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Q&A: Fausto Ibarra Takes SQL Server Reins

New director of product management talks up database and hints at future technologies.

Fausto Ibarra is the new front man for SQL Server. As reported last week, Ibarra officially took the reins of the SQL Server team as director of product management from Francois Ajenstat, who is now working on Microsoft's green initiatives.

Ibarra has spent four years with Microsoft's SQL Server group. Prior to joining Microsoft, Ibarra was director of product management at BEA Systems, where he was involved in the integration of WebLogic. Ibarra's roots however are as a developer, which he admits is still his passion.

What's your recollection of doing database development a decade ago compared to what it's like now with ADO.NET and now LINQ?
Things have changed significantly. When I was a developer, I worked on Unix systems, building applications in C, connecting directly to databases like Oracle and Sybase, using their APIs like OCI for Oracle. Back at that time, the developer had to do a lot of plumbing, a lot of work that today the database does. That includes basic things like referential integrity, which was something you had to do as a developer, and doing all the data binding from your data structures in your applications to the tables in the relational database. Connectivity wasn't great, and when you think of some of the innovations we have like LINQ and ADO.NET, it's really night and day. The biggest difference was back then you had to be an expert -- almost like a rocket scientist -- to write an enterprise application against a database, whereas today, it's a lot more mainstream, the tools are a lot more accessible and it's far easier for ISVs and a developer to build applications against databases.

Fausto Ibarra, Microsoft director of product management, SQL Server
Microsoft's
Fausto Ibarra

Do you ever play around with the current tooling in your spare time?
That's one of the most exciting parts of my job, getting a chance to play with that technology. It's truly amazing how easy it is. You can misunderstand a lot of concepts [that] you do need to understand [and] especially if you are building a mission-critical application, you need to understand what you are doing. But I like playing with Visual Studio, SQL Server Management Studio, [and] with new tools we have for non-professional developers like Visual Studio Express and Popfly. One of the most exciting tools to play with is our business intelligence tools, like Report Builder and our BI Development Studio. Once you have this data in sample databases that we shipped with the product, it's fun to look at building reports, and obviously interacting with the data.

So as you step into your new role what's key on your agenda?
First is momentum around SQL Server 2008. We have tremendous interest from our customers. From our partners, thousands of copies of our CTPs have been downloaded by our customers and partners. So, part of our team's goal is to continue that momentum with all of those developers and IT Pros who are learning SQL Server 2008.

Where do you see SQL Server moving forward?
Our vision is to have a data platform. When we talk about the data platform, we talk about enabling our customers and partners to essentially manage their data across all tiers, from mobile devices, to desktops to servers, to the cloud, and also with all types of data. Not only traditional data but files, XML, video and so on, and providing them with different types of services like reporting, analytics, querying search and synchronization. Going forward, I see us advancing in those there areas -- having more coverage for different tiers.

For example, we announced SQL Server Data Services, which is currently in beta, which allows storage services in the cloud. We also announced the CTP of Project "Velocity," a mid-tier application cache. So, we will continue to support customers who have data across all of those tiers.

Obviously in the data center we will continue to advance mission-critical capabilities, performance, scalability, reliability, security, and in mobile devices, we will continue to advance in terms of enabling companies to build applications that are occasionally connected. So when you are connected to a network, you can actually access your data. When you are not connected, you can still access your data, locally cached. We will continue to advance across all those tiers and across all the different types of data we allow customers to use in our data platform, like with SQL Server 2008, where we have introduced spatial data and file stream to install binary data into the database. We will continue to advance on that.

How will SQL Server Data Services and Velocity fit into the SQL Server platform itself? Will they be separate offerings or do you see them being the components of the next release of SQL Server?
We are still determining that -- we haven't yet decided on the release schedule. One thing we know is Velocity will be tightly aligned with the .NET Framework and with ASP.NET, so we are working with those groups in Microsoft to define what's the best release vehicle for that technology.

Will SQL Server 2008 actually be available to customers in the third quarter?
We are very confident it will be available in the third quarter -- we're in the final stages of testing. The release candidate has been downloaded by thousands of people; we are very excited about meeting our Q3 date and seeing the product in the market.

Will there be another release candidate before it ships?
We haven't determined that. It will be based on customer feedback; we will decide that in the next couple of weeks.

Some have said they would like to see another release candidate.
The release candidate we have is feature complete, so our customers and partners can try out absolutely everything SQL Server offers. We've got a release candidate; we may have another one if we feel it's necessary to get additional feedback on specific features. If not, we will go straight to RTM.

Have you received feedback on a lot of reports on bugs in the current release candidate?
With every CTP release candidate, we are encouraging our customers to install and test the release candidate in a variety of environments, ranging from laptops to the biggest Itanium servers. We are getting some reports of bugs. It's usual -- it's actually a small number. By now, the product is very solid. We already have a lot of customers in production. We have a lot of applications that Microsoft is running on SQL Server 2008, including SAP -- we all get paid because of SQL Server 2008. At this point, we are just in the final stages of testing.

Will you be coordinating this with the release of Service Pack 1 of Visual Studio 2008 and the .NET Framework and the Entity Framework?
We are coordinating them. The Entity Framework will ship with .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 and it will ship roughly at the same time as SQL Server. When we talk about the Entity Framework, we talk about it from the perspective of SQL Server and from the perspective of the .NET Framework and Visual Studio. No matter where developers are coming from, we will talk to them about the Entity Framework and coordinating the messaging of both releases across all our different developer channels, like MSDN.

Any other feedback you are getting from developers that is noteworthy?
There's a lot of excitement about the new developer capabilities in SQL Server 2008, such as spatial -- we are getting a lot of feedback about being able to build location-aware applications with our new spatial data types, integration with Virtual Earth and being able to visually see your data. W are also getting a lot of feedback on FileStream -- that is especially from ISVs -- being able to store binary data, anything from X-rays to video files to images on the database.

From a deployment perspective, are you advising customers to run SQL Server 2008 on Windows Server 2008 or can it run just as well on Windows Server 2003?
It will run on SQL Server 2003, but we are advising users to run it on Windows Server 2008. There are additional benefits, especially for enterprise applications. There's better availability, scalability and performance on Windows Server 2008, and now with the release of Hyper-V, customers can take advantage of virtualization with SQL Server 2008.

Speaking of Hyper-V, will there be a big focus on virtualization of SQL Server 2008?
Many of our customers are looking to consolidate their workloads. They are looking to save hardware costs and add more flexibility in terms of where they run their databases. We have customers who have been using SQL Server 2008 CTPs on Hyper-V -- the feedback has been good. Rather than having hundreds of servers and running them all over the company, they prefer updating them into fewer servers and managing them.

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