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Microsoft Aims High on Data Warehouses

Says SQL Server will support 270TB installation for external customer

By Eric Lai
November 20, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - SEATTLE -- Once characterized by its rivals as a database featherweight punching above its weight class, Micro¿soft Corp. last week said it plans to build two mammoth data warehouses based on its year-old SQL Server 2005 software.

At the annual conference of the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) user group, Microsoft said it is designing a 270TB multinode data warehouse for a foreign government that it declined to identify. The software vendor is also working on a 162TB single-node installation for its own marketing department.

Topping Yahoo

Both systems would easily top a 100TB Oracle data warehouse at Yahoo Inc. that in September 2005 was ranked as the world’s largest known installation by Winter Corp., a Waltham, Mass.-based consulting firm. Winter has yet to update its rankings, and Mark Souza, Microsoft’s group program manager for SQL Server, acknowledged last week that larger data warehouses may exist at user sites that prefer not to be ranked for competitive or national security reasons.

Nonetheless, some users and analysts at the PASS conference said that with SQL Server 2005, Microsoft is putting to rest lingering doubts about its ability to handle large enterprise workloads.

“They can scale and handle data warehouses of any size; we know that now,” said Donald Feinberg, an analyst at Gartner Inc. “I routinely talk to SQL Server customers that have built 7TB data warehouses or Windows Datacenter [systems] with 3,000 users.”

Crossmark Inc., a Plano, Texas-based company that provides merchandising and marketing services to consumer goods companies, has been using a data warehouse based on SQL Server 2005 for the past two years.

The data warehouse currently has 4.5TB of information and runs on a Hewlett-Packard server that can hold up to four Opteron dual-core processors, said Charlie Orndorff, Crossmark’s vice president of infrastructure services.

“We’re adding about a billion rows of data a month, which adds up to about 1.5TB a year,” Orndorff said. He added that the growth rate “will only accelerate” as Crossmark adds more data sources and begins to import and manage more unstructured data.

“It used to be rare that you could find a SQL Server data¿base larger than a terabyte,” said Kevin Kline, president of PASS. “Now there are hundreds and hundreds of multi¿terabyte SQL Server data¿bases.”

The supersize data warehouses that Microsoft is building will not only be large but fast as well, according to Souza. He said the company has shown in internal tests that it can load more than 1TB of data into SQL Server in a single hour. With the 270TB data warehouse, Microsoft hopes to be able to load data at a consistent rate of 3TB per day, he said.

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