SQL Server 2008 is being released too soon after SQL Server 2005, and it’s not going to be widely adopted. But I’m here to tell you I don’t buy that contention: A lot of customers have their eye on SQL Server 2008, and they’re ready to jump on board because they need the strong BI enhancements SQL Server 2008 brings. Three areas with major enhancements will make droves of customers move: Reporting Services, Database Services, and operational management.
If you accuse me of being biased toward SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), I am; so let’s cover it first. SSRS in SQL Server 2008 boasts a shiny new standalone Report Designer, introduces the Tablix—the ultimate data region—and no longer requires Microsoft IIS.
In previous releases of SQL Server, everyone (e.g., end users, CIOs, and industry analysts) railed at Microsoft for holding a hard line on requiring Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 or Business Intelligence Development Studio for the SSRS Report Designer; SQL Server 2008 liberates us from that requirement by providing a full-featured standalone Report Designer. And with the new Report Designer, we can build reports using the Tablix, a new data region that offers tabular flexibility married with cross-tab capabilities. The Tablix replaces the table, matrix, and list and offers the ability to build side-by-side cross-tab sections each with corresponding group aggregates. If you’ve ever run into the limitations of the matrix, you’ll want to migrate to SQL Server 2008 as soon as possible.
And SSRS 2008 has been detached from IIS, which is a beautiful thing when you want SSRS to play nicely with other applications (and their security) and with Share- Point. SSRS now uses HTTP.sys, similar to how SQL Server 2005 works for native Web access for procedures.
The relational engine (aka “Database Services”) has some new features that make SQL Server 2008 compelling. Here are the ones I think will win over the most customers (especially the BI folks).
Merge statement. The Merge statement lets you insert and update records in the same statement, a biggie for tracking historical changes while loading a data warehouse.
New DateTime data types. New DateTime data types permit separation of date and time information with support for greater range and precision, as well as handy time-zone offset aware DateTime types.
Table valued parameters. With the table valued parameters, you can now pass tables as parameters into stored procedures, which should eliminate the need to parse a comma-separated value (CSV) list (or similar) within the proc. You can even pass an ADO.NET DataTable as a parameter, which should make it very easy to work with data between the Microsoft .NET framework and SQL Server.
Larger user-defined data types. In SQL Server 2008, the 8K ceiling has been removed for user-defined data types including .NET CLR types. With the restriction removed, you can create more full-featured types and aggregates.
Change Data Capture. Change Data Capture will track and expose database changes, a dream for DBAs. Incremental extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) processes will be able to leverage this feature to identify and extract only new and changed data.
For daily operations for most databases, SQL Server self-manages and self-heals; hard-core DBAs like to beat up SQL because it doesn’t have a ton of knobs to constantly adjust. I think most of the criticism is posturing for job security, but SQL Server 2008 will deliver “more knobs” with a Resource Governor and the Declarative Management Framework (DMF).
Resource Governor is long overdue, providing the ability to corral resource-hungry databases within definable limits and priorities, therefore enabling good performance in tandem with concurrency. The DMF’s features are policy based, which gives you the ability to apply the same custom settings across many SQL Server servers via a policy. And even though old-school DBAs can’t beat up SQL Server for having too few knobs, they can still say SQL Server is for sissies because the install process is easy, even easier than before.
The list of SQL Server 2008 features is longer than my arm. It’s great that database mirroring gets its 2.0 revision, geospatial data support is coming, and we can code in C# in Integration Services with Visual Studio Tools for Applications (VSTA) support. A lot of customers are going to see value in the items I highlighted above and say “See ya SQL Server 2005 (or 2000), we are moving on up to 2008!” Call me partial, but I think SQL Server 2008 is all about BI, and once the word gets out, 2008 is going to have a lot of fans.
Special thanks to Ashton Hobbs of Solid Quality Mentors for his thoughts regarding SQL Server 2008.