Product Review: SQL Server 7.0 well suited for Windows

With all the hype surrounding the debut of SQL Server 7.0, this is one database that ought to stand out. Fortunately, this is an impressive, must-have upgrade for current SQL Server customers. IT sites seeking a Windows-based database solution will also find SQL Server 7.0 an intriguing possibility.

The production version of SQL Server 7.0 is solid and quite refined compared to my previous evaluations of the earlier Beta 2 and Beta 3 versions. Microsoft has provided additional functionality in this production release, such as enhanced replication and data transfer options, which I found worked quite well.

As a database solution, SQL Server 7.0 boasts impressive features that administrators and users both will appreciate. For example, built-in online analytical processing (OLAP) Services (formerly code-named Plato) are unique to SQL Server and provide an easy-to-use mechanism for those who need to analyse multidimensional data. Customers purchasing data solutions from Microsoft rivals, such as IBM and Oracle, will need to purchase database and OLAP products separately.

However, IT sites that need a database solution capable of crossing platform boundaries should consider rival products. For example, offerings from Sybase, Informix, Oracle, and IBM span a multitude of platforms, including Linux and AS/400, and SQL Server 7.0 remains focused as a Windows-based database solution.

Microsoft has done a good job of addressing ease of use in SQL Server 7.0. New and experienced administrators alike will find the database management tools simple to navigate and understand.

In particular, I liked the Enterprise Manager, which now is a plug-in to Microsoft's Management Console, as is the OLAP Services Manager. Tools in the Enterprise Manager, such as the Data Transformation Services Designer are highly graphical and well documented.

The built-in OLAP Services have also been updated since the Beta 3 version of SQL Server. For example, the production version adds the capability to write data back to a cube, supports virtual dimensions, and automatically determines if execution should occur on the client or the server.

SQL Server query processor performance proved peppy during my tests, and I was able to connect with a variety of data stores via both ODBC and OLE DB. The database also contains a built-in full-text search engine.

As you might expect, Microsoft has integrated SQL Server 7.0 and its other product offerings. For example, I was able to use the tools in Visual Studio 6.0 with SQL Server 7.0 and the integration was seamless. The forthcoming Office 2000 is also expected to offer integration with SQL Server 7.0.

As a Windows-based database solution, SQL Server 7.0 is an impressive choice. Current customers will definitely want to upgrade, and Windows shops that need a solid database choice will also want to investigate SQL Server 7.0.

Senior Analyst Maggie Biggs (maggie_biggs@infoworld.com) evaluates database and application development technologies at the test centre of InfoWorld, a sister publication to ComputerWorld.

The bottom line: very good

Microsoft SQL Server 7.0

Current SQL Server customers and those at Windows-based sites that need a powerful, yet easy-to-use database solution will find this major update to Microsoft's database quite impressive.

Pros: Simplified administration; built-in features support data warehousing; new replication and data transfer utilities; enhanced versions of the Data Transformation Services Designer and Query Analyzer; built-in OLAP services.

Cons: Limited platform support; requires Internet Explorer 4.01 with Service Pack 1.

Microsoft: www.microsoft.com/sql.

Platforms: Windows NT 4.0, Service Pack 4 and later; Windows NT 4.0 Workstation; Windows 9x.

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