At Tech Ed in June, Microsoft Senior Vice President Paul Flessner announced that the Yukon release of SQL Server—first expected late this year, then bumped to the first half of 2004—wouldn't be ready until the second half of next year. Microsoft product delays aren't noteworthy themselves; can you even remember a Microsoft product release that came out on time? But the company rarely announces a significant delay for a release that's still more than a year away.

From the customer perspective, the delay is a good thing. It signals that Microsoft is taking time to deliver a quality product, and it gives many IT shops some breathing room between versions. For example, of the 767 people who responded to an online SQL Server Magazine Instant Poll in August, 33 percent are running SQL Server 7.0 in concert with SQL Server 2000, and 7 percent are still running only SQL Server 7.0. Of the 56 percent who said their organizations are running only SQL Server 2000, many are likely just now reaching the sweet spot of the product's life cycle. With the initial implementation and migration tasks behind them, they're just beginning to take full advantage of SQL Server 2000's enhanced functionality.

Although the Yukon delay is good news for many customers, Microsoft faces some significant financial and market issues in putting off this release. SQL Server is Microsoft's third largest server product, accounting for $1.2 billion in revenue in 2002, according to Gartner, as existing customers upgraded and new customers bought into SQL Server 2000's advanced functionality. Pushing back Yukon will certainly cost the company money, pushing out upgrade revenue and possibly freezing the market for new SQL Server sales as some potential customers wait for the latest release. In addition, Microsoft hasn't introduced a new SQL Server version in more than 2 years. Since SQL Server 2000, IBM and Oracle have both rolled out important releases in the enterprise database market. We're also seeing movement at the low end of the database space, with a new release of the open-source mySQL database along with a set of mySQL management components that bear a striking resemblance to SQL Server Enterprise Manager.

Fortunately, Microsoft is well covered in the area where product delays could hurt the most: business intelligence (BI). BI is one of the fastest growing areas in the database market, and 3 to 4 years is a long time to go without major improvements. But Microsoft's bundling of OLAP Services with SQL Server 7.0 and Analysis Services with SQL Server 2000 have positioned SQL Server as the clear market leader in the BI space. And even with their new releases, IBM and Oracle have a way to go to catch up to SQL Server's BI capabilities.

Although delaying Yukon has financial implications and leaves SQL Server behind in the release race, I applaud Microsoft for taking its time. The bulk of the SQL Server community isn't ready for another release of SQL Server just yet, and SQL Server 2000 has plenty of life left in it. More importantly, the worst thing Redmond could do is release a product that isn't ready for prime time. SQL Server has always been Microsoft's highest-quality product, and maintaining that standard is crucial.