Next SQL Server CTP Coming Soon

The next preview of SQL Server 2008, with new support for spatial data types and a new Resource Governor feature, is slated to hit in a week or two, according to Microsoft.

This Community Technology Preview (CTP) follows one in August and the first last June.

Microsoft execs, who had previously pledged new CTPs every sixty days, admitted that number three did not hit that deadline, but said that does not bode ill for the final release. The database is "on track" for release in the second quarter of calendar year 2008, they reiterated. The SQL news emanates from a TechEd IT Forum in Barcelona

Timing, always a sore point with Microsoft products, is particularly touchy for the database given the five-year gap between SQL Server 2000 and SQL Server 2005 -- a delay the company has sworn will not happen again.

Francois Ajenstat, director of product management for SQL Server, said the latest CTP offers important new features for developers and database administrators (DBAs). The Resource Governor, for example, promises both constituencies more granular control over what processes get priority in situations where there is contention.

"They can assign resource limits on a particular job or user. If the system's running payroll as well as reporting at the end of the month, a lot of payroll users will be doing processing and suddenly a reporting person writes some crazy report that starts soaking up memory and CPUs. This can ensure that the critical function gets priority and can be set by process ID or user," Ajenstat told Redmond Developer News.

As databases get bigger and are shared by more users and processes, this is a critical function.

"This could be very important but the jury's still out on how robust it is. We have to look at it. If it lives up to its promotional rhetoric, it will be very valuable," said Andrew Brust, chief, new technology for twentysix New York, a solution provider with SQL server and application development expertise. "In the database world there's a lot of gallows humor. The hope is this will stop BSTK, which stands for 'queries that bring the server to its knees.'"

In addition, this third CTP adds transparent data encryption that, in theory, means that database applications won't require recoding in order to take advantage of encryption.

The current SQL Server 2005 supports encryption, but requires tweaks on the application side to take advantage of it. "That's fine if you control all the applications, but in many cases you don't; transparent encryption takes care of that," Ajenstat said.

Also in this release is the promised FileStream feature that would allow storage of unstructured data in the database without converting it first into binary large objects (BLOBs).

That capability is a holdover from the long-promised-but-undelivered WinFS file system.

Brust is jazzed about that feature.

"Since the beginning, database people have tried to use databases to manage documents or digital photos but there's always been a tradeoff," Brust explained.

"The question is, 'Do I put it in the database or in the file system and then put a reference to that file in the database?' And allegedly for reasons of performance, people have preferred to keep the file in the file system and the tag in the database. It's a little easier for programming and seems to make sense when doing backups, [because] you don't have to worry about database corruption. But here you can do both. It's in the file system, but the database treats it as if it were part of the database. That means if you do things and start a transaction against the database and then have to roll it back -- if an operation deletes a photo, you can roll back the transaction and the file will actually come back. You can access it as a file or as a store."

Database support for spatial data should enable developers to more easily build location-based applications. Integration with Microsoft's Virtual Earth will be delivered via a separate SDK with the next CTP, Ajenstat said. At TechEd in Barcelona, the company will trot out a list of partners for its location-application push including ESRI, Spatial point, Space Software, and SWSoft.

Ajenstat downplayed any negative impact on developers from Microsoft's decision to hold back the ADO.NET Entity Framework, which was to ship with Visual Studio 2008, with the later SQL Server 2008 instead. (Visual Studio 2008 is due this month.)

To sync up the releases, Microsoft will ship an update to Visual Studio when SQL Server 2008 ships. The Entity Framework is now in beta 2 and Ajenstat expects another beta around the time Visual Studio 2008 itself ships.

The Entity Framework promises to let developers work at a higher conceptual level, so they will not necessarily have to know too much about the inner workings of the data setup.

"If you're a developer today, you need to know how the data is structured, how the tables were built. And developers are not necessarily database people," Ajenstat said.

The Entity Framework builds on Microsoft's LINQ, which lets developers work in the programming languages they know rather than with strings of database code. "The Entity Framework raises the abstraction layer [further], so developers can work with common sense objects," Ajenstat said.

It will also let developers use plug-ins to connect to Oracle, MySQL, Sybase and other data sources.

Inclusion of the new graphical technology, acquired by Microsoft from Dundas, is also a big deal to many developers. "That's huge for us. We're a big consumer of SQL Server reporting services and we do a lot of views and charts. While the current reporting services are good, there wasn't a lot of depth to the report options. It wasn't as deep as say Crystal Reports," said Peter Hammond, CEO of Cybersavvy, a Redmond, Wash. developer.

Developers said this release is relatively incremental compared with SQL Server 2005, which represented a huge leap from the previous version.

"We're still focused on SQL Server 2005 because we need it to develop on and sell now. We see SQL Server 2008 as more evolutionary vs. revolutionary. They're putting the Dundas stuff in which is good and will help us create dashboards," said Lee Blackstone, CEO of Blackstone & Cullen, an Atlanta-based database expert.

None of these new features "are hugely revolutionary," Brust agreed. "This is a much smaller release than SQL Server 2005 and that's probably good. A lot of shops are still running the previous release and it'll be helpful that this is not as big a leap," Brust said.

About the Author

Barbara Darrow is RDN’s industry editor.