SQL Server launch: Milestone or stepping stone?

SQL Server 2005 is ready to go, but applications that make the most of its new features may take some time to reach the market.

Today's launch of Microsoft's SQL Server 2005 is definitely a milestone, and the company is making the most of it with an all-day event in San Francisco, keynoted by CEO Steve Ballmer.

Fanfare aside, new database software isn't much good without applications to run on it. And while there are many partners working on apps and a few that were prominently featured at the launch event, for many, that may take some time.

Applications vendors "have to wait until things have stopped moving before they can do substantive work on code development and testing," said analyst Jim Shepherd, senior vice president of AMR Research Inc. in Boston.

Microsoft's Front Runner program offers technical and marketing support to independent software vendors (ISVs) working on SQL Server 2005 applications, if the vendors pledge to have products tested and built before March 31, 2006.

ISVs tend to be small software development companies with a limited number of tightly focused products. Enterprise-wide applications for SQL Server 2005 from companies, such as SAP AG, Siebel Systems Inc., and Oracle Corp., may take even longer to be fully certified on the new server.

[Applications vendors] have to wait until things have stopped moving before they can do substantive work on code development and testing.
Jim Shepherd, AMR Research Inc.,

"The ISVs don't have to certify on 2 TB databases with 2,000 concurrent users -- and SAP does. So when SAP does certification, part of the process is [reaching] that scalability, and that takes a lot of time to do," said Donald Feinberg, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn.

SAP AG has a close partnership with Microsoft -- 42% of new SAP installations run on SQL Server -- so it was no surprise that it was a featured partner in Monday's launch event.

SAP already has pilot customers running R/3, its client/server application, and its Business Information Warehouse (BW) on SQL Server 2005, but it would not specify when those offerings would be ready for general release.

Siebel, which was recently targeted for acquisition by Oracle, intends to support SQL Server 2005 with its Siebel 8.0 and Component Assembly 3.0 applications sometime in 2006.

As Microsoft goes after the larger companies in the database market, it becomes a more serious competitor for Oracle, and that may have an impact on how soon Oracle applications are ready. At Monday's launch event, Ballmer announced a 50% price discount for customers migrating from Oracle to SQL Server in the first year.

Analysts are divided

Gartner's Feinberg suggested that Oracle might not rush to provide applications compatible with SQL Server 2005. "Why would they?" Feinberg asked. "You've got competitors. Are you going to rush to recommend them? No. That's just good business."

On the other hand, Oracle has just spent a lot of money acquiring companies like Siebel and PeopleSoft that have large installed bases already running on Microsoft platforms. "There's very little doubt that Oracle will support SQL Server 2005 on those acquired products that run on Microsoft platforms now," AMR Research's Shepherd said.

For smaller applications vendors, it depends entirely on how much has changed in the new platform, Shepherd said, "and whether there are new features in the new version that the applications vendor wants to take advantage of."

Participants in Microsoft's Project REAL (Reference implementation, End-to-end, At scale, and Lots of use) have been running bookseller Barnes & Noble's data on SQL Server 2005 since at least last spring.

The software vendors involved in the program -- ProClarity Corp. and Panorama Software Ltd. -- announced Monday the general release of their SQL Server 2005-based products, ProClarity 6.1 and Panorama 5.0.

Microsoft has taken pains to make sure that applications running on SQL Server 2000 will work on the upgraded version. But those older applications won't take advantage of the many new features in the 2005 release.

For applications that make the most of SQL Server 2005, the wait may be a little longer.

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