Microsoft Releases Second SQL Server 2000 Beta

Microsoft Corp.’s SQL Server 2000 database inched closer to its shipping date when the software giant distributed the second beta of its next-generation database platform.

Among other attractions, SQL Server 2000 Beta 2 should give customers an opportunity to test drive some of its latest and greatest features, including enhancements to its core storage engine and its OLAP feature set. Both improvements were announced at Microsoft’s (www.microsoft.com) SQL Server 2000 Reviewer’s Workshop in late-March.

For its part, Microsoft is positioning SQL Server 2000 as a necessity for e-commerce and business intelligence.

"SQL Server 2000 will anchor [Microsoft’s Windows DNA 2000] platform by delivering unequaled support for Web technologies, deeply integrating business intelligence features, and making software scale a reality for the most demanding e-commerce scenarios," said Paul Flessner, vice president of database and middleware development at Microsoft, in a prepared release.

While this iteration doesn’t represent as significant a reworking of the SQL Server code base as did its predecessor -- SQL Server 7.0 -- SQL Server 2000 contains its fair share of new features. One is the database platform's integrated XML support, which the software giant says will let developers use tools to both manipulate XML inside a database and retrieve XML-based data from a database without the need for programming.

And because Microsoft positions SQL Server 2000 as a major component of its e-commerce strategy, it’s not surprising that the database will feature support for its BizTalk XML framework and BizTalk Server 2000 XML server product.

SQL Server 7.0 brought OLAP to the SQL Server platform for the first time in the form of Microsoft’s Plato OLAP engine. To enhance the existing OLAP support, SQL Server 2000 will feature an integrated data-mining feature that augments its business intelligence portfolio. Moreover, SQL Server 2000’s integrated OLAP and data mining services will be formally rebranded as Analysis Services when Microsoft ships the next-generation database.

Data-mining solutions can sift through business information and help organizations identify previously unknown relationships between seemingly disparate data objects. Many analysts believe the combination of data mining solutions with OLAP technology is a win-win situation.

"I've always been an advocate of data mining and see it as a logical extension to the analytical capabilities of OLAP servers in general," says Mike Schiff, director of data warehousing strategies at Current Analysis Inc. (www.currentanalysis.com).

According to Microsoft, SQL Server 2000’s integrated OLAP and data mining support will make both technologies easier to use -- especially for users who are not versed in the sometimes confusing practices of OLAP or data mining.

"The goal is that every DBA and VB developer can become a data mining developer," explains Amir Netz, architect and development manager of analysis services at Microsoft.

In this respect, Microsoft is arriving late to an already crowded party. Back in June 1999, for example, Oracle Corp. (www.oracle.com) purchased Thinking Machines Corp. as a prelude to subsuming the latter’s data mining technology in its own OLAP portfolio. And in January 2000, OLAP specialist Hyperion Solutions Corp. (www.hyperion.com) announced a partnership with data mining concern SPSS Inc. (www.spss.com) for the same purpose.

All things considered, the SQL Server 2000 Beta 2 release occurs at an important juncture in the company’s history. The software giant has taken its share of flack recently from claims that its multifarious legal entanglements have side tracked its development efforts.

A timely SQL Server 2000 release could go a long way toward convincing skeptics that the software giant is still focused, says Rob Enderle, senior analyst at consulting firm Giga Information Group (www.gigaweb.com).