When will SQL Server 2008 ship? “When it’s ready,” which has been Microsoft’s standard answer for the release to manufacturing (RTM) date of pretty much every Microsoft product, and certainly for all its SQL Server products. By now you might have heard that the SQL Server 2008 RTM date has been delayed from second quarter 2008 to third quarter 2008. You can read the full announcement from François Ajenstat, the director of SQL Server Product Management at Microsoft, at http://blogs.technet.com/dataplatforminsider/archive/2008/01/25/microsoft-sql-server-2008-roadmap-clarification.aspx.

Many readers are probably thinking “Who cares? I probably wasn’t going to upgrade to SQL Server 2008 as soon as it ships anyway.” However, SQL Server 2008 is a major release, and there’s been commentary and speculation from many industry observers, including myself, that SQL Server's release dates could substantially impact the upgrade plans of SQL Server 2000 customers who have been contemplating upgrading to SQL Server 2005.

No one, not customers, service providers, or Microsoft, wants a version of SQL Server to be shipped that’s not fully baked. I don’t want to take Microsoft to task for making the hard, but necessary, decision to delay the product if the SQL Server engineers think that’s what’s necessary to ensure that Microsoft ships the best version of SQL Server 2008 possible. And Microsoft is still well on track to being able to release SQL Server 2008 within its original goal of 24-36 months after the release of SQL Server 2005.

But I do wonder why Microsoft set the original target RTM date for the first half of 2008 back during TechEd 2007. At the time, I was a bit surprised that Microsoft committed to a SQL Server 2008 RTM date in the first half of 2008. I know several other people at TechEd were surprised because expectations had been for later in 2008. I, as well as other people, have speculated that Microsoft's announcement might encourage many SQL Server 2000 customers to skip SQL Server 2005 altogether and leapfrog to SQL Server 2008. Last summer, a high percentage of SQL Server customers were still on SQL Server 2000, and no one likes to upgrade their enterprise databases all that often. So many people wondered if customers would delay purchasing SQL Server 2005, thus delaying SQL Server revenue for Microsoft, if they thought that SQL Server 2008 was right around the corner.

I read about the slip of SQL Server 2008’s RTM date last week, and chatted about it with several of my colleagues. For the most part, our first thoughts weren’t “wow, that’s bad” or “wow, customers will be really disappointed.” We all trust Microsoft to ship SQL Server 2008 when it’s ready. But we all did wonder out loud if Microsoft, in hindsight, wished it hadn’t encouraged its customers to expect SQL Server 2008 so early because it turned out to be one of the worst possible outcomes from a license and upgrade perspective. The slightly earlier than expected original RTM date probably did encourage some customers to wait for SQL Server 2008, and some of those customers might very well have considered upgrading to SQL Server 2005 last year if they had known for sure that SQL Server 2008 would be expected in third quarter 2008 rather than sometime in the first half of the year. And let’s not even talk about the damper this announcement could put on customers' excitement for the February 27 launch event for SQL Server 2008.

But heck, it’s a lot easier being a Monday morning quarterback than having to be the one to make the hard launch date decision in advance. I’m very glad I get to share my opinion with 20/20 hindsight rather than having to make the call up front.