If you want a quick way to get hands-on experience with some of SQL Server 2005's most important features, check out Microsoft's Virtual Labs for SQL Server 2005 at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/traincert/virtuallab/sql2005.mspx. These are virtual machines (VMs) you connect to for free from the Web, with no complex setup or other infrastructure required, and they take little time to complete.You need Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0 or higher, and you must have JavaScript enabled. When you first connect to the virtual labs, you're asked to provide a Windows Live ID to access Microsoft Passport Network.When you start the lab, a virtual lab console starts in the browser and a link lets you download the lab manual in PDF format. Most labs are designed to be completed in 90 minutes.You can access 17 virtual labs for SQL Server 2005; I found the following five the most interesting.

5. SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services

This lab steps you through using the Report Wizard to create a list-style report. You also learn how to use the Report Manager to manage and secure reports.

4. SQL Service 2005 Report Builder

Building on the foundation of the Reporting Services lab, the Report Builder lab shows you how to use the Model Designer to generate a report model. You also work with the report model item properties, learning how they influence end-user reporting capabilities.

3. SQL Server 2005 T-SQL Enhancements

As you'd expect, in this virtual lab you can find a collection of new T-SQL functions and capabilities.You can learn how to use the new PIVOT and UNPIVOT statement and how to use common table expressions (CTEs) to create recursive queries. In addition, you can see how the new Data Definition-Language (DDL) trigger and the new T-SQL Try-Catch exception handling work.

2. SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services

In this virtual lab, you see how to use the Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS) to create an Analysis Services cube along with its dimensions and hierarchies. You also step through how to create calculated members and use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

1. SQL Server 2005 Integration Services

SQL Server 2005 Integration Services (SSIS) is one of the biggest areas of change in SQL Server 2005 and learning how to use it can be one of the bigger hurdles in migrating. This virtual lab shows you how to use BIDS to create a new SSIS package.You also learn how to log the execution of your SSIS package's progress to a text file in the Windows Event Log, as well as how to monitor the progress of a SSIS package.