Maturity of best practices is one of the benefits of using a product like SQL Server 2000 that's been out for more than 5 years. Sure, we're all anxious to have some fun learning the ins and outs of SQL Server 2005, but let's be honest, there's something nice to be said about having 5 years of best practices to rely on when you're batting around various architectural and development approaches for a new project. I remember the early days of SQL Server 2000, when I was enamored of UDFs and was one of the architects responsible for using them aggressively in a new project my company was working on. Imagine my chagrin a few months later when I was also one of the first people in the industry to begin uncovering the insidious performance problems that UDFs can lead to. I don't want to scare anyone away from reaping the benefits of early adoption of SQL Server 2005. The benefits can be significant if you can really leverage some of the coolest new features. But realistically, even the best of us will make a few false starts in the early days because we don't yet have a large body of SQL Server 2005 best practices.

However, Microsoft is doing a credible job (MUCH better than at SQL Server 2000's release) of getting a ton of valuable information into the market in advance of the SQL Server 2005 release to manufacturing (RTM). I've written about many of those resources, and this week, I want to point out a resource that many customers don't seem to know about. It's called Project REAL. The Microsoft Web site describes the project as follows:

"Project REAL is a cooperative effort between Microsoft and a number of technology partners in the business intelligence (BI) industry to build on actual customer scenarios to discover best practices for creating BI applications based on SQL Server 2005. The term REAL in Project REAL is an acronym for Reference implementation, End-to-end, At scale, and Lots of users."

Project REAL, which provides a complete end-to-end look at building a BI solution that uses the newest SQL Server 2005 features is a joint effort of several Microsoft partners who worked to create a real-life BI solutions for their customer, Barnes and Noble. Historically, most sample solutions on which Microsoft bases SQL Server demos and early white papers are created for fictitious customers. Project REAL is a great change of pace. The data and documentation released on the Project REAL www site has been cleaned to protect Barnes and Noble's trade secrets, but Project REAL is a real BI solution that Barnes and Noble is going live with. This is more than a first stab at evangelizing SQL Server 2005 features; it establishes a set of genuine best practices that the project team gleaned from a long development and architectural planning process. Microsoft strove to make the Barnes and Noble project a huge success.

Project REAL documentation doesn't spend much time on the mistakes that its architects made at various stages, but it would be naive to think that mistakes weren't made. After all, you can't have best practices without knowing what doesn't work. But the Project REAL solution does give you a glimpse into many of the best practices that came from this joint development effort from some of the top people in the SQL Server community. Somebody always needs to make the first mistakes, and it's nice when it doesn't have to be you. Thinking about rolling out a SQL Server 2005 based BI solution? Spend a few hours exploring Project REAL at http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=13CDE:7B3DA . Learning and applying just one best practice is well worth the investment of your time and energy.