SQL Server 7.0 well suited for Windows

With all the hype surrounding the debut of SQL Server 7.0, this is one database that ought to stand out.Fortunately, this is an impressive, must-have upgrade for current SQL Server customers. IT sites seeking a Windows-based database solution will also find SQL Server 7.0 an intriguing possibility.

The production version of SQL Server 7.0 is solid and quite refined compared to my previous evaluations of the earlier Beta 2 and Beta 3 versions. Microsoft has provided additional functionality in this production release, such as enhanced replication and data transfer options, which I found worked quite well.

Impressive features

As a database solution, SQL Server 7.0 boasts impressive features that administrators and users will both appreciate. For example, built-in online analytical processing (OLAP) Services (formerly code-named Plato) are unique to SQL Server and provide an easy-to-use mechanism for those who need to analyse multidimensional data. Customers purchasing data solutions from Microsoft rivals, such as IBM and Oracle, will need to purchase database and OLAP products separately.

However, IT sites that need a database solution capable of crossing platform boundaries should consider rival products. For example, offerings from Sybase, Informix, Oracle, and IBM span a multitude of platforms, including Linux and AS/400, and SQL Server 7.0 remains focused as a Windows-based database solution.

Microsoft has done a good job of addressing ease of use in SQL Server 7.0. New and experienced administrators alike will find the database management tools simple to navigate and understand.

In particular, I liked the Enterprise Manager, which is now a plug-in to Microsoft's Management Console, as is the OLAP Services Manager. Tools in the Enterprise Manager, such as the Data Transformation Services Designer, are highly graphical and well documented.

The built-in OLAP Services have also been updated since the Beta 3 version of SQL Server. For example, the production version adds the capability to write data back to a cube, supports virtual dimensions, and automatically determines if execution should occur on the client or the server.

SQL Server query processor performance proved peppy during my tests, and I was able to connect with a variety of data stores via both ODBC and OLE DB. The database also contains a built-in full-text search engine.

Ancillary tools

Microsoft has supplied some ancillary tools that will prove useful to administrators. Among these are SQL Profiler and the Query Analyzer, which enable collection and analysis of database and query activity. These tools are on par with those in other competing products.

Those using the built-in OLAP Services will also find some useful tools, such as Usage Analysis and Usage-based Optimization. Usage Analysis logs client OLAP session information, such as response time; Usage-based Optimization creates aggregations based on actual system usage. Again, these tools are on par with those of rival OLAP products.

HTML-based documentation

SQL Server 7.0 has detailed HTML-based documentation and the product comes with examples and tutorial materials to get less experienced database and OLAP administrators quickly on their way. Many tasks are also wizard-based, which also proves useful for those new to SQL Server.

I successfully migrated some test SQL Server 6.0 and SQL Server 6.5 data and objects over to SQL Server 7.0 using the included Upgrade Wizard. Customers using these prior versions should not have any trouble upgrading. However, customers who are using versions prior to 6.0 will need to upgrade to a 6.x version first before moving on to version 7.0.

As you might expect, Microsoft has integ-rated SQL Server 7.0 and its other product offerings. For example, I was able to use the tools in Visual Studio 6.0 with SQL Server 7.0 and the integration was seamless. The forthcoming Office 2000 is also expected to offer integration with SQL Server 7.0.

As a Windows-based database solution, SQL Server 7.0 is an impressive choice. Current customers will definitely want to upgrade, and Windows shops that need a solid database choice will also want to investigate SQL Server 7.0.

The Bottom Line

Microsoft SQL Server 7.0

Current SQL Server customers and those at Windows-based sites that need a powerful, yet easy-to-use database solution will find this major update to Microsoft's database quite impressive.

Pros: Simplified administration; built-in features support data warehousing; new replication and data transfer utilities; enhanced versions of the Data Transformation Services Designer and Query Analyzer; built-in OLAP services.

Cons: Limited platform support; requires Internet Explorer 4.01 with Service Pack 1.

Platforms: Windows NT 4.0, Service Pack 4 and later; Windows NT 4.0 Workstation; Windows 9x.

Price: Standard Edition: five-user system $2319; 25-user system $6639; Enterprise Edition: 25-user system $13,269; 250-user system $48,069MicrosoftTel (02) 9870