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Microsoft Serves Up SQL 2008

Microsoft today announced it's releasing to manufacturing SQL Server 2008, its enterprise database and business intelligence platform.

Originally planned for earlier this year to coincide with Windows Server 2008, SQL Server was delayed to insure the code was solid.

The release comes three years after SQL Server 2005, which is better than the five-year gap between it and SQL Server 2000. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) got an earful from customers and promised greater expedience with the release cycles.

"Customers clearly told us [the gap between SQL Server 2000 and SQL Server 2005] was too long," said Ted Kummert, corporate vice president of Microsoft's data platform and storage division. "We heard this and committed from there forward to a 24- to 36-month release cycle and said that that the next release of SQL Server would be available 24 to 36 months from the release of 2005."

Throughout that time, Microsoft offered a community technology preview (CTP), the fancy word for a beta, for customers to download and test. As new features were added, the CTP was updated. This helped not only gather feedback but seed the market so applications are ready on launch day.

Microsoft said that more than 75 large-scale applications are already in production, and more than 1,350 applications are being developed by nearly 1,000 independent software vendors (ISVs) on SQL Server 2008. "Our overall objective was to get a lot of customer feedback and get a lot of apps into production," Kummert said.

Microsoft highlighted a number of big changes: a streamlined upgrade path, integration with services by Oracle and SAP, improved Office 2007 performance, transparent data encryption and a system resource governor.

SQL Server is available in seven different editions, from the free Express version that runs on a desktop computer to the Enterprise edition for mission-critical computing. Pricing remains the same for 2008 editions as it was for the 2005 editions.

One of those editions is new. SQL Server 2008 Web is an Internet-designed database meant specifically for highly available Web applications or hosting environments, according to Microsoft. Hosting partners wanted better features, scalability and pricing for a Web version of SQL, so Microsoft created this version to fit these needs.

Existing customers of SQL Server 2005 will find the pricing most agreeable: free, if they have a Software Assurance support license (and who doesn't?). It is available for a free download from Microsoft's TechNet site. An evaluation copy is planned for release on Thursday.

Chris Aliegro, lead analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said this release of SQL Server isn't quite as monumental a jump as the prior release, but remains important, as SQL Server has become a big business at the company.

"This has clearly become a rock star product for Microsoft," he told "It's gone from being interesting to strategic and a billion dollar-plus product, and it's used so widely by other products at Microsoft."

The Web version of the product seems like something aimed at MySQL, which is very popular with Web developers. Aliegro would not say yes or no on that, but added he wouldn't be surprised if that was where Microsoft was aiming.

"Clearly there's a great market opportunity for them to do something like that," he said. "SQL Server has been historically used behind the corporate firewall, not to support Web sites," Aliegro explained. "If there's an opportunity for them to move a product into a lucrative market, they are going to do it, and database-backing Web sites is an opportunity for them."

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