Microsoft announced SQL Server 2000 Notification Services and the product’s upcoming beta program at TechEd last week in New Orleans. Notification Services is a set of technologies that lets you easily develop and deploy applications that generate and send personalized notifications to wired and wireless devices. Notification Services provides valuable data-management functionality and represents, along with SQL Server 2000 Windows CE Edition and Analysis Services, Microsoft's move toward extending its investment in database technology to products beyond the main SQL Server relational database.

Notification Services scans input events from various sources, compares the events with users' subscriptions, generates and formats personalized notifications, and delivers the notifications to subscribers' preferred devices. Microsoft created Notification Services through a joint development effort with MSN, which uses Notification Services in its MSN Mobile service. Notification Services helped MSN handle exploding growth in the number of subscribers to MSN Mobile, which delivers content and services to subscribers' mobile devices. Before it deployed Notification Services, MSN was adding servers in an almost linear growth path to handle the load as the number of subscribers grew. Generating a notification event doesn't seem like a database problem at first. However, everyone reading this column knows that the database is at the center of every solution (ahem!). Microsoft looked at the nature of the business need and realized that matching event data to a user's request for data is, at its very core, a data task.

Notification Services takes a database-centric approach to solving the notification problem and lets MSN consolidate more than 20 notification servers to one server running Notification Services and one server running SQL Server. MSN Mobile uses Notification Services to generate about 1.5 million to 2 million notifications a day; most alerts come during peak times such as the stock market opening and closing, when people are updating their daily quotes. Stress testing demonstrates that the existing four-CPU Notification Services machine could easily handle more than 4 million notifications per day. Most interesting, Microsoft says that Notification Services is easy to deploy and configure. I haven't worked with Notification Services, but Microsoft claims that in just a few days, you can easily implement a notification application that can scale to millions of notifications by using only one four-CPU server.

Notification Services provides clear value to application developers, but the product is also interesting because of how Microsoft is releasing it. Microsoft hasn't fully defined Notification Services licensing, but the company has said that it will bundle the data service with SQL Server, as it did Analysis Services. Bit by bit, Microsoft is extending the core SQL Server product with several data services (such as Notification Services and Analysis Services) that leverage the core functionality of Microsoft's database technology. As with SQL Server CE, Microsoft will license Notification Services as part of SQL Server but will release the product separate from a major SQL Server release. I expect that Microsoft will continue to develop new data-management services that are built on SQL Server as the company's database technology evolves and matures over time.

Microsoft hasn't announced ship dates for Notification Services, but representatives told me that the product will be ready early this summer. You can nominate yourself for the beta program at http://www.microsoft.com/sql/evaluation/betanominations.asp. Spots in the program are extremely limited, so send in your request soon.