SQL Server 2008: Some CTP 2 Ins and Outs

Tweaks to Microsoft's forthcoming SQL Server 2008 database went down to the wire. However, anticipated improvements, such as the way some polices are set up and managed, did not make it into the just-released second community technology preview (CTP).

For instance, enhancements to query and writeback for performance and analysis services didn't make it into the CTP, which was released by Microsoft earlier this week. Integration of geospatial mapping data -- something that was sought-after but not promised -- will arrive further down the CTP release cycle.

Microsoft indicated two weeks ago that it was on pace to meet its month-end deadline of releasing the second CTP. At the time, Microsoft officials had anticipated adding improvements to the policy management feature, which is called the declarative management framework. However, the company wanted to fine-tune the coding, and ultimately determined that it would make sense to hold it for the next slated CTP in September, said Francois Ajenstat, director of product management for Microsoft's SQL Server.

"It works right now, we're just going to be putting the polish on it," Ajenstat said. "We're making sure it's usable, that the features are discoverable, and that the end-users are using it as intended. That's what's planned for the next CTP."

Microsoft is promising to release new CTPs every 60 days. But Ajenstat cautioned that while all feedback is monitored, it takes time to make certain repairs and testers might not see certain fixes for several CTP cycles.

The latest CTP's new features include charting capabilities for the reporting services component of the database, based on technology Microsoft acquired from Toronto-based Dundas Data Visualization Inc. Microsoft announced the acquisition of Dundas Chart for Reporting Services, Dundas Gauge for Reporting Services and Dundas Calendar for Reporting Services from the company in concert with the first CTP release of SQL Server 2008 at TechEd 2007 in Orlando in early June.

By acquiring that intellectual property from Dundas, Microsoft will be able to offer the charting capabilities natively within Reporting Services, a key feature Microsoft is touting for SQL Server 2008. Testers will be able to start experimenting with advanced report layouts, Ajenstat said.

Another improvement in CTP 2 is based around high availability through database mirroring, including automatic page repair and log stream compression.

With automatic page repair, software is designed to constantly monitor the consistency of both the primary and mirrored database.

"If something gets corrupt for whatever reason -- hardware issues, software issues, disk issues -- the principal will send to the mirror a new copy for that page so you are always in the high-availability environment," Ajenstat said.

With log stream compression, as the term implies, the log streams are compressed through those mirrors to conserve bandwidth for more mission-critical data.

In addition, the new CTP features Extended Events or "X Events." This monitoring capability not only tracks SQL Server but also has access to the operating system and can report events within that same environment, allowing a DBA to check an OS log file, for example, to determine whether a problem resulted from the system.

"You had to do a lot of manual work to go and compare and contrast those environments," Ajenstat said. "Now with Extended Events, we basically will capture the whole environment within that event [structure], so we know in one place the system state and everything that was happening with the operating system. It's better debugging and you have better insight as to what really happened at that point in time."

The CTP also adds date-time support, a feature Microsoft has talked up for a while. It essentially enables companies that operate in multiple locations to more easily correlate and work with data in multiple time zones. According to Ajenstat, this will appeal to database developers where synchronizing time and dates are critical for transaction and database integrity. It will also take into account factors such as daylight and standard savings times.

The first CTP was "a good down payment," according to Kent Tegels, database curriculum lead at Los Angeles-based DevelopMento. Tegels, whose company provides database development training, is a Microsoft MVP and is participating in the CTP program.

Tegels had hoped to see Microsoft include the planned new support for geospatial data in the second CTP, but that likely won't happen for a couple of more releases, according Ajenstat.

The geospatial effort is focused around three areas. The first is data types -- one focused on geometry and geodata, which respectively work on the premise that the world is flat as opposed to round.

"There are different applications for both," Ajenstat says. "One is being able to store natively as that data type and being able to query it natively."

The second area of focus around support for geospatial data concerns indexing. Microsoft is working to ensure users can query geospatial data at high levels of performance.

The third area involves integration with Microsoft's Virtual Earth, which provides visual representations of the world. Microsoft will at some point provide a software development kit that integrates with Virtual Earth, according to Ajenstat.

"Any developer that wants to build location-aware applications has to be able to store the data natively in SQL Server but visualize it natively," he says. "With Virtual Earth, if you think of a scenario where you want to look at sales analysis across the U.S. or across a particular zip code, you could easily do that -- pull the query from the database, and it links to Virtual Earth."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of and news editor of Visual Studio Magazine.