Microsoft released the first Community Technology Preview (CTP) of SQL Server 2008, code-named Katmai, at TechEd last week. Yes, yes, I know. Some of you actually have real jobs with real servers and might want to continue reading about SQL Server 2005, SQL Server 2000, and perhaps even SQL Server 7.0 from time to time. But talking head pundits like me just love to discuss the latest and greatest tools coming down the pike, so bear with me. I promise to stay relevant by talking about existing technology, but it's fun to dream about what we’ll have within the next 18 months or so, isn't it?

SQL Server 2008 is a major release and it's impossible for me to cover or discuss everything in a single week's editorial. This week, I simply want to have a high-level conversation about the CTP program in general. We'll dive into a review of features and other SQL Server 2008 topics at a later time. Of course, SQL Server 2008 provides plenty of opportunities for further conversation in the coming months, and there's no lack of current reading material if you want to dig deeper into SQL Server 2008 right now. SQL Server 2008 CTP Books Online is a great option, and I'm sure there's plenty of interesting information to peruse among the more than 885,000 Google references to “SQL Server 2008” that were available when I was writing this article.

You can download the first SQL Server 2008 CTP from the SQL Server Connect Web site at https://connect.microsoft.com/SQLServer/content/content.aspx?ContentID=5395. Don't fret if you miss the first CTP. Microsoft told me that it plans to release a new SQL Server 2008 CTP every two months until the final product ships "sometime in 2008." Speaking of timeframes, I had a long conversation with various Microsoft people at TechEd about the multiple-year delay in getting SQL Server 2005 out the door. The company assures me that this won't happen with SQL Server 2008. Microsoft wouldn’t commit to a date more specific than 2008, but the company did assure me it's talking about calendar year 2008 rather than its 2008 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2008, through June 31, 2009.

Microsoft also shared several new engineering changes that will affect the coding and development of SQL Server at a very high level. One topic we discussed was new engineering and code-management techniques that will let Microsoft work on new features that could potentially take more than two years to build without affecting it’s commitment to ship a new version of SQL Server roughly every two years moving forward. These techniques, among other things, give me confidence that SQL Server 2008 will, in fact, ship in its namesake year. As software vendors like to say, "shipping is a feature." Let's hope that Microsoft realizes that shipping SQL Server 2008 in 2008 is one of the most important features that users need.

Getting back to the CTP features, Microsoft informed me that this CTP cycle will be a bit different than other CTP cycles because the features introduced in a SQL Server 2008 CTP will be fully implemented. In the past, Microsoft would sometimes implement only part of a feature, leaving users to wonder if the way the feature worked in the CTP was by design and finished, a bug, or just not quite done. Making these determinations was especially fun if the feature didn't quite work the way it was described in Books Online. I hope that the new doctrine of all or nothing at the feature level will make working with CTP's more pleasant. I think it's a great change on Microsoft's part.

For more information about SQL Server 2008, go to http://www.microsoft.com/sql/prodinfo/futureversion/default.mspx. I also encourage you to peruse the many interesting SQL Server 2008 Web casts from TechEd 2007 that are available at http://www.microsoft.com/events/series/teched07.aspx?tab=webcasts&id=19743. In particular, you'll find that David Campbell’s SQL Server keynote provides a great roadmap and high-level feature discussion for SQL Server 2008. Enjoy.