SQL Server 2005 Goes Live

The Microsoft faithful are sure to like what’s in store—but does SQL Server 2005 give DB2 and Oracle users a reason to cross the aisle?

Unless you’ve been off with Jeff Probst somewhere filming the next season of television über-hit Survivor, you probably know that Microsoft Corp. unveiled its long-awaited SQL Server 2005 database on Monday.

More than five years in the making, SQL Server 2005 is almost certainly Microsoft’s biggest ever data management release. It boasts improved performance, availability, manageability, security, and business intelligence (BI) features, for starters, and—just as importantly—it helps close the functionality gap with arch-competitors IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp., which have released several iterations of their own flagship database products over the same period.

Not surprisingly, SQL Server technologists are excited about the new database. (http://www.esj.com/business_intelligence/article.aspx?EditorialsID=7685) And most SQL Server shops seem bullish about SQL 2005, too. Even so, it’s likely many of these organizations will take up Redmond’s next-generation database at a comparatively slow pace. There’s a lot at stake, after all.

Part of it comes with the territory. Like the Young Prince Hal or its kindred Windows NT operating environment, SQL Server has to a large extent outgrown its department-level roots. Many organizations have standardized on Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 as an enterprise data management platform—or, at the very least, as one of several enterprise data management platforms. You don’t generally implement a new version of a mission-critical database overnight—even if you’ve been beta-testing that next-gen database for a year or more now, as is the case with many of Microsoft’s customer references.

There are other compelling reasons, too, say some SQL Server technologists. “Our current versions of enterprise software [Visual MFG, Visual Quality, Ceridian, and ACT!] do not support 2005,” explains Steve Witter, a report developer with a healthcare products company based in the Midwest. “That leaves only Reporting Services that can be upgraded. The only problem with that is our license for RS is on our primary SQL Server which contains some of the software I stated above. If we wanted to implement [Reporting Services] 2005, we would have to purchase separate licenses, which probably won't happen.” To make a long story short, says Witter, his company will probably remain a SQL Server 2000 shop for some time to come.

Above all else, many SQL Server 2000 shops are going to approach SQL 2005 much as they did Windows Server 2003: they’ll wait for the first service pack, which usually ships anywhere from six months to a year after GA, before deploying it. “I have to recommend [purchasing SQL Server 2005] to my management. I am excited about a lot of the enhancements to it, but I am definitely waiting until a service pack comes out. There are so many features of SQL 2000 that I haven't used, that [it] is too early to completely switch out of that,” says Andy Svendsen, a systems engineer with a document management software vendor. All caution aside, Svendsen says he’s looking forward to the SQL Server 2005 launch, which he’ll attend in the Philadelphia area.

This isn’t to say that Witter, Svendsen, and other SQL Server 2000 vets aren’t ever going to get their hands on SQL Server 2005. IT organizations are notoriously conservative, especially with respect to new software releases. But by all accounts, SQL Server 2005 does provide compelling bang for the buck—especially vis-à-vis its predecessor. As a result, most SQL Server technologists—even those whose organizations don’t have immediate SQL Server 2005 deployment plans—say it’s only a matter of when, not if, they’ll make the move.

Less settled is the question of IBM and Oracle shops crossing the aisle because of SQL Server 2005-specific features or enhancements. Some SQL pros think the new database will be well received by the Microsoft faithful, but is unlikely to pry away defectors from the DB2 and Oracle camps. “Shops with Oracle [or] DB2 are not likely to change,” suggests Peter Schott, a SQL Server administrator with automotive financing specialist Drive Financial. “[Microsoft] shops are relatively happy with [Microsoft],” Schott continues, so “the main concern is newer or growing companies.”

For these shops, Schott thinks SQL Server 2005 gives Microsoft a very good story to tell, with vaunted performance characteristics, all-in-one BI capabilities, a best-in-class development environment in Visual Studio, and—of course—tight integration with Windows Server 2003.

Still, Schott puts himself in the wait-and-see camp, too. “All the signs I've seen show that SQL 2005 performs quite a bit better than [SQL] 2000. I'll have to hold back on what I expect to see, though. As with any upgrade, I see the potential for new features implemented poorly. There are also quite a few changes that will lead to boosts without any actual code/ddl changes. I will definitely wait until I've had a chance to work with this some more before commenting on performance, though.”

Chris Harrington, president of Web application and information portal development shop Active Interface Inc., says there’s another SQL Server 2005 selling point that could prove attractive to a lot of non-traditional customers: It’s SOA-readiness. “An unfortunate reality of the competitive database market is that the majors are going their own separate ways in terms of the base DDL and DML. For many organizations and for developers such as me, the only ‘safe’ thing to do is to stick with ANSI SQL. So I still judge databases by how well it performs and adheres to that standard,” he comments. “Now once you decide that your database is also your application server, then this comparison must be done at a different level in the protocol stack.”

Enter SOAs, says Harrington, in tandem with a SQL Server 2005 database that boasts native XML and Web services support, too. “So the question will now become how well a ‘database’ performs as and adheres to the XML, SOAP, etc. Web service standards. On this score, Microsoft has come out with an exceptionally strong offering with SQL Server 2005.”

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About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.