Creating commodity solutions for complex IT needs has been Microsoft's key to success over the years and the company's latest commodity solution, SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services, is sure to make a big splash in the data-management and reporting worlds. Although reporting isn't the most glamorous part of the IT world, information and report delivery is at the heart of any business operation. However, many organizations' reporting infrastructures are outdated compared to other IT areas. Several vendors offer sophisticated managed-reporting solutions, but these solutions are pricey, running into six figures. Reporting Services will offer a less costly, integrated alternative to these third-party products. I don't have space to fully describe Reporting Services in this commentary, but you can find additional information at http://www.microsoft.com/sql/reporting/default.asp and in my SQL Server Magazine article, "First Look: Reporting Services," at http://www.sqlmag.com/articles/index.cfm?articleid=39215 .

Last week at the Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft announced that beta 2 of Reporting Services is now available. Microsoft hasn't set up public download links for the beta, however you can get a CD by registering to participate in the public beta at http://www.microsoft.com/sql/evaluation/betanominations.asp. The beta code will be available as a download to MSDN subscribers within a few weeks.

Several of my customers are anxiously awaiting this beta's release because they've delayed evaluating other tools until they can look at Reporting Services. Only time will tell if Reporting Services' feature sets are robust enough to compete with pricier tools, but Microsoft's model for delivering Reporting Services will certainly attract customer interest. Reporting Services is included as a core part of SQL Server, much like Analysis Services is. You can't buy Reporting Services as a separate product—the bits for Reporting Services will be part of the SQL Server license and will be included as part of the SQL Server installation media. Installing Reporting Services is free on a server that has a valid SQL Server license. Client connectivity licenses follow the same rules as a typical SQL Server client.

Reporting Services Standard and Enterprise editions will have slightly different feature sets. Microsoft hasn't specified what the differences will be yet, but the company told me that the Enterprise Edition will have additional features to improve Reporting Services' scalability.

Reporting Services requires a local SQL Server for metadata management, but Reporting Services is client and server neutral from a content perspective. In other words, you could role out a managed-reporting solution based on Reporting Services in a UNIX environment that otherwise has no SQL Server installed. So Reporting Services solutions certainly aren't limited to Microsoft-centric environments.

My customers have been looking for a low-cost, powerful solution such as Reporting Services. I'll be surprised if Reporting Services isn't a big hit. Take a look at the beta bits and let me know what you think.