This week, I want to talk about the SQL Server Front Runner program and a funny story about penguins that I heard at the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) Summit. Oddly enough, they're related.

First, the penguin story. Microsoft General Manager for the SQL Server Engine David Campbell shared the story during his keynote. According to Campbell, when Microsoft was launching SQL Server 7.0, the company sent several senior technologists to convince key customers to upgrade from SQL Server 6.5 to 7.0. During one visit, one of the engineers asked the customer, "Have you ever watched a nature program about penguins?" Apparently, when penguins return to the sea after breeding, they all congregate at the sea's edge, waiting to see who goes into the water first. No one wants to be the first one in because a sea lion might be waiting to eat them. However, the crowd of penguins gets bigger and bigger until either someone gets pushed in or some brave soul jumps in. The first one in either gets the most fish or gets eaten. The engineer told the customer, "You should be the first one in so that you can get the most fish."

Funny thing was, PASS President Kevin Kline was the customer who first heard the penguin story all those years ago. You can read his account of the story in his In a Nutshell blog at http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=171D0:285886 . (In case you're wondering, Kevin wasn't devoured by sea lions, orcas, or any other marine life during his upgrade process.) Of course, the point of the story is that someone does need to be first.

So how does this relate to the Microsoft Front Runner challenge? The SQL Server 2005 Front Runner home page ( http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=171D7:285886 ) explains that participating Microsoft Partners will get help in being among the first Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) to get their SQL Server 2005 applications to market. The site lists other benefits, including 10 hours of BetaOne Services pre-launch technical support; a VeriTest voucher to take the SQL Server 2005 Platform Test (an $800 value); and marketing offerings, including use of the Front Runner stamp, a press-release kit, and more. In addition, 200 eligible Front Runner ISVs will receive $5000 in marketing funds.

So, it would be easy to end by saying, "Who wants to be the first penguin?" But you know what? By the time the SQL Server 2005 release to manufacturing (RTM) happens, dozens of SQL Server 2005 applications will have already gone live inside and outside of Microsoft. And although it's easy to poke fun at Microsoft for pulling Database Mirroring at the last minute, that decision was a brave move that prevented you from being eaten by an orca. Upgrade to SQL Server 2005 right away? You'll hear many reasonable arguments for and against. But if you choose to upgrade soon, you won't be the first penguin. Microsoft and dozens of other customers have already scared away the orcas.