Last month, to kick off the holiday season giving spirit, Microsoft gave us the Community Technology Preview (CTP) for SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 2 (SP2). I highlighted all the improvements and new business intelligence (BI) features in my commentary "One-year Anniversary for SQL Server 2005: CTP for SP2". But now Microsoft has continued to give by releasing CTP1 of Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server 2007. For more information about the CTP, read the official press release at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2006/dec06/12-05BIAdvancesPR.mspx and a featured Q&A with Bill Baker, General Manager and Distinguished Engineer of the Office Business Applications team, at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2006/dec06/12-05performancepoint.mspx.

Back in March, long before it was named, I told you about PerformancePoint Server with great vagueness--perhaps because it was still under NDA? --in my commentary, "Microsoft Business Intelligence". Naturally, there's still some confusion about what the product is exactly and how it relates to SQL Server. The best way to describe PerformancePoint Server from an architectural standpoint is to think of SQL Server and all its components as a database server platform. On top of that platform and the Microsoft IIS Web server platform, Microsoft has a collaboration platform: Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server and the server-side components of the 2007 Microsoft Office System (e.g., Excel Services).

Using these platforms--database, Web, Office, and collaboration--Microsoft is building applications for specific business functions. The company started with BI and built Office Business Scorecard Accelerator and its follow-up, Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005. Microsoft then saw a need for a planning, budgeting, forecasting, and financial consolidation application, so it started work on the product it has codenamed BizSharp. During that time, Bill Baker moved to the Office Business Applications team, where he made a decision to build or buy the applications the company needed to fill the gaps in its offerings in the Advanced Analytics application space. Microsoft decided to buy, and acquired ProClarity earlier this year.

All three applications--scorecarding, financial planning and consolidation, and advanced analytics--overlap a great deal in business functionality and are all built on the database, Web, Office and collaboration platforms. PerformancePoint Server is the result of merging these products into a consolidated, multi-function business application server.

PerformancePoint Server CTP1 offers a sneak peek at the next release of Business Scorecard Manager as well as a first look at BizSharp. And Microsoft plans to keep on giving well after the holiday season--in early 2007, we should see CTP2, which will incorporate ProClarity, then we can expect a few more CTPs before product release in mid-2007. If you want to start working with PerformancePoint Server 2007 CTP1, you can download it at http://connect.microsoft.com/site/sitehome.aspx?siteid=181 . (Be sure to read the directions carefully to download the CTP correctly.)