Sometimes it's hard to grok exactly how big SQL Server has become. It's easy to think back to the days of SQL Server 6.5 or even SQL Server 7.0, when SQL Server was primarily a relational database and you really could be an expert in all the different aspects of the product. Today, SQL Server 2012 is undoubtedly the largest release of SQL Server that Microsoft has ever produced—and those days of being an expert in all things SQL Server are definitely behind us. Furthermore, many customers don't even implement parts of the SQL Server 2012 release.

The relational database engine remains the heart of SQL Server and is certainly the reason most SQL Server instances are installed. SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), and SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) are also in widespread use. However, that's not all there is to the SQL Server 2012 release. SQL Server 2012 also includes two lesser-known and lesser-used subsystems: Master Data Services and Data Quality Services.

Master Data Services

Master Data Services was first released as part of SQL Server 2008 R2 and is continued in SQL Server 2012. It's supported only in the 64-bit SQL Server 2012 Enterprise and Business Intelligence editions. It isn't part of the Standard edition. Master Data Services  solves a problem that a lot of large organizations, and especially enterprises, tend to have. Large organizations and enterprises seldom grow organically from a single entity. Instead, they're typically built from the acquisition of many companies and organizations where each of these companies has its own existing IT services and reporting infrastructure. Sometimes these different businesses can be switched over to the IT infrastructure of the parent company, and sometimes they can't. When they can't, that's where Master Data Services comes in. Master Data Services is designed to be the global and definitive data source for all of your disparate data sources, where it can be used for central reporting and data warehousing. Essentially, Master Data Services provides your multi-faceted business with a single version of the truth. Microsoft likes to call Master Data Services a central data hub for making authoritative data available to applications. Master Data Services eliminates the problems of inconsistent data reporting and analysis and helps organization use that data to make better business decisions. You can find additional descriptions and some short videos online at Microsoft's Master Data Services in SQL Server 2012 web resources.

Data Quality Services

Data Quality Services is a new addition to the SQL Server 2012 lineup. Data Quality Services is also a part of the Enterprise and Business Intelligence editions, and it works in conjunction with the Master Data Services subsystem. Data Quality Services is a natural extension to Master Data Services because it lets you transform the raw data from your disparate data sources into the forms required by your Master Data Services implementations. As its name implies, Data Quality Services is designed to improve the quality of your data; it's essentially a data cleaning service.

Data Quality Services is a knowledge-driven solution that analyzes data based on a knowledge base that you build for your own organization. Data Quality Services can identify potential problem data and provide you with an assessment of the likelihood that the data is incorrect. Using the information from its knowledge base, Data Quality Services lets you resolve data quality issues before the data is presented to Master Data Services. Some of the data problems Data Quality Services can address include incompleteness, non-conformity, inconsistency, inaccuracy, invalidity, and data duplication. The Data Quality Services cleansing component is run from an SSIS package. You can learn more about Data Quality Services from Microsoft's Books Online section titled "Introducing Data Quality Services."

Understandably, Master Data Services and Data Quality Services aren't for everyone—and that's part of why they're offered only in the SQL Server 2012 Enterprise and Business Intelligence editions. However, if you're a business that needs to integrate data from several sources for centralized reporting, you might find that you have the perfect tools for the job right under your nose.