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SQL Server 2005 adoption on course for most IT shops

The delays and extra testing has paid off for Microsoft, with SQL Server 2005 now getting a warm reception from IT managers.

Five years in the making, Microsoft's SQL Server 2005 is now about ready for its second service pack, with corporate adoption of the database software well under way.

It's more than a year into the life of the database platform, and one expert said he believes IT shops are moving more quickly than expected to upgrade. Normally, IT pros wait a year until the first service pack comes out for any product, but with SQL Server 2005, that wasn't necessarily the case, said Donald Feinberg, database analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

More on SQL Server 2005:
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At the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) in November, the user group released results from a survey of 267 participants. About 70% said they were running SQL Server 2005, and the remaining 30% said they plan to install SQL Server 2005 over the next 12 months.

The lack of software stability is usually one big fear that managers say they have when moving to any new platform. But new software testing techniques are helping to make platforms more stable out of the gate.

When SQL Server 2005 was released in November 2005, plenty of companies had experience with the code through the many Community Technical Preview releases. There were about 100 IT shops that had already been running the platform in production, Feinberg said. "They had needed some functionality that they didn't have in SQL Server 2005, such as [SQL Server Integration Services] or better stability," he said.

Once the first service pack for SQL Server 2005 was released, Feinberg said he started to get all sorts of inquiries from IT shops. One of the only things holding some of them back is that several applications lack third-party support for SQL Server 2005, Feinberg said. "So what is happening is that IT shops are segregating applications as much as possible, converting the ones that they can."

Regardless of how stable a platform is, IT managers still have most of the same challenges that they are faced with when attempting to make any sort of upgrade.

Reasons for postponing SQL Server deployment

At 1-800-Contacts, a new business intelligence initiative is already running on SQL Server 2005. Plans to upgrade production applications from SQL Server 2000 were reportedly curtailed only because of business timing because lots of people tend to buy contact lenses after the holidays.

The company had originally planned to make the jump to SQL Server 2005 last year but postponed it until after the "high-risk" months had passed. It said it will likely begin the migration later this year. "I'm interested to see what performance point [SQL Server 2005] -- as well as some of the new analytics -- will offer, said Jim Hill, manager of data warehouse at 1-800-Contacts in Draper, Utah.

International packaging manufacturer Greif Inc. is one of the many shops waiting for third-party support before it moves over to SQL Server 2005. But even if support were available, the company is swamped with other chores and database migration is not high on its priority list, said Jason Reese, a network administrator at Grief, which is based in Cleveland.

Although from an infrastructure standpoint, Reese said he is looking forward to using the new platform because of its promised improved memory allocation features. "It's always been the biggest problem with SQL Server for us," he said.

But there are still some things about SQL Server 2005 that may require fixing. One challenge that remains relates to the debugging process and the tools. SQL Server 2005 requires the professional version of Visual Studio versus using the old SQL Server Query Analyzer for this process.

To debug a stored procedure, a database administrator needs elevated system administrator privileges, said Thomas LaRock, a database manager for ING Investment Management in Hartford, Conn. "We haven't been able to find a workaround solution," he said.

Some IT shops going to SQL 2005 and 64-bit

General adoption of the platform is "wide but not deep," said Rick Heiges, a database consultant from Scalability Experts Inc. in Coppell, Texas. "I see people upgrading one or two servers but not really doing a lot of their old stuff."

But Heiges said he believes that adoption is increasing. It's 2007 and people recognize that they are running a 2000 product. So age is one issue. And as shops need to upgrade their server hardware, they are choosing to bump up to the new release. Many of those new releases they are choosing are also 64-bit, he said.

The next service pack, which should be out shortly, is needed for running the new Microsoft desktop products – both Office 2007 and Vista. Because few corporations have Vista rollouts in the cards just yet, installing this particular service pack for that reason is not imperative. But ING's LaRock is looking forward to this release because it has a bug fix for SQL Server Integration Services, which today requires SP1 and a hotfix.

One area Microsoft must still work on is perception. Corporate IT shops often feel that SQL Server is a lightweight compared with database products from Oracle Corp. and IBM. Heiges said he recently visited a customer that was an Oracle shop but had some SQL Server in the data center to run a few applications. "They still think it's a toy database," he said.

Gartner's Feinberg said the perception exists that Microsoft is still a desktop --not an infrastructure -- company. "That's the biggest challenge they have, and it's made more difficult by the fact that their primary channel is through distributors," said Heiges.

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