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Microsoft adds own SQL Server reporting tool

Microsoft Corp. recently roiled the already competitive waters of the enterprise database marketplace by announcing the availability of Reporting Services features to its popular SQL Server 2000. Microsoft Senior Vice President Paul Flessner positioned the new capability, designed to provide real-time information "from any data source to any device," as another element in a long-established strategy of making SQL Server comprehensive.

Tom Rizzo, Microsoft SQL Server product manager, said the decision to add Reporting Services to the SQL family came directly from customer demand -- "maybe not power users, but regular people within the corporation" who needed more and better access to data, he said. As reported in eADT (Feb. 2, 2004), Microsoft Corp. has also pledged to continue bundling the Crystal Decisions reporting toolset from Business Objects in both the current version of Visual Studio .NET and the next release, code-named "Whidbey."

Rizzo said the product has had a sound run through the beta testing process. The first round of beta testing began in the spring of 2003, with the second round in October, he noted. "In beta 2 alone we had 30,000 registered customers," Rizzo said. Numbered among the beta testers were some large companies, including Cold Water Creek, Premier Card Services and Menlo Worldwide Logistics, he added.

Rizzo said he has been pleased with the response to the product's formal announcement. "In the first week we had 7,500 people download the evaluation copy," he said.

According to Forrester Research analyst Philip Russom, the product has the potential to reshape the market for reporting, just as SQL Server's Analysis Services has for online analytic processing (OLAP) and Data Transformation Services (DTS) has for extraction, transformation and load (ETL). Russom said the Microsoft announcement has generated some confusion, particularly with regard to what Reporting Services actual does. "My take is that it provides a server-based infrastructure for enterprise reporting as opposed to simple desktop tools," he said.

Russom added that the product provides, in effect, a repository where all the reports can reside. "That way no one can argue about whose copy is most important or up-to-date," he said.

"This can automate report distribution through both push and pull mechanisms," he explained. And, he noted, it can deliver reports in formats ranging from HTML, PDF and TIFF, to Excel spreadsheets, comma delimited and XML. Russom said its actual report writing capability is relatively rudimentary; instead, the product focuses on report management and distribution.

Vendors with similar reporting services products include Crystal Decisions (now owned by Business Objects) and Actuate. But the licensing structure can make Microsoft's Reporting Services compelling; it is free if you have a SQL Server 2000 license, and you do not need to pay for an additional SQL Server license as long as the Reporting Services is co-located on the same server. However, as Russom points out, larger organizations will probably need to have a dedicated server to make the most of Reporting Services.

Russom said the fact that the product has limited service in the field, so far, should raise some caution flags. But, he added, since it is built on top of SQL Server it may have the potential to be both very scalable and cost effective.

About the Author

Alan R. Earls is a technology and business writer based near Boston.

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