following the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks, the organization was forced to comply with much tighter restrictions in terms of changed regulations for getting containers past U.S. borders.
That led to a quick makeover of Mediterraneans procedures to ensure that its infrastructure was always available and had a database underpinning it could expand in terms of development and scalability. Catassi said SQL Server 2005s deeper integration with Visual Studio is fitting in nicely with those plans.
“We perform 19 million database transactions per day and 15 billion transactions a year. We have 48 new megacarriers in construction and we receive one of them every two weeks between now and the end of next year. Our IT needs grow almost as fast as our business grows,” Catassi said.
“During the summer, we switched to [SQL Server] 2005. Immediately we saw on the same hardware an increase in performance. That gives me comfort that [the database] doesnt give me any worry on volume size when we increase the size of the ships because we feel this technology is there for us.”
From an engineering point of view, he said, the databases 64-bit support has helped Mediterranean scale out on the same box without having to perform partitioning.
As for availability, SQL Server 2005s index rebuilding has enabled Catassis clustered environment to perform functions such as faster redo on failover, limiting the time that the database is offline.
By running over 4 million lines of SQL code in its system, Mediterraneans CTO said the databases ability to catch blocks has made a huge impact toward cutting down hours. “My developers tell me its making a tremendous difference,” Catassi said.