On April 2, Microsoft released SQL Server 2012 to manufacturing. Coverage of SQL Server 2012 (previously code-named Denali) has been extensive throughout the past year. Almost everyone has heard about most of the major new features, such as the new Business Intelligence edition, SQL Server on Server Core, AlwaysOn Availability Groups, Power View, and the Data Quality Services subsystem, as well as the new development enhancements, such as the new SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) and the major T-SQL enhancements. Although everyone knows about these major new features, SQL Server 2012 includes several smaller but nevertheless important changes that you might not have heard about but should be aware of.

Licensing Changes

One of the major things that you might not know about is the licensing changes (see, Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Licensing Options). You’ve probably heard that SQL Server 2012 now includes a core licensing model for the Enterprise and Standard editions. However, you might not know that there's a four-core minimum, or that you must buy additional core licenses in packs of two. Another point about licensing that you might not realize is that when you use the core licensing model in a virtual machine (VM), each virtual CPU counts as a core, and there's still a four-core minimum. However, if you're running the Enterprise edition and you have Software Assurance (SA) and you license all the cores in the physical machine, you can run an unlimited number of SQL Server VMs.

Likewise, you’ve probably heard that SSDT has replaced Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS), but did you know that SSDT is really the result of the marriage of BIDS and the former Visual Studio Team Edition for Database Professionals (aka Data Dude)? Like BIDS, SSDT lets you work with SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) projects. Like Data Dude, SSDT enables declarative database development. SSDT also enables the creation of SQLCLR objects without the need to buy Visual Studio. In addition, it’s important to understand that you don’t get the whole SSDT feature set when you install SQL Server 2012 using the SQL Server Installation Center. After the initial installation, you get support for the former BIDS project types—but to get support for the Data Dude feature set, you must run the SQL Server stub project that in turn starts the Web Platform installer to finish the SSDT installation.

Big Data is another topic Microsoft talked a lot about during the SQL Server launch. However, you might not understand the relationship between Hadoop and SQL Server. Hadoop isn't a component of SQL Server, nor is it a replacement for SQL Server. Instead, Hadoop is an open-source, distributed processing system for unstructured data. Hadoop is used by Yahoo, Klout, and Bing, among others. Hadooop has Linux roots, but Microsoft is working on a Windows and Azure implementation of Hadoop. SQL Server connects to Hadoop to import or export data either through the bi-directional Hadoop Connector or the Microsoft Hadoop ODBC driver. Hadoop MapReduce jobs return results to SQL Server for incorporation into relational or analytic queries.

You've probably heard of the new columnstore index, a feature that’s intended for data warehousing scenarios, but you might not realize this is the same technology that was recently renamed xVelocity (just before the SQL Server launch). In addition, you might not know that xVelocity and the columnstore index use the same extreme data-compression technology (called Vertipaq) that Microsoft uses in the PowerPivot product, or that tables that have a columnstore index aren't updateable.

New LocalDB Edition

Finally, you probably already know that there's a new Business Intelligence edition, there's an Enterprise and Standard edition, and that there will continue to be three versions of the SQL Server Express edition. However, did you also know that there’s a new LocalDB edition? LocalDB is for developers. This edition uses the same sqlservr.exe program as the other versions, but it runs as a user program, not as a background service. SSDT automatically spins up instances of LocalDB during its build processes for syntax and deployment compatibility verification.

By the way, while I’m on the subject of things you might not know about, there’s a great ebook by SQL Server Pro authors Ross Mistry and Stacia Misner, called Introducing SQL Server 2012. This free ebook provides a comprehensive overview of the new features in SQL Server 2012.