Now that SQL Server 2005 has an official release date (November 7), it's time to start learning about the new editions and key features of SQL Server 2005—and to evaluate how you can apply these features to your business environment. Though it's not reasonable for most customers to plan for a November deployment, most SQL Server 2000 customers will upgrade to 2005 eventually, and knowing what 2005 offers puts you in the driver's seat.

First, SQL Server 2005 is packaged differently than any previous SQL Server releases. SQL Server 2005 comes in four basic flavors: Express, Workgroup Edition, Standard Edition, and Enterprise Edition. At the low end, Express is essentially a replacement for MSDE and remains a free download. Workgroup is an all-new release that includes just the relational database engine (no Analysis Services); for small and medium businesses. Standard Edition contains both the relational engine and the business-intelligence (BI) suite. Enterprise Edition extends Standard Edition by adding very large database (VLDB) and high-availability features such as partitioning and online operations.

By now everyone's heard about SQL Server 2005's CLR integration that lets you use .NET languages such as VB.NET and C# to create stored procedures, functions, triggers, and user-defined types and aggregates. While that's a significant feature, more significant are the new subsystems that SQL Server 2005 offers. SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), which replaces Data Transformation Services (DTS), takes performance and scalability to the enterprise level. The Service Broker and Notification Services provide application-building frameworks. Reporting Services and its end-user–oriented Report Builder tool enable out-of-the-box reporting for SQL Server. Reporting Services comes with all editions of SQL Server 2005; Report Builder is part of the Workgroup, Standard, and Enterprise editions.

So, should you look into an immediate upgrade to SQL Server 2005? Yes, if you have capability or scalability problems. SQL Server 2005's 64-bit capability addresses this in spades. Using the x64 edition of SQL Server 2005 along with the x64 edition of Windows Server can give you much more RAM capability, raising the system capacity to 16TB on most x64 systems—and the price is essentially the same as a 32-bit system. I've used the 64-bit editions of SQL Server 2005 with new 4-way Opteron systems, and I found the performance to be incredible. Another ASAP upgrade is for DTS customers. SSIS shows an immediate payback in performance and capabilities, with some tasks improving in performance 700 percent. Finally, if you're using log shipping for availability, you may find that database mirroring, with its automatic failover capability, makes a compelling case for a quick upgrade.

One step that every SQL Server shop should take is to download the SQL Server 2005 September Customer Technology Preview (CTP). The September CTP is feature-complete and will give you hands-on experience with SQL Server 2005. Even if you're a SQL Server 2000 expert, you'll find the CTP experience valuable because the new SQL Server Management Studio provides an entirely different management interface (which Kalen Delaney and Ron Talmage describe in their August 2005 article, "SQL Server 2005 Management Tools," InstantDoc ID 46798). You can download the September CTP at http://www.microsoft.com/sql/2005/productinfo/ctp.mspx.