Anytime I talk to people about getting ready for SQL Server 2005, the discussion usually revolves around the .NET Common Language Runtime (CLR) integration. The integration of the .NET Framework with SQL Server 2005 probably embodies the biggest architectural change that SQL Server has had since the SQL Server 7.0 release in 1998. .NET integration with SQL Server is a big deal, but the CLR isn't SQL Server 2005's only new feature. If you look past .NET integration, you'll find a host of features that make SQL Server 2005 the biggest SQL Server release to date.

The new high-availability features in SQL Server 2005 will make you want to revisit your current database-contingency plans. First, enhancements to failover clustering let you use up to 8 node clusters, and the installation process for Analysis Services and all the other SQL Server subsystems will be cluster-aware. SQL Server 2005's new database-mirroring features let you create mirrored copies of your data at the database level, which when combined with the transparent client-redirection capability, enables entirely new high-availability scenarios. Likewise, the new database snapshot feature lets you create read-only snapshots--point-in-time copies of a database--that you can use to create more flexible reporting capabilities. A SQL Server 2005 database can directly support HTTP endpoints, another important feature that can change the way you implement Web services by eliminating the need for an intermediate IIS Web server.

If you're currently storing XML in your database as BLOBs that use the image or varchar data types, you'll definitely want to look into rearchitecting your applications to take advantage of SQL Server 2005's new native XML data type, which lets you store and query XML documents in the database without the need for document shredding or the need to extract and parse the documents to query them. And, the new varchar(max) data type adds a new option for dealing with true BLOB data by letting your applications read and write BLOB data to the database by using the same mechanisms you use for standard character and numeric data.

The major new database engine enhancements are significant, but the list of features that you need to plan for doesn't stop there. Some of the biggest changes in SQL Server 2005 are outside the database. SQL Server 2005 will provide advanced application support through three new subsystems: the SQL Server Service Broker, SQL Server 2000 Notification Services, and SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services. The SQL Server Service Broker and Notification Services subsystems let you create asynchronous, notification-style applications, and Reporting Services brings enterprise-class reporting, authoring, and deployment capabilities to the database. In addition, ADO.NET 2.0 will add support for multiple active result sets, server-side cursors, and provider agnostic application implements.

When you're planning for SQL Server 2005, you need to consider a whole lot more than just .NET integration. In fact, the current plan is that SQL Server 2005's CLR support will be disabled by default, so you won't even see that feature unless you purposely turn it on. But as you can see, after almost five years of development, SQL Server 2005 is full of new features. I've only touched on a few of the most significant here. SQL Server 2005 might seem like it's still a ways off, but it will be here before you know it, and you need to start planning now.