At the upcoming SQL Server Connections in Las Vegas, Microsoft is scheduled to officially launch SQL Server 2012. According to Gartner’s research, SQL Server is the number two database platform in the enterprise database market; however, there’s no doubt that SQL Server is the thought leader in the enterprise relational database market. The importance of SQL Server as a core IT infrastructure continues to grow with SQL Server 2012. SQL Server is central to Microsoft’s data platform strategy both as an on-premises database, as well as a cloud service. For on-premises deployments, SQL Server continues to be the premier relational and analytical data platform for both packaged applications and custom .NET applications. In addition, SQL Server is also the data platform for all of Microsoft’s enterprise server products, including System Center Operations Manager, System Center Configuration Manager, and System Center Virtual Machine Manager, not to mention Microsoft’s packaged applications such as its Dynamics AX ERP and CRM applications. For the cloud, SQL Server 2012 can be used in private cloud deployments and SQL Azure can provide public cloud platform as a service (PaaS) capabilities.

SQL Server 2012 brings some important new evolutionary features to Microsoft’s enterprise data platform. One of the most important new capabilities is undoubtedly the AlwaysOn Availability Groups feature. AlwaysOn Availability Groups is essentially the next evolution of database mirroring. AlwaysOn Availability Groups can protect multiple databases as a group and lets you mix and match synchronous and asynchronous database replicas. For an in-depth look at AlwaysOn Availability Groups, see "SQL Server Denali AlwaysOn vs. Database Mirroring." But that’s definitely not the entire story behind SQL Server 2012. All told, the SQL Server 2012 release has more than a hundred new features.

Another can’t miss feature in SQL Server 2012 is the Power View data visualization feature. Power View picks up the idea of powerful end-user reporting that was first introduced with Report Builder. Power View provides a graphical report designer that lets users take elements from a semantic data model and create powerful, interactive reports that can be embedded in the user's applications or published to SharePoint.

Although AlwaysOn Availability Groups is the main feature for the relational database engine and Power View is the most important new business intelligence (BI) feature, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t important enhancements for developers, too. SQL Server 2012 will also include the new SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) feature. SSDT is the next evolution of what's been called Data Dude—the database development tools that were formerly included in the Visual Studio Team Edition for Database Professionals Edition. SSDT essentially replaces the database capabilities that were formerly available in Visual Studio. SSDT will ship with SQL Server 2012, and you can use it to develop for SQL Server 2005, SQL Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2012, and SQL Azure.

Microsoft has also repositioned the SQL Server lineup by simplifying the editions that are offered, as I discussed in "Editorial: SQL Server 2012's Editions and Licensing.".The key change is that SQL Server 2012 will be delivered in three main editions: Enterprise Edition, Business Intelligence Edition, and Standard Edition. The Enterprise Edition contains all of the features. The Business Intelligence Edition contains all of the BI capabilities, but lacks some of the high-end availability capabilities. The Standard Edition provides basic relational, BI, and availability capabilities. With SQL Server 2012, Microsoft has essentially retired the Datacenter, Workgroup, and Standard for Small Business editions. In addition, Microsoft will also continue to provide the Developer, Express, and Compact editions. The Web Edition will be offered only to web-hosting providers who have a Services Provider License Agreement (SLPA). There will also be a new core-based licensing option for the Enterprise and Standard editions. Download this FAQ that helps clear up some of the editions and licensing questions.

SQL Server 2012 is the next evolution of Microsoft enterprise data platform. SQL Server 2012 continues to demonstrate Microsoft’s thought leadership for supporting mission-critical applications and transforming raw data into usable information that provides greater productivity for developers and end users.