By the time this issue hits the stands, Microsoft Corporation will undoubtedly have officially released a new RDBMS, SQL Server 7.0. Although it bears the same moniker as predecessor DBMSs from Microsoft, Version 7.0 is not just a simple upgrade. It has essentially been built from the ground up based on input from dozens of vendors and the hindsight that comes with the ability to see what one's competitors have done right, wrong or indifferently. Microsoft calls it "a defining release." It's clear that Microsoft is investing a lot of its not inconsiderable eggs into the basket containing data warehousing/decision support/business intelligence et al. SQL Server is a keystone product of this effort, along with its Repository and many tools which will ship with the product. "So what's new and different?" you may well ask. I'm so glad you did ­ I'll tell you!

Chief among Version 7's design goals is ease of use. Microsoft literally transferred people out of its Office group to the SQL Server development team, hoping to ensure that the ease-of-use features that many have come to know and love in the Office environment are incorporated into SQL Server and that SQL Server can be tightly coupled to Office applications. According to one Microsoft source, "DBAs are gonna love it!"

SQL Server will be sold (via channels) at a relatively low price. Microsoft intends that typical SQL Server-based data warehouses/marts will come in at price points that lie somewhere between a desktop PC running Excel and a $100K solution. Maybe not quite for everyone, but certainly low enough to have a significant impact on the growth of the data warehouse market.

SQL Server is also a product that Microsoft thinks will have a significant impact on its ability to play in the enterprise server market where UNIX, mainframes and a few proprietary platforms (e.g., Tandem, AS/400, etc.) currently hold sway. Although Microsoft itself will focus on developing SQL Server and the Repository for the Windows NT platform, it has a deal with PLATINUM technology under which PLATINUM will adapt the Repository technology for UNIX, mainframe and any other environment that offers a market opportunity big enough to justify the effort. Is this a departure for Microsoft or what? One can only guess at the level of bloodletting that must have occurred at high levels within Microsoft where I hear that it's virtually impossible to find anyone that knows how to spell "UNIX."

The importance of the oft-cited (by the press) Microsoft Repository to the success of the company's plans in the data warehouse market cannot be understated. Microsoft claims that roughly sixty vendors have thus far agreed to support the Repository, making it, in effect, the only industry-wide de facto standard. While the notion of having yet another Microsoft-inspired standard will undoubtedly be contested by some, on this one I'm on Microsoft's side of the fence. The benefits of a universally accepted meta data repository infrastructure cannot be understated. An enterprise can allow its various departments to do their own thing with confidence that when it comes time to bring those marts or warehouses together in a distributed topology or to be fed by or even replaced by a central warehouse, topologic architectural changes can be made without dropping the ball or having to reinvent wheels.

SQL Server 7.0 has a variety of other on-board features designed to make life simple for warehouse superintendents and forklift operators alike. Included with the package is the aforementioned integrated OLAP server, services for data transformation and replication, visual design tools, tight coupling with Microsoft Office applications and support for universal data types including non-relational data ­ a veritable cornucopia of goodies.

Some years ago, I interviewed a young woman who was a top salesperson for one of the leading RDBMS vendors. I clearly recall something on her agenda that made a strong impression on me. She said, "We ought to be selling a Mart-in-a-Box for around $20K (excluding hardware) ­ basically a shrink-wrapped solution that would enable a customer get into data warehousing with a minimum of pain and expense. At that price, I could even sell them over the phone. Nobody in this company will listen to me ­ it's really frustrating." I recommend to that young woman that she immediately send her resume to Redmond where several of her soul mates currently reside.

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