SQL Server 2008 is available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers and will also be available for evaluation downloads. Pricing for the database will be the same as the previous version, SQL Server 2005.
One analyst said he estimates that about 60% of SQL Server customers are currently using SQL Server 2005, an important release that took at least five years to complete. "That [release] offered more high performance, scalability and security," said Noel Yuhanna, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "We think most of the customers have moved mission-critical environments to [SQL] Server 2005."
Yuhanna said he thinks the many customers still remaining on SQL Server 2000 will gradually turn to 2005. He said he doubts they will jump over 2005 and right up to 2008. On the other hand, customers on SQL Server 2005 will likely move up to 2008 since  is more of an incremental version, Yuhanna said.
Ted Kummert, corporate vice president of the data and storage platform division at Microsoft, said Microsoft had committed to a 24- to 36-month release cycle for SQL Server because customers complained that the five-year cycle from SQL Server 2000 to SQL Server 2005 was just too long.
Some of the key features of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 are policy-based management, improved data encryption and integration with Office 2007, and support for spatial data.
Other features are the resource governor, which eases management of concurrent workloads, and better data compression, which can help cut storage requirements and boost performance. In addition, SQL Server 2008 has improvements to reporting services, a better upgrade experience and improved connectivity and performance in SQL Server Integration Services.
One place where SQL Server can still improve is in cases where customers require high levels of scalabilty. Big data centers with 100 terabytes of data represent the extreme high end, and those locations rely on databases built by Oracle Corp. or IBM, though only about 5% to 10% of the market may have needs of this level, Yuhanna said.
Oracle's database is also known for high availably with its Real Application Clusters, where if one server fails, another can assume its workload.
"It's something Microsoft doesn't have today but I believe it will be available in the coming years," Yuhanna said.