Belated SQL Server upgrade retains its appeal to testers

Microsoft launches new database release after two-year delay

Microsoft Corp. is finally set to launch its SQL Server 2005 database on Monday. And despite a two-year delay, several users who have tested the software cited the improved performance and new functionality it brings as positive developments that likely will convince them to upgrade soon.

For example, beta-tester Mayur Raichura, managing director of information services at The Long & Foster Cos. in Fairfax, Va., said he is "hoping that with the five years they have spent developing and tightening this product, this is truly not a 1.0 version." Raichura said he wants to avoid the need for "some serious patch management" or deployment of service packs.

But based on the features he has tested so far in the beta version, Raichura said SQL Server 2005 could rival the databases of market leaders Oracle Corp. and IBM within a year. Long & Foster plans to begin using a production version of the database in the spring, when the real estate company is due to launch a new version of its corporate Web site.

SQL Server 2005 supports database encryption and other new security features, as well as full-text search, native storage and querying of XML documents, and added business intelligence functionality. The database is also integrated with Visual Studio 2005, which lets developers write applications in C# or Visual Basic instead of doing SQL programming.

Mediterranean Shipping Co., a Geneva-based company that operates container ships, is already running the new database on production systems. As part of Microsoft's Technology Adoption Program (see "Earliest adopters get put to the test"), Mediterranean Shipping beta-tested SQL Server 2005 for nearly a year before going live with the Enterprise edition several months ago.

Fabio Catassi, the shipping company's chief technical officer, said end users experienced a "dramatic reduction" in the time needed to run queries after Mediterranean Shipping upgraded to a 64-bit version of SQL Server 2005 running on a Unisys ES7000 server. The performance gains were also due to high-availability features such as the database's online index-rebuilding capability, he said.

SQL Server 2005 doesn't have everything Catassi is looking for. Some promised capabilities, most prominently database mirroring for automatic backups of information, aren't due to be available until next year. Meanwhile, his personal wish list still includes features such as the ability to load and compare multiple performance monitoring logs from different systems.

Craig Steele, a senior network engineer at Progent Corp., an IT consulting firm in San Jose, said the most tangible improvements in SQL Server 2005 likely will benefit developers more than database administrators. For example, he pointed to the integration of the database with Visual Studio 2005, which is also being launched next week.

"Developers will be happy with the new SQL Server, but if you're an IT professional, whoop-dee-doo-dah-day," said Steele, who consults with corporate users on projects involving SQL Server and Microsoft's Exchange Server. Steele said he doesn't view the new release as a huge shift in technology from its SQL Server 2000 predecessor. "I know pure SQL [Server] people will love it," he said. "I'm just not sure about the rest of the world."

Raichura said the support for Microsoft's Common Language Runtime technology via Visual Studio will let him avoid having to go to multiple developers with different specialties. "I can natively write stored procedures straight into software," he said. "This increases my resource pool because it reduces the distinction between software developers and architects."

Kirk Pothos, a software development manager in Xerox Corp.'s Global Services division, called Visual Studio 2005 "a huge step forward" for Microsoft. He added that his team has already upgraded to the new versions of both SQL Server and Visual Studio.

Robert Hurlbut, an independent software consultant in Worcester, Mass., said SQL Server 2005's security features are a big improvement over what was in the previous release of the database, especially for government users and companies in the health care and financial services industries. Microsoft has "locked down the ports and turned things on automatically that you used to have to do by hand," Hurlbut said.

DesignMind Inc., a software development firm in Oakland, Calif., has been using "a narrow set" of SQL Server 2005's features in live applications for several months, said Mark Ginnebaugh, the firm's president and head of the San Francisco SQL Server User Group.

Now DesignMind is moving forward on more extensive projects, such as using SQL Server 2005 to set up a large data mart for one client, Ginnebaugh said. Doing that on top of the client's existing DB2 database "would have been far more costly and difficult," he added.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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