Microsoft unwraps flagship database SQL Server 2005

It's hoping to persuade companies to dump rival Oracle's 10g database

Microsoft Corp. yesterday officially released its flagship database SQL Server 2005, a product the company said is now truly ready for big businesses.

Microsoft officials are hoping that the Enterprise edition of SQL Server 2005 -- the successor to the 5-year-old SQL Server 2000 -- can erode the dominance of Oracle Corp.'s 10g database and IBM's DB2.

At its San Francisco launch event, Microsoft also released its Visual Studio 2005 development tool and announced its forthcoming data integration software, BizTalk Server 2006. But the focus was on SQL Server 2005, and Microsoft officials trotted out a set of Fortune 500 corporations that have already adopted the software for their most mission-critical applications.

Among them was Barnes & Noble Inc., which handles an inventory of 7.3 million items sold at 821 bookstores worldwide using a 3TB data warehouse on a 64-bit version of SQL Server 2005. "The raw performance, as well as the price-over-performance ratio, was incredible," said Chris Troia, the bookseller's CIO. He said Barnes & Noble runs more than 1,200 SQL Server databases.

Other companies on hand for the event included Nasdaq Stock Market Inc. and music retailer HMV Group PLC, which built its online music store using Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005. Nasdaq replaced aging Tandem mainframes used to disseminate market trade data with a SQL Server 2005 system that handles 5,000 transactions per second and 100,000 queries a day and can scale up to 8 million new rows of data per day, according to Ken Richmond, vice president of engineering for the stock exchange.

Richmond praised the integration of the latest editions of Visual Studio and SQL Server, which he said increased the productivity of his programmers by allowing them to write database applications in the easier C# or Visual Basic code rather than the increasingly esoteric T-SQL language.

Microsoft has acknowledged in the past that the tricky integration of the two products was one reason SQL Server is coming out now two years late. But, said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, it is also why SQL Server is now much more scalable, secure and efficient to deploy -- and why IT managers and developers will find "the whole greater than the sum of these products".

"There is no mission-critical enterprise job of any form that you shouldn't feel confident running today on the Microsoft platform," Ballmer said.

Besides touting big-name customers, Ballmer also brought out Intel Corp. CEO Paul Otellini, who introduced powerful enterprise server hardware using multiple 64-bit Intel Itanium processors that can run SQL Server 2005.

Another key Microsoft partner, SAP AG, has more than 20,000 customer companies running SAP applications on top of SQL Server, said Ballmer.

Not present at Microsoft's launch was Oracle Corp., whose market-leading Oracle 10g database has the most to lose if SQL Server 2005 can catch on with more big companies. Microsoft is offering a discount of 50% off list price to new SQL Server 2005 customers that switch from Oracle within a year.

One company that has made such a switch is AIM Healthcare Services Inc., which audits health claim and payment forms to cut costs for insurers and hospitals by finding erroneous forms. It uses a 9TB database running off a recently installed SQL Server 2005.

Adam Solesby, director of strategic development at AIM Healthcare, migrated the database -- the world's sixth largest online transaction processing database, according to a September ranking by Winter Corp. -- from a Unix/Oracle setup to SQL Server running Windows server.

"Our needs are focused around ... managing the sheer volume of data we have," Solesby said. "A key feature in SQL Server 2005 is its scalability options."

Solesby also said SQL Server offered better features for a lower price than Oracle and will eventually support 12,000 concurrent users when its customers are given access.

Officials at Simon & Schuster Inc. said the publishing house used an automated migration tool to ease the switch from Oracle to SQL Server, which now supports 1,500 users.

Oracle, meanwhile, said that few of its customers have actually switched to Microsoft.

"Functionality-wise, take any area of SQL Server 2005 and compare it to Oracle 10g, and ours is unquestionably superior, infinitely superior," said Willie Hardie, vice president of database product marketing at Oracle.

Oracle is also counterattacking Microsoft in the lower-end market dominated by SQL Server. It released a free version of Oracle 10g aimed at students two weeks ago. And Hardie says that 60% of customers for its lower-end Standard Edition One version of 10g switched from other databases, many of them from Microsoft.

As for Version 2006 of BizTalk Server, Microsoft's tool to help companies translate data between different applications, its release could be delayed by up to three months, said Steven Martin, director of BizTalk product management. That could push the release back to the second quarter of the year.

BizTalk has 5,000 users and competes with products such as IBM's WebSphere and offerings from Tibco Software Inc., WebMethods Inc. and Vitria Technology Inc.

To make up for the delay, Microsoft will ship 16 free application and technology adapters in its Enterprise and Standard editions of BizTalk. The company plans to release a second beta of BizTalk by year's end.

Peggi Douglass, director of IT for Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), said the potential BizTalk Server delay won't affect her organization, which had a low-risk migration plan in place.

The Montgomery-based pension fund manager is testing BizTalk Server code as part of Microsoft's Technology Adoption Program. It has already found the most recent beta release to be stable, easier to deploy and able to handle larger files than before, Douglass said.

Another company that likes BizTalk Server 2006 is Citigroup Inc., which is using it to create a digital authentication system for a large drug company, said Hilary L. Ward, director of global information services at the financial services company.

"We're able to move information with the least amount of intervention" using BizTalk's data transformation abilities, said Ward, who chose BizTalk over solutions from Citigroup's internal IT group and other software vendors. Ward said the integration of BizTalk with Visual Studio and SQL Server also saved time.

"Being able to create business rules and do reporting from one place is very important, granting us big productivity savings," she said.

Elizabeth Montalbano, of the IDG News Service, contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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