Beta Man

SQL Server 2008: 'Katmai'

Another step on the road to integrated data and applications.

In 1912, Katmai, an active volcano on the Alaska Peninsula, imploded over a period of three days in the most violent eruption of the 20th century. In the process it lost its peaks as they subsided into the void left by escaping lava, and had a large lake form in its caldera. This is a rather unusual legacy for Microsoft to use as a code-name for its upcoming SQL Server 2008, which is available as a beta download.

Key Improvements
Microsoft lists four areas of improvement and enhancement for SQL Server 2008: mission-critical platform, dynamic development, beyond relational data and pervasive business insight. It was a bit difficult for me in a brief test to look at how Katmai may be a mission-critical platform -- especially in beta form -- but I did take a closer look at development and data management.

It doesn't do a lot of good to touch on SQL Server without talking about what it does for developers, so I also installed the Visual Studio 2008 beta.

One technology enabled by the use of the .NET Framework 2.0 is the ADO.NET Entity Framework. This Framework enables developers to work with logical data entities that have a meaning within the context of the application, instead of accessing data directly with database tables and columns.

Language Integrated Query (LINQ) also fits in here. The new LINQ extensions to the .NET Framework and languages extend Visual C# and Visual Basic .NET to support a SQL-like query syntax natively. You write your query directly into your code, using data access constructs. It does away with the need to write SQL directly in the application code.

And, of course, you have the whole .NET Framework to work with here. That supports the ADO.NET Entity Framework, but also enables you to write .NET code on the database server. While it's not yet a substitute for T-SQL for triggers or stored procedures, it does provide a level of flexibility in integrating applications and data not available with other databases.

To Relational and Beyond
Most database management systems have to deal with more than textual and numerical data arranged in rows and tables. They have to be able to organize, store and retrieve geographical data, music clips, videos and all the part and parcel that make up business and personal life.

SQL Server 2008 enables developers to work with and manage any type of data in their apps, from traditional data types to advanced geospatial data. The new FILESTREAM data type allows large binary data to be stored directly in an NTFS file system while letting the data remain an integral part of the database and maintaining transactional consistency. The database also enables applications to model tree structures in a more efficient way.

Despite all of the improvements for developers, perhaps the most far-reaching improvement surrounds data protection. SQL Server 2008 enables encryption of an entire database, data files and log files, without the need for application changes. This feature alone helps it in its goal of being a trusted platform for mission-critical applications and data storage.

SQL Server 2008 offers support for occasionally connected applications by using a synchronization mechanism that enables synchronization across applications, data stores and data types. It lets you create occasionally connected applications using Visual Studio by way of new synchronization services in ADO.NET and offline designers in Visual Studio. It also provides support for change tracking, so that there's no surprise when a data store is modified when a disconnected application re-accesses the database.

It's unlikely that Katmai will be an implosion on the scale of the volcanic eruption of almost a hundred years ago. In fact, it shouldn't be an implosion at all. SQL Server 2008 should see ready adoption as a replacement for earlier versions of SQL Server, as well as more gradual use for new database installations in applications that require data encryption and nontraditional data-management along with support for occasionally connected applications.

About the Author

Peter Varhol is the executive editor, reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university level.

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