SQL Server 2012, the latest version of Microsoft’s database platform, has been released to manufacturing. SQL Server 2012 will be generally available April 1st, but you can download the evaluation version now. SQL Server 2012 provides much anticipated new features, including the high-availability offering AlwaysOn, data visualization tool Power View, database development feature set SQL Server Data Tools, and enhanced data warehouse query processing functionality via columnstore indexes.

To learn more about SQL Server 2012’s new features, see Richard Waymire’s SQL Server Pro article " Welcome to SQL Server 2012." And don’t miss Michael Otey’s "SQL Server 2012 Editions" for an overview of what features each edition includes.

Starting April 1st, Microsoft will release several new data warehousing solutions, including updated Parallel Data Warehouse appliances and SQL Server Fast Track Data Warehouse reference architectures for SQL Server 2012. For more information about Parallel Data Warehouse, see " Connecting and Configuring SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW) Clients."

In addition, Microsoft addressed its commitment to big data by announcing that it will be offering a limited Developer Preview of the Apache Hadoop-based Services for Windows Azure by mid-2012. This enables you to store, manage, and process the large volumes of unstructured data within organizations in this "save everything" era. You can register for the free Developer Preview on the Apache Hadoop-based Services for Windows Azure website.