Delve into SQL Server's new features

Until now, I've avoided writing about Y2K for many reasons. But now that it's over and we've all survived, we need to get back to business as usual. Most businesses that I've worked with in 1999 have endured a self-imposed technology freeze for technological and political reasons. By the third quarter of 1999, or sooner in some cases, companies stopped new project launches and stopped adopting new technology. With the Y2K threat looming over their heads, few IT managers were willing to approve new projects that could have drained resources. But now it's time to jump into new technology with both feet—including the new features introduced in SQL Server 7.0 that you might have delayed adopting.

OLAP Services is at the top of my list of new technologies to adopt in 2000. Getting started with the data-warehousing applications that OLAP Services enable requires clearing a big learning hurdle. However, the payoff is that OLAP data analysis can give deeper meaning to the data that you already have. This enhanced meaning can translate into making better decisions with the data, and isn't that capability what the IT department is all about? To learn more about OLAP, you can review several white papers on Microsoft's Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/ SQL/index.htm#W. The de facto guide to data warehousing is Ralph Kimball's The Data Warehouse Toolkit: Practical Techniques for Building Dimensional Data Warehouses (John Wiley & Sons, 1996). In addition, check out The OLAP Report at http://www.olapreport.com. Although this is a subscription site, it contains plenty of free OLAP information, too. And, of course, SQL Server Magazine will continue to provide data-warehousing and OLAP coverage through the year (see the data-warehousing articles starting on page 25).

In addition to OLAP, learning about English Query (see Ken Miller, "The Amazing English Query Tool," April 1999) is a worthy pursuit for 2000. Like OLAP Services, English Query is underused and takes some setup work to make it useful. But after you implement it, English Query can provide a surprisingly user-friendly method of accessing SQL Server data. Eventually, some third-party vendor will likely combine English Query with some type of voice-recognition software.

Finally, you need to carve out some time in 2000 for Extensible Markup Language (XML—see Stephen Wynkoop, Industry Defrag, "Here Comes XML," January 2000), which is emerging as the new business-to-business communications standard. XML promises to fulfill the goals that EDI has aimed for during the past decade. Whether XML will succeed is still in doubt, but Microsoft has bitten off a big chunk of XML, and the technology will be a significant part of the company's new product releases, including SQL Server 2000.