Since its introduction, SQL Server has played catch-up with other enterprise-level relational database products. Oracle and IBM's databases were well established when Microsoft and Sybase collaborated on the first edition of SQL Server in 1989.

Knowing that it started the race a few steps behind, Microsoft opted to compete with the relational-database big boys by making the database easier to use and the data more accessible. Early SQL Server releases provided a Windows-based management UI. The SQL Server 6.0 and 6.5 releases included built-in database replication to simplify distribution of data through the organization.

When Microsoft released SQL Server 7.0 as an enterprise-oriented database, it was the first major vendor to offer built-in business intelligence (BI) capabilities as part of the base relational database product. Microsoft continued this trend in SQL Server 2000 by offering built-in data-mining functionality. SQL Server 2005 continues to expand the role of the relational database system by adding built-in application-development frameworks such as SQL Server Service Broker and SQL Server Reporting Services. SQL Server's relational database capabilities now rival Oracle and IBM DB2, and features such as Analysis Services, SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), and Reporting Services have no parallels in the competing database products.

Many of Microsoft's current database products are geared toward extending SQL Server beyond pure database capabilities and further improving its accessibility and manageability. Microsoft's newly released Visual Studio Team Edition for Database Professionals (Team Data) attempts to mitigate the risk involved in making and deploying database schema changes. Team Data provides centralized management for schema changes, offers tools to deploy schema changes to your databases, and generates TSQL unit tests for database schema changes. For more information about Team Data, see the product home page at http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/teamsystem/aa718807.aspx and Matt Nunn's Team Data article series at http://www.sqlmag.com, InstantDoc IDs 50303, 92843, 93209, 93533, 93728, and 94217.

In addition, Microsoft has recently released SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 2 (SP2), a sure sign that the SQL Server 2005 release has matured. SP2 delivers several important updates including data compression, security updates, Oracle support for Report Builder, integration with Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2007, support for Windows Vista, and BI integration with the 2007 Office system.

Microsoft's far-reaching plans for SQL Server further its goal of enhancing the database services and features beyond traditional relational database services. Dave Campbell, Microsoft's Technical Fellow in charge of SQL Server Strategy and Architecture, shared some of Microsoft's plans for future SQL Server editions. Dave mentioned that one of the focuses for the next SQL Server release, code-named Katmai, is to improve the database's ability to provide "end-to-end business insight, strengthening the marriage of structured and unstructured data." Moving toward this goal, Microsoft will architect SQL Server around an entity model framework that enables diverse custom views in SQL Server's data store depending on the client's requirements. SQL Server has come along way in its quest toward making data more accessible and meaningful, and the future offers even bigger changes to come.