The SQL Server Magazine Editors’ Best awards honor the outstanding products and services that our editors and contributors have seen over the past year. Every year we research, review, and talk to vendors and readers about dozens of new products, and determining the best of all of them isn’t easy.

After narrowing down all the possibilities to the top contenders in 12 categories, we polled our fellow editors and contributors and asked them to judge each product on three criteria. First, what is the product’s strategic importance to the market? Second, does it offer superlative performance and technical innovation? And finally, does it provide an impressive price-performance ratio that makes it a compelling value? After weeks of debating, arguing, and cajoling, we came up with our list of winners, and we’re proud to unveil our Editors’ Best awards for 2008.

These products can help you create, manage, deploy, optimize, recover, and otherwise squeeze the most out of your SQL Server environment. They’re easily the best products that we’ve yet seen in the SQL Server ecosystem.

We also know that you, the readers of SQL Server Magazine, have your own opinions about which products are praiseworthy and which ones you wouldn’t recommend even to your back-stabbing rival in the next cubicle. That’s why we’ve created a special category in the SQL Server Magazine online forums (www.sqlmag.com) for our Editors’ Best awards, and we invite you to join in the discussion and share your opinions about the best (and worst) SQL Server products you’ve seen and used. Feel free to let us know if you disagree with our choices!

Product of the Year

Quad-Core Intel Xeon Processor 5400 Series

Intel • www.intel.com

Few products have the ability to turn an industry on its ear, but that’s exactly what Intel has done with the Quad-Core Xeon Processor 5400 Series. Massive database servers and the sprawling data-driven applications that depend on them can bring puny single- and dual-core processors to their wobbly, silicon knees. AMD, Intel’s primary rival, put forth a competing solution that suffered from production delays and setbacks, leaving Intel as the clear market leader in this burgeoning high-end segment of the CPU market. The benchmark-crushing performance that Intel’s Quad-Core CPUs provide can result in huge cost savings for DBAs tasked with squeezing maximum performance out of enormous (and enormously complex) databases.

Shannon Poulin, director of the Server Platforms Marketing Group at Intel, says that his company worked closely with the SQL Server software community to ensure that Intel’s architecture worked with parallelized applications such as SQL Server 2005 and that reduced power consumption and increased performance will continue hand-in-hand. “We’ve delivered an increasing amount of performance in the same energy consumption envelope,” says Poulin.

SQL Server Magazine Technical Director Michael Otey agrees, pointing out that Intel’s Quad-Core processors allow certain applications to take advantage of that extra processing power. “Enterprise-level database servers such as Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2008 can take full advantage of all CPUs that are present, as can virtualization software,” says Otey. “Because these types of applications are designed for multiprocessor support, they can initiate separate threads on the individual processors of multicore systems.”

The rapid growth of virtualization technology and the imminent arrival of SQL Server 2008 might be garnering lots of attention these days, but you can count on this: Most of those impressive new software applications will be powered by more than a few burly Intel Quad-Core processors.

—Jeff James

See associated figure

Breakthrough Product

Microsoft Visual Studio 2008

Microsoft
www.microsoft.com

Although lots of media attention has been focused on the release of Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008, Microsoft Visual Studio (VS) 2008 had the distinction of hitting the market first. The latest version of Microsoft’s ubiquitous IDE offers dozens of improvements and features for programmers, including .NET Framework improvements, support for updated versions of C# and Visual Basic, and an updated version of Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC 9.0).

For the SQL Server community, the most significant new feature in VS 2008 is its support for Language Integrated Query (LINQ), a Microsoft .NET Framework component that introduces data querying to .NET languages. It’s big news for database developers, and many think it could change the way SQL Server databases are developed.

According to Gert Drapers, group engineering manager on the VS 2008 team, feedback from SQL Server developers has been positive. “LINQ and the entity data model are popular,” says Drapers. “There’s now less distance between the application and data tiers, which helps in overall application development.”

“LINQ is quite possibly the biggest paradigm change for database developers since the advent of ODBC,” says Michael Otey. “LINQ eliminates the languagedatabase disconnect and enables objectoriented database access through SQL-like extensions to VB or C#. Considering that LINQ is still in its early stages, it might be a while before you have to start worrying about converting your applications to use LINQ, but there’s little doubt that LINQ and DLinq represent the future of database development.”

—Jeff James

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Special Achievement

Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2007

Microsoft
www.microsoft.com

With Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2007, SQL Server data protection takes a great leap forward. Because DPM 2007 is integrated with SQL Server, DBAs can use a native Microsoft product to perform database backup and restore and protect a range of server systems under a common framework. Administrators no longer need to turn to one solution for long-term archiving, another for rapid recovery, and a third for offsite backup and restore.

Ted Kummert, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Data Storage and Protection Platform Division, notes that Microsoft “added enterprise-class capabilities such as recovery from disk and archive to tape. With DPM 2007 we also went one step further to design the protection from the inside out, so it would appeal to administrators of specific workloads.”

In “How DPM 2007 Fits into Your Data Protection Landscape” (www.sqlmag.com, InstantDoc ID 97347), Brian Moran notes that “Historically, most enterprise and midmarket customers have had to rely on several third-party offerings to manage their SQL Server backup infrastructure. \[B\]ackup hasn’t really been seen as the cool and sexy part of database management…. Don’t tell my wife, but DPM 2007 seems pretty hot to me.”

—Sheila Molnar

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Security, Auditing, and Compliance Winners

Gold:

SecureSphere Database Security Gateway Imperva • www.imperva.com

Why it won: SecureSphere Database Security Gateway gives you complete visibility and control over your database applications by providing automated database activity monitoring, auditing, and compliance capabilities.

Over the past few years, attacks on information systems have shifted from broad attacks on entire IT systems to more targeted attacks on business-critical data. Consequently, you need to know at all times who is accessing your organization’s data and how it’s being used. This year’s security, auditing, and compliance Editors’ Best award winner, Imperva’s SecureSphere Database Security Gateway, addresses database security threats by providing visibility and control over all businesscritical data in your organization.

According to Mark Kraynak, senior director of marketing at Imperva, “Database Security Gateway includes the visibility for database activity and application activity and can match those things up. So we can say, for a given transaction, this is the user, this is what they did in the application (asked for a change to data), and this is the change that got made.”

SecureSphere Database Security Gateway monitors database activity and uses Imperva’s Dynamic Profiling technology to automatically create user profiles and security policies according to user behavior. Integrated auditing and reporting capabilities also make it easy to prove compliance with government regulations. “It’s got a lot of nice automated features, it was very easy to get up and running, and it’s very simple to maintain,” said Kevin Alwood, a systems manager at Intuition Systems.

—Megan Bearly

See associated figure

Silver:

SQLsecure
Idera • www.idera.com

Why it won: SQLsecure provides a complete view of the security of your SQL Server instances and lets you easily analyze user and group permissions and create custom policies to monitor compliance with security standards.

Bronze:

ApexSQL Log
ApexSQL • www.apexsql.com

Why it won: In addition to letting you easily audit SQL Server database and transaction log files for changes, ApexSQL Log can recover lost and modified data.

Backup and Recover Winners

Gold:

SQL Backup
Red Gate Software
www.redgate.com

Why it won: SQL Backup delivers market-leading compression, encryption, and monitoring of SQL Server backups, making them fast, simple, and secure.

SQL Backup 5 continues to give DBAs a robust backup tool, with wizards that make the GUI easy to use. Administrators can use Timeline Monitoring from the GUI to visualize and change the properties of activities. According to Colin Millerchip, Red Gate Software’s head of product management, “SQL Backup 5 is a result of Red Gate’s attention to our customers’ needs. Discussions with DBAs revealed the need for a view of backup activity across the entire enterprise; this resulted in the Timeline Monitoring capability which was part of our V5 release.”

One feature that John Daniels, DBA for RBC Ministries, likes about version 5 is “the ability to upgrade all of my servers from my workstation. The process has been flawless.”

Alan Greenstein, CIO of Hoss Equipment Company, appreciates the fact that his team can “take snapshots throughout the day in about half the time of a Microsoft native backup, while reducing the impact on our users.” He notes that “our development staff have benefited by being able to quickly restore a database from production into a test environment. It is now possible for us to transmit one of our larger database backups to an offsite facility every night.”

—Sheila Moln

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Silver:

SQLsafe
Idera • www.idera.com

Why it won: The latest version of Idera’s SQLsafe provides a classic UI and high-speed backups that can be as much as 50 percent faster than native backups.

Bronze:

LiteSpeed for SQL Server
Quest Software • www.quest.com

Why it won: Quest Software’s LiteSpeed for SQL Server helps companies reduce reliance on tape and provides fast backups with a small, low-impact footprint.

Business Intelligence and Reporting Winners

Gold:

Crystal Reports 2008
Business Objects • http://www.businessobjects.com

Why it won: The industry leader has come through again with a comprehensive package that extends the ease of use of its enterprise-class, cross-platform reporting solution to end users.

Crystal Reports 2008 moves the dial forward for enterprise reporting software with a significantly improved end-user experience that includes new visualizations, what-if scenario modeling, and on-report interactive parameters. The 2008 version also makes it easier for developers to create applications that meld reports to business practices and helps designers create reports that can be reused for various audiences.

“I believe that Crystal Reports 2008 will change the way organizations use reporting,” said Peter Callaghan, chief sales officer at Maximizer. “Now that Flash can be embedded within a report, the report itself is transformed into a more sophisticated collaboration tool, and this new interactivity has thousands of innovative potential uses. With Flash integration, the only limit for our use of Crystal Reports 2008 is our imagination.”

Rob Hershfield, president of United Data Strategies, agrees. “Crystal Reports 2008 has leapfrogged everything else on the market. My future as a reporting consultant has never been better, because now I can do so much more with the product.”

—Sheila Molnar

See associated figure

 

Silver:

Tableau
Tableau Software • www.tableausoftware.com

Why it won: Tableau 3.0’s ease of use lets users of varying technical abilities analyze and monitor data simply by dragging and dropping fields to create dashboards.

Bronze:

Stimulsoft Reports.Net 2008.1
Stimulsoft • www.stimulsoft.com

Why it won: Stimulsoft Reports.Net 2008 is a high-end tool for developers who need to generate reports in Microsoft .NET. The 2008.1 version includes new Gantt and scatter charts, enhances report exporting, and adds functionality to the report engine.

Database Management Winners

Gold:

SQL mobile manager
Idera • www.idera.com

Why it won: SQL mobile manager’s use of mobile management technology offers the potential for nimble troubleshooting and improved response time, helping DBAs reduce database downtime and ensure that small events don’t escalate into large ones.

The simple phrase “SQL Server database management” actually reflects all the hours of a DBA’s life that are spent doing change and configuration management, auditing, performance monitoring, backup and recovery, problem resolution, administration, and capacity planning. The big management suites help you manage everything from a central location, but Idera’s SQL mobile manager helps you manage no matter where you are. By harnessing mobile technology to offer DBAs flexibility and convenience, SQL mobile manage claims our Editors’ Best award in database management.

As the use of mobile devices to manage IT systems evolves, the resulting efficiency improvements could actually result in less time spent managing SQL Server. Certainly, mobile management helps you react quickly when performance plummets or other problems arise.

Development manager David Bentz confirmed the product’s flexibility. “With the instant alerts, monitoring, diagnostic details, and management features that SQL mobile manager provides, we can diagnose and correct SQL Server problems before users even notice. We really like being able to monitor our servers from anywhere 24 × 7.”

—Caroline Marwitz

See associated figure

Silver:

Change Director for SQL Server
Quest Software • www.quest.com

Why it won: Change Director for SQL Server’s Change Tracker and Log Reader components are particularly well conceived. Change Tracker offers real-time alerts about database changes, and Log Reader provides an easy-to-use way to roll back unwanted changes.

Bronze:

SQL Sentry Event Manager
SQL Sentry • www.sqlsentry.net

Why it won: SQL Sentry Event Manager lets DBAs see, understand, and manage SQL Server efficiently. Its unique crosssystem job scheduling and monitoring capabilities make it a stand-out in the market.

Database Monitoring and Performance Winners

Gold:

SQL diagnostic manager
Idera • www.idera.com

Why it won: SQL diagnostic manager lets you easily monitor and manage the health, performance, and availability of your SQL Server instances.

When a SQL Server instance goes down or performs poorly, it can have a devastating impact on your IT infrastructure. You need to be able to easily monitor a server’s performance, health, and availability at all “SQLdm 5.0 includes everything you need to detect and diagnose most performance problems affecting your SQL Server instances.” The product’s easy-touse UI lets you monitor multiple SQL Server instances from one console and analyze performance trends through predefined reports. SQLdm is agentless and includes customizable alerts and notifications, as well as a centralized data repository.

“It’s very easy to use. It gives you all the information you want without having to load agents everywhere,” says SQL Server DBA Patrick Sheehan. “It’s a very small footprint on my SQL Server systems.”

—Megan Bearly

See associated figure

Silver:

Spotlight on SQL Server Enterprise
Quest Software • www.quest.com

Why it won: Spotlight on SQL Server Enterprise not only offers real-time performance metrics that let you easily find and diagnose performance problems—it also lets you automate problem resolution.

Bronze:

Embarcadero Performance Center
Embarcadero • www.embarcadero.com

Why it won: With Embarcadero Performance Center, you can monitor your databases from any computer that has Internet access, and its customizable alert thresholds and historical reporting help keep your SQL Server instances running at maximum performance.

Development Platform Winners

Gold:

XMLSpy 2008
Altova • www.altova.com

Why it won: XML has become a core infrastructure technology for many companies and products. Altova XMLSpy is the leading XML development platform and earns the gold in our development platform category.

Some SQL Server developers work with XML frequently, particularly if they must integrate SQL Server with Web services. Altova XMLSpy 2008 has emerged as one of the preeminent XML development platforms and offers the editing and development features XML-savvy SQL Server developers need to be able to power through their tasks. “XML has become a core infrastructure technology for many companies and products, and Altova XML-Spy is the leading XML development platform,” says Michael Otey. “Many \[SQL Server developers\] use XMLSpy for developing XML documents and style sheets, as well as creating and debugging Web services.”

XMLSpy 2008 includes all the basic editing, debugging, and profiling features that developers need in an XML editor, as well as tight integration with Visual Studio 2008. When database integration is required, XMLSpy doesn’t disappoint. It offers support for the most popular relational databases in their native languages, easily imports and exports data, and can use existing database structures to quickly create XML schemas. All these features combine to make XMLSpy 2008 a must-buy for SQL Server developers using XML.

—Jeff James

See associated figure

Silver:

InstallShield 2008 Premier
Acresso Software • www.acresso.com

Why it won: All but the simplest applications need an installation routine, and most software vendors choose InstallShield as their tool. The new release supports the latest Microsoft technologies, including .NET 3.0, Windows Installer 3.0, SQL Server 2005, and Windows Vista.

Bronze:

JBuilder 2008 Enterprise
CodeGear • www.codegear.com

Why it won: Recently acquired by Embarcadero, JBuilder 2008 Enterprise offers all the capabilities you’ve come to expect from Microsoft Visual Studio—except it’s for Java. If you need a Java development platform, JBuilder is hard to beat.

Development Tools Winners

Gold:

NetAdvantage for .NET
Infragistics
www.infragistics.com

Why it won: NetAdvantage is more than just a collection of controls; it provides a framework in which all the included components share similar object models and a common architecture.

Building a .NET application can be time-consuming, particularly if you’re starting from scratch. Predefined tools and controls can streamline the development process, but dealing with dozens of different tools from a plethora of disparate vendors adds another order of complexity to your development efforts.

That’s where Infragistics’ NetAdvantage for .NET comes in handy. Although it offers several controls for developers to use, it also provides a consistent, intuitive way to use them. “Net- Advantage goes beyond a collection of controls,” says Michael Otey. “It also provides a framework where all the components share similar objects and models and a common architecture. All these features combine to make these tools easy to learn and use.”

Other program features that contribute to the usefulness of that framework include an export function (for PDF, .xls, and XML Paper Specification—XPS—formats), a client- side object model, and Microsoft Share- Point Portal Server support. Infragistics has also developed the Akido Framework, a collection of lightweight Asynchronous JavaScript and XML controls that integrate with the existing NetAdvantage control set.

—Jeff James

See associated figure

Silver:

ComponentOne Studio Enterprise
ComponentSource
www.componentone.com

Why it won: For those who need to develop .NET apps in a hurry, ComponentOne Studio Enterprise is a good place to start. If you can’t find the component you need in this product bundle, you probably didn’t need it in the first place.

Bronze:

Dundas Chart for .NET
Dundas Data Visualization
www.dundas.com

Why it won: Dundas Chart for .NET is not only one of the easiest to use .NET charting solutions on the market, but also one of the fastest. Combine that with a competitive price and stellar product support, and you have a winner.

Hardware Winners

Gold:

HP ProLiant DL580 G5
HP • www.hp.com

Why it won: HP’s ProLiant servers have always been performance workhorses, but the HP Proliant DL580 G5’s Quad-Core Xeon processor is an evolutionary step forward, with particular enticements for SQL Server admins.

Intel’s Quad-Core processor family has shaken up SQL Server’s performance potential, as evidenced by the chip’s Product of the Year designation. The most impressive implementation of the chip that we’ve seen is HP’s heavyweight ProLiant DL580 G5 server, an energy-efficient powerhouse that’s ideal for running data-intensive business applications, such as databases and business intelligence (BI) applications. In OLTP testing, the DL580 G5 delivers the world’s fastest industry- standard server performance, with a record-breaking TPC-C benchmark. The DL580 G5 also boasts double the memory capacity of its predecessor.

Of further interest to SQL Server admins is HP’s partnership with Microsoft to define a SQL Server 2008 data-warehouse reference platform based on the ProLiant DL580 G5 and HP StorageWorks 50 Modular Smart Arrays. This platform promises to help you mitigate risk and deploy your SQL Server 2008 data-warehousing solution with confidence and predictable results.

“Using Intel Xeon Quad-Core processors, HP ProLiant servers are delivering unprecedented performance and energy efficiency,” says Tom Kilroy, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group. “The new four-socket Quad-Core Xeon processor systems will provide 16 cores that let HP provide customers with superior levels of scalability and virtualization performance and improve their ability to run mission-critical applications.”

Michael Otey has tested HP ProLiant servers in our lab and has found their performance and reliability to be exceptional. “HP’s Integrated Lights-Out 2 technology makes remote management easy,” Otey said. “Plus, the HP DL580 G5’s new Quad-Core Xeon processor pushes four-way performance higher than ever, making this system very well suited to demanding workloads such as virtualization and application and database serving.”

—Jason Bovberg

See associated figure

Silver:

Dell/Microsoft Business Intelligence
Data Warehouse
www.dell.com, www.microsoft.com

Why it won: This is a marriage made in heaven for SQL Server administrators: Dell rolled out a line of servers preconfigured with SQL Server, easing installation woes and providing top-notch performance.

Bronze:

Dell PowerVault MD3000i
www.dell.com

Why it won: The MD3000i iSCSI SAN array gives you deployment flexibility and simple sharing across multiple servers. Busy database admins will appreciate the product’s userfriendly UI, helpful wizards, and easy operation.

Storage Winners

Gold:

RamSan-500
Texas Memory Systems • www.texmemsys.com

Why it won: The RamSan-500 makes the jump into SSD technology, providing the most storage capacity for the best price. The latest advancement in storage technology, solid state disk (SSD), provides numerous advantages over older storage options. Because no disk rotation is involved, data access is faster than with DAS, NAS, or SANs—SSD access times range from 10 to 15 microseconds, which is 250 times as fast as hard disk drives. SSDs also use less power than other storage options, and the lack of moving parts also increased reliability. The RamSan-500 provides all these advantages and is one of the best SSDs on the market today.

The RamSan-500 provides up to 2TB of storage, with as many as 100,000 I/O operations per second (IOPS) sustained random reads, 10,000 IOPS sustained random writes, and 2GBps of sustained random read/write bandwidth. Texas Memory Systems notes that “compared to a similar capacity high-end hard disk–based RAID system, the RamSan-500 can deliver in excess of 16 times the performance while using 50 percent less power.” In addition, the RamSan-500 is priced lower than competing products, so you get all these bells and whistles for a price similar to enterprise RAID storage. Michael Otey says that he prefers the RamSan-500 to a similar product from BiTMICRO “because of the RamSan’s price and capacity.”

—Lavon Peters

See associated figure

Silver:

PS5000E
Dell • www.equallogic.com

Why it won: The PS5000E provides cost-effective capacity, large scalability, and optimal performance for common business applications.

Bronze:

E-Disk Altima ATA-133
BiTMICRO Networks • www.bitmicro.com

Why it won: The E-Disk Altima ATA-133 offers huge storage capacities in a standard disk drive form factor.