In my August 2007 editorial “Too Soon for SQL Server 2008?” (InstantDoc ID 96028), I claimed that many businesses running SQL Server as their database platform wouldn’t be ready to migrate to SQL Server 2008. I still think that Microsoft’s SQL Server release schedule isn’t giving its customers time to catch up, but I have to admit that I haven’t found anything negative about the upcoming release. In fact, SQL Server 2008 is the destination that previous SQL Server versions have been working toward.

At the 2007 Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) conference, I spoke with Francois Ajenstat, the director of product management for SQL Server at Microsoft, about the release of SQL Server 2008. Francois explained that Microsoft’s vision for SQL Server 2008 is bigger than just a relational database system. Instead, Microsoft sees SQL Server 2008 as an enterprise data platform. Although the relational database engine is still at the heart of SQL Server 2008, the breadth of services that SQL Server 2008 provides goes well beyond simple relational database storage. Continuing in the direction set by SQL Server 7.0, SQL Server 2008 provides an end-to-end information platform.

SQL Server 7.0’s inclusion of OLAP Services and business intelligence (BI) technologies marked the beginning of the transformation of SQL Server from a standard relational database server to a data platform. SQL Server 2000 added enhanced scalability and data-mining capabilities. And SQL Server 2005 extended SQL Server’s value with the inclusion of SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS).

SQL Server 2008 builds on this base and finally makes the vision of SQL Server as a data platform a reality. The four pillars of functionality that Microsoft sees for SQL Server 2008 are mission-critical platform, dynamic development, beyond relational data, and pervasive business insight. As a missioncritical data platform, SQL Server 2008 is enhanced with built-in transparent database encryption as well as policy-based management via the new Declarative Management Framework (DMF). In the area of dynamic development, Microsoft has added the new Language-Integrated Query (LINQ) extensions to the .NET Framework—revolutionizing database application development. New date, file stream, and geospatial data types extend SQL Server’s data storage capabilities beyond traditional relational data. And SQL Server 2008’s SSRS scalability, report design enhancements, and Microsoft Office integration help deliver information to users—fulfilling Microsoft’s goal of providing pervasive business insight.

Being a data platform sets SQL Server 2008 apart from the competing database products and further establishes the new version as the innovative leader in a highly competitive enterprise database market. And unlike the competing enterprise database platforms, Microsoft will continue to bundle BI capabilities into its SQL Server releases with no additional licensing costs.

SQL Server 2008 serves both business needs and infrastructure needs. Not only are custom business applications and Web sites built to access SQL Server databases but an ever-growing number of Microsoft and third-party products are built on top of SQL Server as well. It seems to me that the only problem with SQL Server 2008 would be migrating to it and not taking advantage of its increased capabilities—that is, of course, if you’re even ready to migrate to it.