The long-awaited second beta of the very long-awaited update to Microsoft Corp.s SQL Server enterprise database is out. But analysts say Microsoft still has a lot of explaining to do.
“Some enterprises and ISVs have started to link the delays in the product line with the Longhorn and the SQL Server  and the Service Pack 2 delays, [with whats] obviously a lot going on from a security perspective with Microsoft,” said Stephen OGrady, an analyst at RedMonk in Bath, Maine.
“I think its good for Microsoft to get this out. Were starting to hear some grumbling from ISVs and customers.”
What OGrady refers to as a “lot going on from a security perspective” is a steady stream of mishaps that have befallen Microsoft while its SQL Server team has been plugging away at Yukon, including the Slammer worm flattening SQL Server 2000 installations worldwide back in January 2003 up to the recent hailstorm of flaws discovered in Microsofts Internet Explorer Web browser.
Microsoft this week will roll out Beta 2 of SQL Server 2005, code-named “Yukon,” to about 300,000 MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) universal and professional subscribers. Beta 3 is expected by years end, and final release is still slated for the first half of 2005.
Beside the question of whats causing the delays, Microsoft still has to answer important questions as to whats going to happen with SQL Server 2005 and MSDE (Microsoft Desktop Engine) when it comes to running them as back ends to other applications, said Peter Pawlak, a lead analyst for server applications at Directions on Microsoft, in Kirkland, Wash.
“The main [point of confusion] that was a big one was Exchange,” he said. “Exchange folks have backed off and said, We dont know what our exact storage technology will be—whether it will be Yukon or Windows File System in Longhorn.”
Prior to the Yukon and Longhorn releases, Microsoft will release an interim version of Exchange that wont be radically different than its predecessor. The question, though, concerns the differences between running SQL Server 2005 or Win FS beneath Exchange, Pawlak said.
“My personal opinion is they dont have plans solid enough to go talking to analysts and press to say, This is where Win FS will be best used, and this is where the full version of SQL Server  will be best used,” he said. “We keep asking ourselves, where would [which] one be more appropriate?”
Other questions persist regarding whether Microsoft will package a runtime version of Yukon with products such as BizTalk Server, Commerce Server, Content Manager Server or SMS, or whether the company will require the purchase of SQL Server 2005 to run beneath these applications.
As it now stands, products such as Isis Server 2004 and Live Communications Server run on top of MSDE (Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine), a compact version of SQL Server, whereas products such as SharePoint Portal Server run on the full SQL Server engine.
“Its such a key technology,” Pawlak said.
The road to the database technologys release has been pockmarked with major delays from the start. The company first referenced the product in fall 2000, citing spring 2004 as the ship date. In June 2003, Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., pushed the ship date to the second half of 2004. In March, the date got bumped again, to its current first-half 2005 ship date.
Keeping Pace with Oracle,
IBM”> At this point, the sooner it gets out, the better. It will behoove Microsoft to keep customers and ISVs happy, OGrady said. “From a platform perspective, I think the growth of SQL Server has slowed a bit,” he said.
“Its incumbent on Microsoft to get this to market sooner rather than later. Folks are keen for it, and database vendor competitors such as IBM and Oracle [Corp.] are continuing to innovate on the platform and win new customers.”
Indeed, Microsoft is late to the game when it comes to self-healing, autonomic databases such as those coming from its competitors. The Yukon release is therefore a competitive must to raise the bar for SQL Server, according to Noel Yuhanna, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif.
“The key focus for SQL Server is on performance, scalability and security, besides the integration with development tools,” he said. “Thats where Yukon will obviously raise the bar for high-end performance for SQL Server.
“Today, there are limitations for SQL Server to go beyond a certain threshold in terms of scalability and performance, especially [for those companies] running a terabyte-sized database with SQL Server. Yukon will raise the bar in that category, coming very close to what Oracle and IBM are offering.”
And in the end, whenever Yukon is released, SQL Server still will hold sway in terms of winning the cost wars, Yuhanna said.
“The real advantage is price/performance,” he said. “SQL Server has an advantage, being a lower-cost [database management system]. If they can offer good security and scalability, [Microsoft] definitely will retain customers, especially in the high-end environments, as well as to help other customers looking for low-cost, to migrate.”