Flessner promises SQL Server improvements

Microsoft is trying to make SQL Server more user-friendly

Microsoft is working to make future versions of its flagship database, SQL Server, easier to administer, more scalable and more secure, according to outgoing development chief Paul Flessner. His comments came in a keynote speech kicking off the database's annual user conference.

At the Professional Association of SQL Server conference in Seattle, he also said that Microsoft is working to improve SQL Server in areas of continuous availability, data mining and data synchronization and its handling of multimedia data. "We need to move beyond relational and go from words and numbers to sights and sounds," said Flessner, Microsoft's senior vice president of data and storage platforms.

Flessner, who is stepping down to a part-time role Jan. 1 after leading SQL Server's development starting in 1996 with Version 7.0, said that many of those features will be included in the next release of SQL Server, code-named Katmai, which he promised will arrive by 2008. "We've learned to develop in ways that isolate dependencies earlier and get cross-functional teams together earlier in the process. We are committed to two-to-three-year development cycles," he said.

Donald Feinberg, an analyst at Gartner, said Microsoft is entering a new era in SQL Server's development.

"They've spent the last 10 years getting the functionality of the database to where they can really compete with Oracle and IBM. Now they can worry about functionality that can move them ahead," he said. Microsoft is attacking nascent areas such as the management of distributed data with more gusto than IBM or Oracle, Feinberg noted. Developing SQL Server 2005 -- a five-year effort drawn out by the company's efforts to improve the database's security after the Slammer worm hit in 2003 -- was a "lesson learned" for Microsoft, according to Flessner.

However, SQL Server 2005, released in October of last year, appears to be a financial success for Microsoft, with SQL Server-related revenue up 35 percent year over year.

Microsoft is working on a "true scale-out model" for SQL Server so users can run very large databases in heavy transaction environments that avoid the lockdowns encountered by databases such as Oracle's -- even in clustered environments, according to Flessner. Microsoft is also working on more policy-based monitoring, administration and application management for SQL Server.

"You've repeatedly told us that you don't want to have to tell servers how to do things," he said. "This is something we have to deliver to you."

Microsoft is also developing policy-based auditing, end-to-end encryption and fine-grained security, said Flessner. And over the long term, Microsoft's road map envisions cheap storage that will lead to databases being used to manage an "explosion" in rich multimedia data. Much of that data will be stored on portable devices, too, making data synchronization between data centers and devices "even more imperative."

Flessner also introduced his successor, Ted Kummert, a 17-year Microsoft veteran who now oversees development of Microsoft security products. Flessner, who had been an IT manager for 13 years before joining Microsoft, said he "handpicked" Kummert when he began thinking of leaving his current position three years ago.

Kummert emphasized that he, like Flessner, understands customer concerns. "I spent four years building out the infrastructure at MSN, so I have spent some time walking in your shoes," he said.

After the keynote, Microsoft officially released the community technical preview for Service Pack 2 of SQL Server 2005. SP2, due in the first quarter next year, works with Windows Vista and Office 2007 and features enhancements such as data compression, which Flessner said can cut the amount of disk space required by 40 percent. The company also announced a release candidate for SQL Server 2005 Compact Edition and said that Visual Studio Team Edition for Database Professionals will be released to manufacturing on Nov. 30.

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