Microsoft, SAP Tie SQL Server 7.0 to R/3

Microsoft Corp. has spent a lot of evangelistic energy touting the imminent SQL Server 7.0 as more capable of handling the hefty database needs large corporations face than previous versions of the database. Whether the gold code will accomplish that remains to be seen, but industry analysts agree that the company has made considerable strides in arming version 7.0 with some of the necessary enterprise tools that 6.5 lacked.

In addition to adding new tools, Microsoft is working to beef up the next-generation database by closely integrating it with SAP R/3, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software from SAP AG (Walldorf, Germany, www.sap.com). "These two companies have historically worked together to ensure that SQL Server and R/3 are compatible," says David Alschuler, managing director, electronic-commerce and enterprise applications, the Aberdeen Group (Boston).

Indeed, SAP and Microsoft have worked to tie the two products together since 1994, and SAP claims to have nearly 1,000 customers running R/3 with SQL Server 6.5. For SQL Server 7.0, SAP has worked with Microsoft since the beginning. "Every beta of SQL Server 7.0 had R/3 in the testing plan," says Steve Rietzke, SAP’s national partnership manager. "So R/3, as it works with SQL Server 7.0, has been through the testing process, and that’s currently continuing with the third beta phase."

The tangible result of the partnership, Accelerated Solutions, is a package including R/3, SQL Server and Windows NT Server 4.0. The package is available today with SQL Server 6.5 as the database, but when SQL Server 7.0 ships with the updated package, the new version will be better equipped for large companies. "SQL Server 6.5 didn’t have support for dynamic row-level locking. Therefore, it didn’t scale so well," says Aberdeen Group’s Alschuler.

Dynamic row-level locking becomes an issue when two or more users try to access the same nugget of data: One user is locked out. SQL Server 6.5 locks out users to the page level, rather than the row level. With SQL Server 7.0, when a user is accessing a page of data, the level of locking can be selected so that anyone trying to simultaneously access that page can be locked out either by row level or page level. "Row-level locking in SQL Server 7.0 makes it a more viable solution to compete with Oracle," says Alschuler.

Additionally, the new version of SQL Server will ship with auto memory use and disuse, which enables the allocation and reallocation of memory, thus making version 7.0 a cleaner performing database. SAP claims the Windows NT and SQL Server 7.0 combination can meet up to 95 percent of the requirements of R/3. "What counts is the performance of the applications, not the raw power of the database," says Alschuler. "It’s performance, scalability and maintainability that come through to the end user."

As for the remaining 5 percent of R/3 requirements that the NT/SQL Server 7.0 combination cannot meet, SAP’s Rietzke explains that very few companies even tax the program enough that the database needs to be able to handle such capabilities. "There will always be a set of customers with enormous database requirements that only can be filled by mainframes or other Unix platforms, but we’re talking about companies the size of GM, and that’s not who we’re targeting this year," he says.

SQL Server 7.0 may not be integrated as tightly with ERP packages from SAP’s competitors, such as Baan NV (Menlo Park, Calif., www.baan.com) and PeopleSoft Inc. (Pleasonton, Calif., www.peoplesoft.com) as it is with R/3, but this partnership certainly helps users of those packages. "Some of the things Microsoft and SAP are doing to SQL Server 7.0 will filter through generically so SAP’s competitors will benefit too," says Aberdeen Group’s Alschuler.

The two companies working together has greater implications than just the Accelerated Solutions package. "NT systems are more than 50 percent of SAP’s business in terms of new customers," says Alschuler. "Still, SAP is very careful to remain neutral among vendors. But one can infer that SAP working so closely with Microsoft on this says something about the importance of NT as a server platform for the future."