Shrink-wrapped ETL is on SQL codejockeys’ short list

What do IT organizations have on tap business intelligence-wise in 2006? A whole lot of SQL Server 2005, for starters: With so much pent-up demand, many SQL shops will make the move to Microsoft's next-gen database this year.

That much is clear. But while some SQL pros cite rising interest in performance management solutions—homegrown and otherwise—many more anticipate a slow but measurable uptake of shrink-wrapped ETL tooling, courtesy of Microsoft's SQLServer 2005 Integration Services (SSIS).

Call it a case of both technologies riding in on the coattails of Microsoft's SQL Server 2005 juggernaut. Deepak Puri, a BI professional with a prominent U.S. auto insurance company, says his employer (which is nominally a mixed DB2 and SQL Server 2000 shop) has been doing more on the SQL Server side of the aisle lately. To some degree, Puri attributes this to the attractiveness of SQL Server's all-in-one BI stack. "Our plans for SQL Server 2005 vary, [but] we're probably looking at the BI components and XML support more aggressively than the other pieces," comments Puri, who says his employer plans to roll out SQL Server 2005 IS, Analysis Services and Reporting Services next year.

Puri says he has high hopes for SSIS, which his company expects to tap for most of its data integration needs. At some point, he says, SSIS might even enable his employer to transition away from the homegrown ETL solution it's using on its mainframe back-end. "Data integration is important, and we're using SQL Server [Data Transformation Services] in the PC world but continue with home-grown COBOL on the mainframe," he says. "Hopefully, we'll be transitioning new ETL development to Integration Services."

SQL Server's revamped ETL facility should appeal to a lot of other would-be adopters, too. Take Mark Job, a SQL Server developer with Microsoft solution provider Immedient, who says his company has helped several companies deploy beta releases or technology previews of next-gen SQL Server. While there's a lot to like in SQL Server 2005—especially on the BI front—Job says the new SSIS, in particular, could amount to a killer app for that database.

"[It] creates a lot of new functionality, along with the ability to bring along old DTS packages by hosting the old run-time, giving developers more time to convert old packages," said Job. "The visual debugging environment, separation of data and control layers, and elevation to transforms of a lot of what had to be done in script before are all good for the developer, but the big customer opportunity here is scalability, which will open up [Integration Services] use to a lot more needs."

SSIS is an ideal Rx for what frustrates David Bienstock, a systems specialist with pre-fab housing outfit Fleetwood Enterprises. Bienstock says he's anxious to get his hands on SQL Server 2005. The rub, he laments, is that his company's IT department hasn't yet found a way to justify the cost, licensingwise, anyway.

"We use homegrown batch and FTP processing. We also use PDF and TIF splitting and recombining using command- line programs," he comments. At the same time, he notes, you don't get something for nothing, and SQL Server 2005 is a more expensive proposition than its predecessor. "We are looking into license costs for SQL2005, but I am not sure we can justify it," he confirms, citing similar doubts about Microsoft's next-gen Reporting Services offering.

For Bienstock and Fleetwood, then, SQLServer 2005 and the end of homegrown ETL will probably have to wait until 2007, at the earliest.