Microsoft beefs up SQL Server database

Microsoft beefs up SQL Server database

Microsoft has shared details about the business intelligence features it is adding to the forthcoming SQL Server 2005 database, code-named Yukon. New data integration, analysis and reporting tools are intended to help companies glean information from transactional systems without requiring third-party analytics software.

The goal is to deliver business intelligence to the masses, company executives said. Microsoft wants to overcome the perception that business intelligence tools are costly and difficult to use, senior product manager for SQL Server, Alex Payne, said.

The new version of SQL Server with the analytic features is due in the second half of the year and will be sold in four editions: express, workgroup, standard and enterprise. It's the first big overhaul of the SQL Server database in five years. It includes a broad range of performance, management and development enhancements, along with the analytic improvements, and will be priced up to 25 per cent higher than SQL Server 2000.

"It's a big, big, big release," lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft, Chris Alliegro, said. "Microsoft has been working on it for quite a long time." The express and workgroup editions will offer limited reporting tools, but the bulk of business intelligence features are reserved for the standard and enterprise editions. These include an online analytic processing engine and an integrated development environment for building data integration, online analytical processing, data mining and reporting applications.

One key feature, available only in the enterprise edition, is an ad hoc query and reporting tool called Report Builder that uses technology Microsoft gained in its 2004 purchase of Active Views. It allows end users to modify or build new reports without having to know standard query languages.

"We've taken away the need to understand the details of the database," general manager of Microsoft's SQL Server business intelligence unit, Bill Baker, said.

While the data integration, analysis and reporting components are bundled into SQL Server 2005, analysts caution that taking advantage of the features may require companies to run more than one instance of SQL Server.

"A large IT shop isn't going to burden an operational database by trying to run, say, the reporting services on that database. It would require a separate server," Alliegro said.

Microsoft has been adding analytic capabilities to SQL Server since the late 1990s, but SQL Server 2005 represents its most concerted effort to incorporate enterprise-class business intelligence features, he said.

"With the previous iterations, Microsoft might have had a hard time making a case against a big power player like Informatica in enterprise-class data integration," Alliegro said. "But Microsoft has steadily and incrementally improved the features in these products. It's now at a very attractive price point, and from a features standpoint, it's starting to become fairly competitive with the bigger power players in the market."

Microsoft isn't alone in looking to capitalise on demand for analytics software. Over the past few years, application vendors have incorporated business intelligence features into their suites. Likewise, database vendors including IBM and Oracle have been bundling in more business intelligence capabilities.

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