Executive Summary:

The pre-beta announcement of the business intelligence (BI) focused interim release of SQL Server, code-named Kilimanjaro, has Michael Otey concerned that Microsoft marketing might be jumping the gun and creating confusion for enterprise IT departments.


When Microsoft announced the 2010 Kilimanjaro release at its October 2008 Business Intelligence (BI) Conference, I thought, “Oh no! Not yet!” It isn’t because I have technical reservations about this BI-focused incremental release of SQL Server: I’m concerned about the marketing and the timing. 2010 is just too soon for another release of SQL Server. SQL Server 2008 was released more than halfway through 2008, and its adoption curve is still in the infancy phase.

 

A super-early announcement of a follow-on product can create confusion and even uncertainly about the current product. Should a company upgrade now to SQL Server 2008 or should it hold off for the Kilimanjaro? Such announcements also cast doubt on the product that was just released. Quick subsequent releases can make it appear that the product needs to be fixed or replaced right away. Even when that isn’t the case, it might create the appearance of a problem to businesses.

The Microsoft Major-Minor Release Cycle

While the marketing spin on the new release will be about customer choice, don’t forget that Microsoft plans for product releases on a major-minor cycle. Each server product gets a major release about every four years and then is followed by a minor R2 release about two years later. In the past, customers waited a long time (around five years) for products such as Windows XP and SQL Server 2005, so I can understand why Microsoft wants to shorten the release cycle. However, two years is too short, especially for an infrastructure product like SQL Server. The less often a company needs to mess with the core components its IT, like SQL Server, the better—to a point. Replacing your company’s database servers every two years is just too often. I think the major-minor release cycle works better for products like Windows Server than it does for products like SQL Server.

 

Kilimanjaro and Madison

 

So what exactly is Kilimanjaro? As you might expect for such an early announcement, the details about Kilimanjaro are still sketchy. Microsoft intends for the Kilimanjaro release to improve its capabilities for data warehouses of all sizes. The Kilimanjaro release will also be the foundation for Microsoft’s first data warehousing appliance, code-named Madison.

 

Kilimanjaro and Gemini: Self-Service BI

In conjunction with the Kilimanjaro release, Microsoft plans to provide a set of easy-to-use data analysis tools code-named Gemini. The Gemini tools are add-ins to Microsoft Office that will allow information workers to create their own BI applications and have better access to SQL Server BI information from Microsoft Office. Gemini will let Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel users use BI from within the Office applications they already know. Microsoft calls this “self-service BI.” For more on the Kilimanjaro, Madison, and Gemini releases, see the Microsoft press release.

 

The Evolution of SQL Server

On the one hand, it’s good to have product planning information well in advance to understand how the next generation of SQL Server is evolving. On the other hand, knowing about the future and actually being able to deploy a new SQL Server release across the enterprise every two years are very different things. In the real world, most businesses just can’t keep up with that pace.