SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services is one of the best late Christmas gifts you'll ever receive. Reporting Services—an add-on for SQL Server 2000 that delivers report authoring, management, and delivery capabilities—fills the one big hole that still exists in SQL Server: the inability to generate reports for the database. Best of all, it's free for all existing SQL Server 2000 license holders.

By including OLAP and data-mining capabilities, SQL Server 2000 extends the boundaries of traditional relational database products. But even so, after you install SQL Server and want to demonstrate its abilities by running reports on its sample databases, you must use a separate reporting tool to surface information the databases contain. Some organizations use Microsoft Access or third-party tools such as Crystal Decisions' Crystal Reports to generate these reports, and others use Microsoft's Visual Studio reporting components to build the reports. That's the old story. Now, straight out of the box, the new Reporting Services lets you create reports based on relational data from SQL Server and other OLE DB-compliant databases and even lets you generate reports from OLAP cubes.

Reporting Services goes far beyond the simple report designer you get with Access, for example, to address the three Ds of reporting: design, deployment, and delivery. For report design, Reporting Services provides a graphical report builder that's integrated with a graphical query builder. Under the covers, the graphical report builder generates an XML-based Report Design Language (RDL) document that defines the report.

For deployment, Reporting Services provides a Web-based Report Manager that uploads reports to the server. After deploying the report definitions, Report Manager stores them in a SQL Server database. Report Manager can also deliver reports, letting you govern who can execute them, what formats to generate them in, and what subscription models (push or pull) to use. (For an in-depth look at Reporting Services, see "Reporting Services: It's De-lightful," December 2003).

For licensing purposes, Microsoft considers Reporting Services a SQL Server 2000 component. You can install it on an existing SQL Server 2000 system without incurring additional licensing costs. But if you want to install Reporting Services as a standalone reporting server on a system other than your existing SQL Server installation, you need to obtain another SQL Server license—just as if you were installing another instance of SQL Server. If you have an Enterprise or Open license agreement for SQL Server, Microsoft will send Reporting Services to you on a CD-ROM. If you bought SQL Server off the shelf, you can call Microsoft or go to http://www.microsoft.com/sql and fill out a form to get the CD.

I'm amazed at how many SQL Server professionals either haven't heard about SQL Server's Web releases or haven't taken advantage of them. Of course, Web downloads for XML for SQL Server (SQLXML) or Notification Services address very specialized needs. But I can't think of a single SQL Server installation that doesn't generate reports from the database. Reporting Services is one offer you just can't refuse.