The SQL Server 2005 Coattail Effect

Will BPM and ETL ride to mainstream success on the coattails of Microsoft’s SQL Server 2005 juggernaut?

What do IT organizations have on tap business intelligence-wise in 2006? A whole lot of SQL Server 2005, for starters: With so much pent-up demand, many SQL shops will make the move to Microsoft Corp.’s next-gen database in this coming year.

That much is a no-brainer. But some SQL pros cite rising interest in performance management solutions—homegrown and otherwise—while many more anticipate a slow but measurable uptake of shrink-wrapped ETL tooling, too, courtesy of Microsoft’s SQL Server 2005 Integration Services (SSIS).

Call it a case of both technologies riding in on the coattails of Microsoft’s SQL Server 2005 juggernaut. Deepak Puri, a BI professional with a prominent U.S. auto insurance company, says his employer (which is nominally a mixed DB2 and SQL Server 2000 shop) has been doing more on the SQL Server side of the aisle lately. To some degree, Puri attributes this to the attractiveness of SQL Server’s all-in-one BI stack. “Our plans for SQL Server 2005 vary, [but] we're probably looking at the BI components and XML support more aggressively than the other pieces,” comments Puri, who says his employer plans to roll out SQL Server 2005 IS, Analysis Services, and Reporting Services next year.

Puri says he has high hopes for SSIS, which his company expects to tap for most of its data integration needs. At some point, he suggests, SSIS might even enable his employer to transition away from the homegrown ETL solution it’s using on its mainframe back-end. “Data integration is important, and we're using SQL Server [Data Transformation Services] in the PC world; but continue with home-grown COBOL on the mainframe,” he says. “Hopefully, we'll be transitioning new ETL development to Integration Services.”

SQL Server’s revamped ETL facility should appeal to a lot of other would-be adopters, too. Take Mark Job, a SQL Server developer with Microsoft solution provider Immedient Corp., who says his company has helped several companies deploy beta releases or technology previews of next-gen SQL Server. While there’s a lot to like in SQL Server 2005—especially on the BI front—Job says the new SSIS, in particular, could amount to a killer app for that database.

“[It] creates a lot of new functionality, along with the ability to bring along old DTS packages by hosting the old runtime, giving developers more time to convert old packages,” said Job. “The visual debugging environment, separation of data and control layers, and elevation to transforms of a lot of what had to be done in script before are all good for the developer, but the big customer opportunity here is scalability, which will open up [Integration Services] use to a lot more needs.”

SSIS is an ideal Rx for what frustrates David Bienstock, a systems specialist with pre-fab housing outfit Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. Bienstock says he’s anxious to get his hands on SQL Server 2005. The rub, he laments, is that his company’s IT department hasn’t yet found a way to justify the cost, licensing-wise, anyway.

“We use homegrown batch and FTP processing. We also use PDF and TIF splitting and recombining using command-line programs,” he comments. At the same time, he notes, you don’t get something for nothing, and SQL Server 2005 is a more expensive proposition than its predecessor. “We are looking into license costs for SQL 2005 but I am not sure we can justify it,” he confirms, citing similar doubts about Microsoft’s next-gen Reporting Serviecs offering, too.

For Bienstock and Fleetwood, then, SQL Server 2005 and the end of homegrown ETL will probably have to wait until 2007, at the earliest.

Performance Management, Pace Microsoft

Last month, Microsoft announced its first-ever business performance management (BPM) tool, Microsoft Business Scorecard Manager (BSM) 2006. To a large extent, BSM is an extension of Redmond’s SQL Server BI Accelerator offering, which many SQL Server pros are already familiar with. Not surprisingly, some of the SQL managers we spoke with are excited about putting Microsoft’s BSM 2006 product through its paces next year.

“[Performance management is] important, but no organized approach to tools has yet been adopted [in our organization], so there are homegrown Excel-based scorecards,” comments SQL pro Puri. “I'm personally interested in BSM 2005 … since we have the original Scorecard Accelerator, but it looks like more of localized pockets of interest at this point.”

SQL Server Ideé Fixe

For many data management pros, SQL Server 2005 will almost certainly be the BI focal point for the upcoming year. For one thing, that product won’t become generally available until next week, which gives potential adopters (even those that have beta-tested SQL 2005 for an extensive period) very little time to test it, qualify it, and deploy it in production before the end of the year. This means that most SQL Server 2005 migrations will take place over the course of 2006.

But there are additional considerations, too. First and foremost, says Immedient’s Job, SQL Server 2005 brings a bevy of new features to the table—especially in the BI realm. The upshot, then, is that few companies have figured out just how they’re going to make use of them yet. Much of the grunt work, proper, of doing so will take place over the coming year. “There is a lot of pent-up demand for [SQL Server 2005] products. Even though the [SQL Server 2000] product line has seen interim updates to extend its utility, it has been six years between major releases,” said Job, just before the official launch. “We are working with several clients who are using the beta and [Community Technology Preview] releases. Generally, the technical staff are very excited about the new capabilities, and somewhat overwhelmed by the quantity of substantive improvements. It takes a team to begin to assimilate all the possibilities.”

About the Author

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

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