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11/9/2010
12:34 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Microsoft Unveils Next Steps For SQL Server

'Denali' database preview released as the Parallel Data Warehouse appliance finally goes to market.

Microsoft is counting on the appeal of its total database platform to be its differentiator. That means everything from its data lineage and budding master data management capabilities to its widely used Information Integration, Analysis and Reporting services, all of which are built-in components of the SQL Server database.

"The problem that customers want to solve is answering business questions, so it's also about the tools that allow end users to gain insight," said Ted Kummert, senior vice president of Microsoft's Business Platform Division, in an interview with InformationWeek. "We're focused on that end-to-end solution. The Parallel Data Warehouse is just one critical component of that."

The surprise in Tuesday's announcement was the release of a community technology preview (meaning beta release) of "Denali," the code name for what Microsoft says will be the next major release of Microsoft SQL Server.

Available for download as of today, Denali bolsters Microsoft's database scalability, manageability and reliability story with several new features. "Apollo" is column-store technology touted as accelerating query performance. "Crescent" is a Web-based, ad-hoc data visualization and presentation environment designed to improve data exploration and analysis.

Denali also bolsters data integration capabilities and data quality services. But some of the new features in Denali follow in the footsteps of others. Column-store technology, for instance, has been proven for years in databases including Sybase IQ and Vertica. And Crescent's ad-hoc data visualization and exploration approach is reminiscent of years-old Crystal Xcelsius.

Microsoft also introduced what it called a "cloud servicing" wrinkle with Tuesday's announcements, inviting customers to sign up for a Web-based service code named "Atlanta." The service is said to oversee SQL Server configurations, suggesting best practices and proactively avoiding configuration problems with step-by-step guidance.

On this front, too, Microsoft is following a broad movement toward Web-based monitoring and guidance aimed at improved systems reliability and better support experience.

Microsoft is not innovating with PDW or Denali. But the fact that it's bringing state-of-the-industry functionality to a pervasive platform is not to be discounted.

How does Microsoft differentiate? "It's Microsoft," commented Forrester analyst James Kobielus. "That may sound like a flip answer, but Microsoft shops now aren't going to hit their head on capacity constraints... and on the BI side, Microsoft is one of the predominant BI vendors for the mass market."

In Short, PDW and the next release of SQL Server will fit the bill for plenty of Microsoft customers. And the capabilities are arriving in plenty of time for midmarket customers who are a long way from scaling into the hundreds of terabytes.

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