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Future SQL Server to add policy management

Microsoft said its plans for the next generation of SQL Server, code-named Katmai, will include rules-based policy management.

There won't be any sweeping architectural changes or big promises for the next generation of SQL Server. Instead the company will stick to the basics in hopes that IT shops will recognize its value in helping to control the mounds of data in corporate data warehouses today.

At the Microsoft Business Intelligence Conference 2007 in Seattle on Wednesday, executives sketched out plans for a new version of SQL Server, code-named Katmai, which is expected to ship sometime in 2008. Exactly when will depend on feedback the company receives from its Community Technology Previews (CTPs), said Francois Ajenstat, director of product management at Microsoft.

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Either way, 2008 will fit into the 24-to-36-month release schedule that the company has promised its customers. It was five years between the release of SQL Server 2000 and SQL Server 2005, and executives said that future releases will not take so long. Ajenstat said the first CTP will come within 30 days, and features will be added as the CTP progresses.

For IT shops, perhaps the most important thing is that this new release uses a policy-based framework. That means administrators can define a common set of policies for database operations -- such as Query Optimizations, Naming Conventions and Backup and Restore operations -- versus managing by scripts. "These policies can be monitored, enforced, and have alerts," Ajenstat said.

The company is also touting improvements to performance by adding a resource governor that lets a database administrator optimize system performance. For example, if there are multiple applications running, the resource governor can determine what resources to apply for a particular instance.

New feature lets users store and manage unstructured data easier

There will be added support for geographical content, such as maps. There is also the addition of a feature code-named Filestream, which lets users store unstructured data -- like documents and images -- so the data can be managed easier.

Microsoft had taken its licks with previous versions of SQL Server, but this time doesn't look like the company bit off too much such that it would be set up for failure again, said Chris Allegro, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm. "Here I see a focus on basic blocking and tackling," he said. "With SQL Server 2005 they stuck their hands in the engine and said let's mess it around. [Katmai] is focused on operational concerns."

Katmai also introduces a concept called the entity framework, which lets administrators access the system at an entity level rather than at a physical level. For example, a user might query a customer and a product rather than having to query physical storage. Today, a user would have to know where the data is stored and how to query it, Ajenstat said.

Deeper hooks into Microsoft Office and SharePoint

And Katmai will have deeper hooks into Microsoft Office and SharePoint, offering some improvements to helping build reports in Microsoft Word, SharePoint and Excel. Scalability of the various services, such as reporting and analysis, will be improved within the business intelligence (BI) structure.

Some IT shops are already taking advantage of SQL Server's existing BI capabilities and using SharePoint as the main workflow platform. "Having better BI links is critical to managing our business. We still have to move data, but integrated tools make it easier," said Jim Hill, the data warehouse manager at 1-800 Contacts Inc., a Salt Lake City-based contact lens distributor.

Today the company uses SharePoint in all areas where employees collect data, such as in its call centers, Hill said. The information collected helps the company determine customer buying patterns, where they are in the buying cycle and other information that helps the company -- and its employees -- make better decisions in daily tasks, he said.

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