The 2007 Editor's Choice Awards honor 17 exceptional SQL Server products
Last year, SQL Server Magazine celebrated the first annual Editor's Choice Awards. The awards return this year to recognize the vendors who bring you outstanding database products and services. To determine the winners, we collected the products we've covered in SQL Server Magazine in product reviews, Industry Bytes, Buyer's Guides, New Products, and Market Watch features since March 2006 and distributed them among eight product categories. This year, we've added a special ninth category, Most Innovative Technology, to allow us to recognize worthy products that don't fit neatly into the eight regular categories. The editors of SQL Server Magazine then chose platinum and gold winners in the regular categories and one winner of Most Innovative Technology. We considered each product's strategic value to the market, its competitive advantages, and its value to customers to determine the winners. These products help you solve database problems, manage your databases, improve database performance, create, innovate, and excel. They are among the best of the SQL Server–related software, hardware, and services the market has produced over the past year.
Auditing and Compliance
Lumigent Audit DB
Compliance with laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) requires that a company ensure the security and integrity of its data. To do so, you've got to be able to audit internal users' database access. SQL Server 2005 provides no user auditing per se, although you can use built-in features such as DDL triggers to track database events. This year's platinum winner in the Auditing and Compliance category, Lumigent Audit DB, gives a hefty boost to SQL Server database auditing by supporting three types of data collection: transaction log reading, network capture, and native database auditing. You can select any combination of collection methods depending on the type of auditing and compliance requirements you need to meet. The product comprises two modules: an assessment module establishes a baseline of your database environment security, then continually assesses the environment against that baseline; an activity monitoring module lets a DBA set actions that will create an alert and provides an audit trail of authorized users' database access. The comprehensive alerting and reporting features in Lumigent Audit DB place it in a class above other products of this type, providing in-depth insight into audit information that a DBA can use to take action to correct potential risks to data. Contact Lumigent at http://www.lumigent.com/products/auditdb.html
Guardium Data Privacy Accelerator
Judging from this year's headlines about data loss at high-profile companies, it's clear that organizations need to get a handle on preventing data theft, especially theft by insiders. Data-monitor, a vertical-industry research firm, gauges that the average cost of a data leak incident is $1.82 million and that only a few firms can say with certainty that they've had no data leaks recently. This year's Auditing and Compliance category gold winner, Guardium Data Privacy Accelerator, an add-on to the company's SQL Guard compliance solution, provides auditing with an eye toward protecting sensitive data against theft, including data breaches by privileged users inside an organization. Data Privacy Accelerator provides a set of policies, real-time alerts, and audit reports to detail suspicious database activity. A DBA creates privacy sets that contain sensitive data elements (e.g., customer names with credit card numbers). The product generates alerts when access to a data element deviates from an expected pattern (e.g., an unusually high volume of requests for data in a privacy set or access outside of regular business hours) as well as an audit trail of such transactions. Data Privacy Accelerator gives organizations an edge on not only preventing data breaches, but also on stopping them in real time. Contact Guardium at http://www.guardium.com.
—Anne Grubb See Associated Figure
Backup and Recovery
Quest Software LiteSpeed for SQL Server
The 2006 Editors' Choice award platinum winner in the Backup and Remote/Disaster Recovery category, Quest Software's LiteSpeed for SQL Server takes platinum this year in the Backup and Recovery category. LiteSpeed for SQL Server offers table-level recovery, which gives you the option to restore only the objects you need while avoiding disrupting user access to databases. The software's compression technology impresses SQL Server Magazine Technical Director Michael Otey: "The cool thing about the LiteSpeed product is that it is able to both compress and encrypt the backups. Compression is especially useful because it reduces the size of the backup, but it also reduces the time required to perform the backup because there is significantly less I/O." A unique feature to LiteSpeed for SQL Server is the Attached File option, which lets you attach documentation to database archives. That documentation is then restored with the database during recovery operations. LiteSpeed for SQL Server also verifies the integrity of backups during a restore, provides a wide variety of reporting formats, and contains its own advanced log shipping functionality that reduces log size and increases log transfer speed. "This product also has a simple-to-use T-SQL interface that make it easy for DBAs to work into their T-SQL scripts," Michael adds. Contact Quest Software at http://www.quest.com/litespeed_for_sql_server See Associated Figure
Taking gold in the Backup and Recovery category is Idera's SQLsafe. Pat Mong, a senior database administrator at a major coatings and specialty products company, uses SQLsafe to back up nearly 100 SQL servers with a total of 1,800 databases, averaging around 5,000 backups a day. Pat says, "We rarely have any problems, but when we do, Idera's support team is always very responsive to my issues. Idera has also been very receptive to ideas for product improvement." Not only are customer and technical support important to Pat, but he adds that Idera's pricing helped to win him over. "Our purchasing department and Idera negotiated a nice price for the SQLsafe product. Idera has never tried to change the price we pay for additional product licenses." Before SQLsafe came out, Pat tried SQL LiteSpeed, now Quest Software LiteSpeed for SQL Server (and the platinum winner in this category). He says, "When SQLsafe first came out, it had several attractive features that SQL LiteSpeed didn't have. Enterprise management was one. The SQLsafe product came with all available features at no extra cost." Pat enjoys the relationship his company and Idera have built: "They are all nice people, interested in building products solely for Microsoft SQL Server instead of trying to build SQL products for Oracle and DB2." Contact Idera at http://www.idera.com/products/sqlsafe/default.aspx
Business Intelligence and Reporting
BusinessObjects X1 R2
Business Objects' BusinessObjects XI R2 is the platinum winner in the Business Intelligence and Reporting category. Business Objects XI R2 is a suite of performance management, information management, and query and analysis tools that offers multiple data-access methods; secure, on-demand live-data call-up; and an elegant visual presentation. Former Windows IT Pro and SQL Server Magazine Assistant Editor Sue Tibbetts, reporting on BusinessObjects XI R2 in the December 2006 "Industry Briefings" (InstantDoc ID 93481), remarked that, "Information consumers don't have time to learn how to use a reporting tool . . . They want to intuitively know how to make a program ‘serve up' the information they need quickly and in a format they understand." BusinessObjects XI R2 meets this need by taking aggregated, complicated, and massive data sets and distilling the information into graphical renderings that end users can instantly understand. Crystal Xcelsius Viewer, BusinessObjects XI R2's front end, uses flash technology and prebuilt templates to create a drag-and-drop environment within which DBAs can interact with complex data quickly and easily. Contact Business Objects at http://www.businessobjects.com
Tableau Software Tableau
Winning gold in this year's Business Intelligence and Reporting category is Tableau Software's Tableau visual analysis and reporting solution. Available in three versions: Professional Edition, Professional Open – DB Edition, and Standard Edition, Tableau lets you analyze database servers, data warehouses, Excel spreadsheets, and text files. SQL Server Magazine Technical Editor Michael Otey says Tableau "quickly and effectively reveals data relationships and anomalies that might take hours, or even days, for a traditional database tool such as Microsoft Excel Pivot Tables to identify." Building queries is an easy drag-and-drop process that doesn't require knowledge of SQL or MDX, and Tableau automatically builds a visual representation of query results. Tableau makes it easy to filter data, and you can drill down through information by right-clicking a bar graph to access the underlying data. You can print query results, save the results as an image, or export the results to Access or Excel. Tableau's rich, versatile interface gives users the power to effectively and quickly visualize and analyze their data, without the need to understand programming or undergo specialized training. Contact Tableau Software at http://www.tableausoftware.com/products.htm.
Database Management Tools
SQL Sentry Event Manager
SQL Sentry's SQL Sentry Event Manager earned the platinum award in the Database Management Tools category after taking gold last year. "Definitely the feature set and ease of use" plays a part in why Bluestreak, a marketing services company and application service provider, uses Event Manager, says Senior Data Architect Aaron Bertrand. The company has three production clusters, two production reporting instances, and dozens of development, QA, and staging instances. "There are a few bare-bones tools out there if you really search, but it would take five or ten different tools just to be on par with Event Manager," Bertrand says. Scott Brooks, director of the hosting services division at Peak 10, a managed services firm, agrees about the value Event Manager provides. He says that prior to using Event Manager, his division had to manually check whether jobs that fired were completed. Besides automating tasks, Event Manager helps Peak 10 with job querying, scheduled tasks, and performance monitoring. "It could say which server was hogging resources—it ties Windows performance monitors to a SQL job," Brooks says. Brooks also praises SQL Sentry's customer support: "They really take ownership of an issue." Bertrand recalls, "I remember mentioning to one of the \[SQL Sentry\] marketing folks that their product was like Outlook for SQL Server. He gave me a T-shirt to show his appreciation for the compliment, but it wasn't a bribe, because nobody overheard." Contact SQL Sentry at http://www.sqlsentry.net/eventmanager/enterprise-sql-server.asp
Quest Software Quest Central for SQL Server
Quest Central for SQL Server, Quest Software's suite of integrated database management products, takes the gold award. With this suite, DBAs have the tools to predict, diagnose, and solve database performance problems. The suite consists of Quest's Spotlight on SQL Server, Quest Performance Analysis for SQL Server, SQL Tuning, and Capacity Manager for SQL Server. Commenting on Quest Central in the comparative review "Shrink-Wrapped DBAs" (May 2006, InstantDoc ID 49748), Michael Campbell wrote, "Quest Central offers solid tuning and analysis for less-skilled DBAs to help them get their servers, code, and configurations into shape. The product's helpful real-time metrics are great for troubleshooting problems." Quest Central can predict when the quality of system performance will decrease and lets you view SQL Server sessions, replication information, blocks, deadlocks, and disk activity. Reporting comes from a single, consolidated interface, and the suite helps DBAs with trending and forecasting as well. Although Campbell felt the functionality of the code editor was "a bit weak" and mentioned that the product "lacks the ability to export or migrate schema or changes," he praised its "cross-platform manageability, speedy UI, excellent real-time monitoring functionality" and "solid analysis components." Contact Quest Software at http://www.quest.com/quest-central-for-sql-server
Performance and Database Monitoring Tools
Quest Software Quest Spotlight on SQL Server
Quest Spotlight on SQL Server, the platinum winner in the Performance and Database Monitoring Tools category, is an agent-less Windows-based diagnostic and resolution solution that eliminates time-consuming manual tasks and reduces application and database downtime. The tool's graphic dashboard displays real-time activity of database components to help you proactively catch and resolve problems before they become critical. Dashboard icons display key SQL Server statistics and metrics, and graphical flows between interface elements represent the rate of data moving between the components. Drilling into any of these metrics or components shows you more detailed information and related statistics.
In his review of Spotlight on SQL Server (February 2007, InstantDoc ID 94537), Michael Campbell rated the tool 4.5 out of 5 and wrote, "Overall, Spotlight on SQL Server is a great product that has a minimal learning curve and offers a great deal of functionality." He adds that it's an "indispensable resource if you have many servers to monitor or are in an environment with a lot of ad hoc activity." Contact Quest Software at http://www.quest.com/spotlight-on-sql-server-enterprise
Altova DatabaseSpy 2007
The platinum winner in the Development Tools category, Altova DatabaseSpy 2007, is a multi-database management and design tool that provides a common interface for IT professionals and consultants who work in heterogeneous database environments. Michael D. Cassens, in his review of DatabaseSpy (February 2007, InstantDoc ID 94537), praised the software's straightforward installation. He also commented on the ease with which the product lets you run queries from any table, and he was impressed with the SQL Editor's auto-complete feature. But the Design Editor feature really stood out—Michael touted it as "the feature that provides the most benefit to IT professionals." This feature lets you add existing tables to the design view, create new tables, and add and edit columns with one click. One drawback that Michael mentioned was that he couldn't create columns of data type XML. Altova has addressed this problem in DatabaseSpy 2007 R3; this release provides superior support for XML database content. It includes new columns containing XML data that can be added to database tables via the database Design Editor, as well as access to detailed properties of XML data types. Overall, DatabaseSpy is a unique tool that makes SQL editing and multi-database structure design easier for a fraction of the cost of single-database solutions. Contact Altova at http://www.altova.com/products/databasespy/database_tool.html
DataDirect Connect for ADO.NET
The gold winner in the Development Tools category is DataDirect Connect for ADO .NET. This data provider enables interoperability between database versions and vendors by abstracting differences between diverse databases and database versions. It uses a managed-code architecture to eliminate the need for database clients, boost performance, and deliver a flexible, secure connection to Oracle, DB2, SQL Server, and Sybase. I spoke with an ISV senior software engineer who services enterprise customers of varying sizes, and he told me why his organization uses DataDirect Connect for ADO.NET. Initially, he says, his company was looking for "a single vendor who could satisfy all our database connectivity requirements, including ODBC, JDBC, and, more recently, .NET." Before using DataDirect Connect for ADO. NET, his company "had numerous support and compatibility issues between products from different vendors." In seeking a solution for porting his company's C++ product to Java and .NET, the engineer told me, "DataDirect was the logical choice ... well suited to \[their\] requirements, and pleasantly bug free. A significant benefit is that DataDirect ADO.NET's APIs more closely resemble JDBC APIs than do those of other vendors \[thus\] reducing the effort in maintaining parallel Java and .NET versions of products." Another benefit is DataDirect's support, which the engineer and his company found to be "an appealing distinction from \[typical\] database vendor support." Contact DataDirect at http://www.datadirect.com/products/ net/index.ssp
Symantec i3 for SQL Server
Maintaining optimal performance and availability of your database environment requires constant monitoring and problem solving. According to a recent Applied Research survey, as much as 24 percent of IT staff time is devoted to addressing performance delays in business applications such as SQL Server. Symantec's gold-winning solution, Symantec i3 for SQL Server, can help reduce the drag on IT resources and keep application downtime to a minimum. Symantec Server Foundation and APM Product Group Vice President Henri Isenberg says that i3 (which stands for "Insight, In-depth, Inform") performance monitoring software takes a proactive approach to discovering and solving problems, giving you more control over application and database performance and availability. The agent-based software captures, measures, and correlates performance metrics from all critical system components and puts them into a central repository to provide a complete view of application performance. When the tool detects a problem or bottleneck, it helps you pinpoint the cause, identify the best course of action, and quickly restore peak performance. Real-time alerts help ensure that production and operations groups respond quickly, and role-based administration allows people within the organization to access only the information they're entitled to view. Contact Symantec at http://www.symantec.com
HP ProLiant DL585
Taking the platinum award in the Hardware category is the powerhouse HP ProLiant DL585 server, which won gold in 2006. "If you're looking for a rack-mounted enterprise-class server," wrote Michael Otey in his SQL Server Magazine product review (July 2006, InstantDoc ID 50266), "You can't go wrong with the ProLiant DL585. The system's 4-way dual-core Opteron configuration provides amazing performance, and HP's Insight Manager and \[Integrated Lights-Out\] iLO enable effective remote management for enterprise deployments." The system is a 132-pound, 4U rack-mounted server fueled by four AMD 880 Opteron dual-core 2.4GHz CPUs, with 2GB of RAM and an embedded Ultra3 Smart Array 5i drive connected to four 36GB, 15,000rpm hard disks. The DL585 supports a maximum of 128GB of RAM and offers two 64-bit 133MHz PCI Extended (PCI-X) slots, six 64-bit 100MHz PCI-X slots, a 1GB dual-port NIC, two USB 2.0 ports, a slim-line floppy-disk drive and CD-ROM combination unit, a serial port, and hot-pluggable redundant power supplies. How effective is all this firepower? Michael wrote, "The system's performance was stellar. In fact, I found it difficult to create a workload that would stress the server." Contact HP at http://welcome.hp.com/country/us/en/prodserv/servers.html
HP ProLiant DL380 G4
The gold award goes to another HP titan—the HP ProLiant DL380 G4 NAS system, powered by new dual 3.6GHz Intel Xeon (Nocona) processors. The system also features 1GB of SDRAM, three 36GB 15,000rpm hard disks, a Smart Array 6i SCSI RAID controller, three PCI-X slots, and a hot-swappable 550W power supply. The September 2006 issue of SQL Server Magazine featured the DL380 G4 in the "Network Attached Storage" Buyer's Guide (InstantDoc ID 92718). David Chernicoff, SQL Server Magazine contributing editor, wrote, "mid- to high-end NAS machines \[like the ProLiant DL380 G4\] are often perfect candidates for providing storage for SQL Server." The ProLiant DL380 G4 gives you large amounts of local caching and memory capabilities, offers tremendous horsepower, and boasts completely hardware-redundant fault tolerance. HP seems to be positioning the ProLiant DL380 G4 in the SQL Server market to play to the strength of the system: It's an easily accessible, large-capacity server complete with software that simplifies SQL Server backup and restoration. Online, disk-based backup continues to get more and more economically practical, David wrote, particularly "as the cost of storage continues to decline." Using the ProLiant DL380 G4 in a NAS scenario allows complete data protection without affecting the real-time performance of the SQL Server database. Contact HP at http://welcome.hp.com/country/us/en/prodserv/servers.html
IBM System Storage N5000 Modular Disk Storage Systems
This year's platinum winner in the Storage category is the IBM System Storage N5000 Modular Disk Storage Systems series of storage appliances. According to IBM's Worldwide Product Marketing Manager David Vaughn, the product has two essential pieces of software that help you manage SQL Server. The first is SnapManager for SQL Server. "This software runs on SQL Server and makes it easy to administer SQL Server administration activities. You can easily set up snapshots and create backups to whatever storage medium you want. You can also specify when you want the data to be backed up." You can use the second piece of software, SnapVault, if you want to migrate snapshots to lower-cost storage (e.g., as backups age). "IBM System Storage N5000 provides more than just a storage product," David says. "It includes the software to make it easier to use for back-end storage for SQL Server." In addition to the product's software capabilities, you also have the flexibility to choose either Fibre Channel or SATA disk drives. If you need to store a lot of data in SQL Server, then IBM System Storage N5000 can fill the bill, providing as much as 252TB of raw storage capacity. Contact IBM at http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/storage/network/n5000/appliance
EMC CLARiiON CX300
The gold winner in the Storage category is the EMC CLARiiON CX300 networked storage system, which was built for high-performance data-intensive applications such as SQL Server. The CLARiiON CX300 is a great choice for the SQL Server environment because it gives enterprises the capacity they need (ranging from 365GB to 27TB) and features built-in high availability to ensure that data is always available when it's needed. Product Marketing Manager for the CLARiiON CX300 Phil Treide says, "The product has the ability for tiering within the system, meaning that you can choose a mix of Fibre Channel or SATA drives. What's also unique to CLARiiON, and what helps differentiate us, is our data-in-place upgrade capability, which allows you to upgrade to higher-end CLARiiON systems while maintaining your investment in your current CLARiiON system." This storage system can be implemented as a standalone or a rack-mounted unit and features NAS, SAN, and DAS deployment options. Contact EMC at http://www.emc.com/products/systems/clariion_cx300.jsp
Most Innovative Technology
Texas Memory Systems RamSan-300
This year, we designate Texas Memory Systems' RamSan-300 winner of a special category: Most Innovative Technology. This entry-level solid state disk (SSD) uses Double Data Rate (DDR) RAM memory rather than hard disks for storage. Although the RamSan-300 looks like a regular disk drive to the OS, it lets applications access storage significantly faster than traditional storage methods do, accelerating enterprise applications such as online transaction processing (OLTP) databases, batch processes, and data warehouses by as much as 2,500 percent.
I spoke to Dave Thornley, Service Support Manager of Learning and IT Services at Sheffield Hallam University in Sheffield, UK, about why his organization chose the RamSan300. Sheffield Hallam University is the sixth largest university in the UK, with three locations and approximately 7,000 PCs and 300 servers running a mixture of Windows, Sun Solaris, Novell NetWare, and Linux. Both SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2000 provide production database services. SQL Server is deployed on a few servers to provide local database support for applications that can't run on the clusters. According to Dave, Sheffield Hallam University selected the RamSan300 to address the performance issues of one application that was based on a locally installed copy of SQL Server. During an 8- to 10-week busy period each year, the application's I/O load would increase to exceed the mechanical disk's capacity, resulting in disk queues of more than 100 operations and occasional SQL Server wait times of more than 5 or 10 minutes. Dave says, "We knew we could achieve incremental improvements in disk I/O performance by tweaking SQL Server but decided we needed an improvement of several orders of magnitude to lift the application performance to an acceptable level—hence the selection of the RamSan-300."
And the SSD's performance "has been impressive," according to Dave. "Observed random I/O rates on the disk have been three to four times higher than on mechanical disk, and the application now performs consistently all year round."
Dave explains that when his organization was searching for an SSD storage solution about a year ago, the RamSan-300 seemed to offer the best speed advantage. And as Woody Hutsell, Texas Memory Systems executive vice president claims, this SSD "is a solution that makes sense for small-to-midsized enterprises \[because\] it pays off in price per performance." Contact Texas Memory Systems at http://www.superssd.com/products/ramsan-300