With SQL Server 2005 just out of the chute it seems a bit too early to be thinking about the next release of SQL Server, but that's what Microsoft's SQL Server team needs to be doing. First, the team needs to add the major features that didn't make it into the November release to manufacturing (RTM) before the next release. The most obvious omission is database mirroring, a feature that would have been a prime motivator for many businesses to upgrade and that's already part of Oracle and IBM DB2. A replacement for the SQL Server Express Manager is another feature that just can't wait. SQL Server 2005 Express possibly faces stiffer competition than any member of the SQL Server 2005 family, and MySQL, Oracle XE, and IBM's Cloudscape all have graphical management tools. Microsoft's current plan is to deliver both of these missing features in the second half of 2006.

In planning features for the next release, the SQL Server team will certainly need to work hard on clustering. Oracle 10g offers easy clustering for scalability, a feature that the current release of SQL Server doesn't have an answer for. The difference in clustering technologies makes this a tough nut to crack for Microsoft. Oracle uses a shared storage approach to clustering that's easy to manage but has scalability limits—a problem for high-end deployments but not for smaller two-to-four system clusters that appeal to mid-sized businesses. Microsoft has gone the opposite route, adopting a shared nothing clustering strategy that has no high-end scalability limits but is difficult to manage and requires intimate, advanced database knowledge to successfully implement. Coming up with a better clustering solution, especially for mid-sized businesses has to be a priority for Microsoft with the next release of SQL Server.

Another need that Microsoft should address is better development tools for new subsystems such as Notification Services. Getting businesses to use new tools is tough, but it's even tougher when the primary development experience is editing raw XML files. Features such as a graphical UI for developing Notification Services applications would definitely help customers get started with the new technologies and take better advantage of their investment in SQL Server.

Another hole in the SQL Server 2005 release is the inability to debug T-SQL in SQL Server Management Studio. Most DBAs don't want to be forced into Visual Studio 2005 just to get the T-SQL debugging capability that used to be in Query Analyzer. Considering that SQL Server Management Studio and Query Editor are integrated into the Visual Studio shell, this problem should be easy to solve. There are good reasons to get Visual Studio 2005 (e.g. developing SQLCLR objects with Visual Basic or C#), but debugging T-SQL shouldn't be one of them.

Although adding new functionality is tough, Microsoft is trying to move SQL Server to a 24-month release cycle. I'm sure this means the SQL Server team is already underway with the next release (which has the rumored code name Katmai.) For businesses, especially those with Software Assurance or Enterprise agreements that automatically provide the new releases, this faster schedule means you need to adjust your own upgrade strategies to avoid falling behind the technology curve.

Michael Otey (mikeo@teca.com), technical director for SQL Server Magazine, is president of TECA, a software-development and consulting company in Portland, Oregon, and coauthor of ADO.NET: The Complete Reference (Osborne/McGraw-Hill).