Microsoft Outlines Next-Generation Databases
- By John K. Waters
Microsoft is planning to enhance the BI capabilities in the next version of
its flagship SQL Server database, the company revealed today. The company kicked
off its second annual Business
in Seattle by outlining plans for a new set of managed
self-service analysis and reporting capabilities that will be integrated into
the next version of SQL Server.
The upgraded BI analysis and reporting capabilities will emerge from a project
codenamed "Gemini," and will be part of the upcoming SQL Server "Kilimanjaro"
release. Essentially, Gemini is a bundle of easy-to-use tools designed to enable
average information workers gather and manipulate structured and unstructured
data for better business decisions.
"Project Gemini is going to do for BI what wikis and blogs have done for
creating content on the Web," said Kristina Kerr, senior product manager
in Microsoft's BI product group. "In the past, you had to have specialized
programming knowledge to create a Web site, and there would be a few producers
of content and everyone was a consumer. That's the state of the nation right
now for BI; there are very few people who can produce that BI information, but
everyone ultimately is or wants to be a consumer. With this announcement, we
are shifting that paradigm and making it possible for everyone to be a consumer
and a producer."
Gemini's managed self-service analysis capabilities will be deeply integrated
with Microsoft's SharePoint and Excel, Kerr said. Microsoft expects Gemini to
produce "an explosion on information unprecedented in the history of BI,
making data truly accessible to everyone in an organization," she added.
The term "managed self-service" underscores the fact that while these
capacities will give users a great deal of freedom to slice and dice company
data, they won't be without supervision, according to Fausto Ibarra, director
of product management in Microsoft's SQL Server division. Gemini enables users
to perform analysis and build their own BI solutions with minimal dependence
on IT, but it does so within an IT-managed infrastructure that "allows
end users to produce, consume and collaborate on personal BI results, while
allowing IT to capture business insights in the process," Ibarra said.
Microsoft also gave an update of a project codenamed "Madison," which
integrates the technology assets Microsoft acquired
this summer from DATAllegro, an Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based provider of data
warehouse appliances. According to Ibarra, Madison builds on SQL Server's scaling
capabilities to extend "massive scale-out capabilities" into hundreds
of terabytes. He said Madison will provide an appliance-like solution in collaboration
with hardware partners Dell, HP, Unisys, Bull Systems and EMC, which will enable
Microsoft's customers to modify the appliance to conform with their existing
hardware environments. Microsoft expects to release Madison formally in 2010,
but also plans to provide technical previews within the next 12 months.
SQL Server 2008 was released
two months ago, and the company is reporting more than 500,000 downloads of
the product to date. Its successor, Kilimanjaro, is scheduled for release in
2010, with early customer previews available within the next 12 months.
It remains to be seen how developers will be able to exploit the new features
in the new database, said Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at custom technology
solutions provider twentysix
New York, in an e-mail. Much will depend on the degree to which the product
exposes an object model or API.
"If that programmability is exposed, the benefits will be enormous, because
developers will have in-memory OLAP capabilities available to their line-of-business
client applications," Brust said. "Like Gemini itself, this will make
analytics capabilities accessible to the users who need it, without requiring
IT to build the capability for them, but the ability to embed that power into
custom applications (as opposed to making it available exclusively through Excel)
would be huge."
Even if the programmability is limited in the initial release, Brust added,
Gemini should bolster SQL Server as a platform for data-driven applications.
Brust said its tie-ins to SharePoint and further extended Analysis Services
are programmable and should advance SQL Server as a platform for developing
OLAP and BI applications.
Although Madison's significance to developers is more subtle -- and may even
seem irrelevant at first blush -- Brust suggested that in the long run, its
impact may be significant. "Madison is going to facilitate SQL Server data
warehouse implementations that are so large that many developers won't actually
need it," he said. "But the very fact that SQL Server will be competitive
for those scenarios will boost its credibility and qualifications with IT departments
at the largest of organizations."
Brust pointed out that it's not uncommon right now for Oracle or Teradata to
be used for enterprise data warehouses, which then populate data marts built
with SQL Server. "Once Madison is ready, these same environments will be
able to be implemented as SQL Server-only installations," he said.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached