If you're like many small business owners, the news that Microsoft is weeks away from the release of a new version of SQL Server 2008 could seem utterly irrelevant to your interests. But it isn't. Microsoft has added important new features in this version that will help you delve more deeply into your business data, extract the most useful nuggets of information, and present them in a compelling way.
Best of all: If you're savvy enough to build a pivot table in Excel, you'll be able to use these features without the help of professional IT types.
The name of the product is a mouthful: Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2. But it represents a significant upgrade from the earlier versions of the software. Microsoft sent SQL Server to factories that will burn it onto DVDs this week, which means the program is finished and will be available next month.
Not only does R2 give more power to the small business, it gives more power to the software developers who write applications designed to be used by the small business, says Microsoft's Herain Oberio, a group product manager for R2. One example: A feature called streaminsight, which allows developers to build applications which can handle streaming event data from sources such as RFID, sensors and web logs.
As you probably know, SQL server is at bottom a business database. The newest release makes few significant changes to that underlying database engine, but it contains a number of important new services and features on top of it, says Oberio.
One such feature, Powerpivot, is a tool that allows users to extract data from multiple sources, not just a SQL database, and drop it into Excel 2010 for analysis. For example, Atom feeds, a syndication standard similar to RSS but focused on data rather than text, can be streamed into SQL Server, combined with an existing application to build a mashup, which can then be shared using Sharepoint 2010. A business needing to track data from government sites would probably find this useful.
Data in SQL Server can be presented using a reporting tool that lets users build complex charts and other visualization devices that more sophisticated than those available in Excel. Components of a report can be saved, shared and used again, when the data is updated.
SQL Server 2008 R2 will be available as part of Microsoft's Small Business Server package. That version has the same features as the standard edition, but is limited to 75 users. SQL Server Express, a functional, but limited version of the software, is available now for download on the Microsoft Web site, and is free.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He welcomes your comments and suggestions. Reach him at email@example.com.