SQL Server 7.0 Enters Beta 3

Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server 7.0 has entered its third phase of beta testing. New to beta 3 are management tools and tighter integration with Microsoft’s imminent Office 98 suite.

The third beta version, which the company claims possesses all the features that will be found in the gold code, is being distributed to 50,000 members of Microsoft’s MSDN subscription service and is available to the public for download from the company’s Web site.

Since the second beta, Microsoft has added manageability tools. "Customers wanted to be able to manage SQL Server from the MMC [Microsoft Management Console], so from within the MMC, either SQL Server 6.5 or 7.0 can be managed," says Doug Leland, lead product manager in the SQL Server group, Microsoft. "That’s not something we originally planned, but our beta 2 customers demanded it."

Microsoft also made SQL Server 7.0 a little easier to use with non-Microsoft products. "We added the DTS [Data Transformation Services] Package Designer, a new user interface to connect to heterogeneous data sources," says Leland. The DTS Package Designer enables administrators to import, export and transform heterogeneous data using OLE DB and Microsoft’s ActiveX Scripts.

SQL Server has traditionally been a back-end product, but Microsoft has been working both in the lab and on the marketing front to change that. "We focused on building tighter integration between Plato and both the front and back offices," says Leland. Indeed, Microsoft has made beta 3 integrate more tightly with Office 98 than previous versions, which hardly integrated at all. For instance, administrators can manage SQL Server 7.0 through Microsoft Access. Additionally, the data analysis features in Microsoft Excel have been enhanced to enable the direct analysis of data in pivot tables, lists and charts against data stored in Oracle, SQL Server 7.0 or Plato.

Plato, which gained support in beta 3 for Digital Equipment Corp.’s Alpha chip, is the OLAP server that will ship with SQL Server 7.0. By integrating Plato and SQL Server 7.0 with front-end applications, Microsoft is aiming to extend the way SQL Server is used. "Microsoft hopes to change the profile of database users by making database capabilities more readily available to average office workers," says Merv Adrian, vice president and senior analyst at the Giga Information Group Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.). "This is part of Microsoft’s promise to create a database suitable for easy creation of the apps that will make it accessible to end users."

At this point, it looks as if Microsoft’s most recent promised delivery date of the final version for sometime in the second half of this year just may come true. "There have been problems -- for instance, the TerraServer project, which was basically an egg in the face for Microsoft. But that was not a database problem. Instead, the problem was with the Web server in front of the database," says Adrian. Behind the scenes, SQL Server 7.0 was successfully conducting queries and transactions. This is not to say that there are no problems with SQL Server 7.0, just that it will likely ship at least fairly close to the claimed date.

Along with the new features, Microsoft has been touting SQL Server 7.0 as more enterprise-capable than its predecessors. "Version 7 is clearly an order of magnitude above 6.5 in terms of enterprise use, but it still won’t be at the top of the enterprise chart. More importantly, though, neither is NT," adds Adrian.