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Microsoft Gives Peek At Next Version Of SQL Server

The company shows off Katmai, the next version of its data platform, at its first business intelligence conference.

Microsoft is giving a sneak peek at the next version of its SQL Server data platform, code-named Katmai, as the company's first-ever business intelligence conference kicks off today.

Other than an under-the-radar presentation at a developer conference yesterday, this will be the first look the public gets at SQL Server Katmai, which Microsoft has thus far kept under tight wraps, dancing around release dates and feature details. However, Microsoft will announce today that SQL Server Katmai is due out in 2008 and will go into broad details about new features of the platform.

At the sold-out conference, the company also will announce that it has acquired technology within the last year from a company called SoftArtisans. That technology comes in the form of OfficeWriter, a product that brings data from SQL Server databases into Excel and Word documents, giving users the ability to author and view reports from within those programs. Office Writer will be integrated directly into Katmai. "Our vision is about providing pervasive data to all end users," says Ted Kummert, corporate VP of Microsoft's data and storage platforms. Katmai also will include other new integration points with Excel, Excel Services, SharePoint, and PerformancePoint.

In Katmai, Microsoft also will be adding support for more data types, consistent with a goal to bring SQL Server "beyond relational." The new data types Katmai will support include unstructured data such as files and imaging data, several new types for date and time, and a new "spatial" data type that can be used in location-based applications.

One new management feature Kummert highlights is the "declarative management framework," which will allow users to more easily set policies for data in SQL Server databases. For example, it would allow someone to set a policy that makes sure every data point in a column that contains credit card numbers is encrypted. It also can set policies across servers with similar workloads.

The next SQL Server also will include the "entity data platform," ostensibly the ADO.Net entity framework, which makes it so, instead of having to deal with raw data in a relational table, developers can easily deal with data on an object level -- for example, as a customer or product object -- regardless of whether the information and data that defines the object is in multiple tables. There also will be support for Language Integrated Query, or LINQ, which simplifies the process required for developers to query databases. Katmai additionally will introduce a technology called "occasionally connected systems" to provide core services that allow developers to synchronize devices with data whenever they're connected to a network.

The last major new feature set in Katmai increases SQL Server's data warehousing cred. It includes increased scalability in storage via compression features, increased query performance in large data warehouse scenarios, and a feature called "resource governor" to allocate resources to specific users and workflows within a data warehouse. "This is a very big area of investment for us," Kummert said.

Kummert will go into further detail about Katmai during a keynote Thursday, including a product demonstration. However, one thing he will not talk about is Microsoft's strategy to provide products that span the worlds of premise-based software and Internet services, so, alas, no mentions of SQL Server Live. Going forward, Kummert has said that SQL Server will need to be part of Microsoft's software plus services strategy.

Katmai's release date makes good on Microsoft guidance that it will churn out new versions of the software every 24 to 36 months. The last SQL Server release, SQL Server 2005, came after a five-year lag. "We heard from customers they want more frequent releases from us," Kummert said, "and we re-engineered our processes around more regular and frequent releases of SQL Server."

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