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Microsoft Releases SQL Server 'Denali' CTP3 and SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1

Microsoft on Monday announced the third community technology preview (CTP3) release of its next-generation SQL Server database management system, code-named "Denali," as well as Service Pack 1 for its current SQL Server 2008 R2 product.

Denali was frequently mentioned during the keynotes and session talks at the 2011 Microsoft Partner Conference, which is ongoing this week in Los Angeles. The CTP3 test version of Denali can be downloaded at this page.

The release of SP1 for Microsoft's current SQL Server 2008 R2 product took a back seat to all of the WPC news this week, but it's available for downloaded here. Highlights in the new service pack include greater supportability in "dynamic management views," improved query performance through a "ForceSeek" feature, improved upgrades via Data-tier Application Component Framework and better disk space control for PowerPivot, which is Microsoft's data analysis tool for Excel. Microsoft provides the release notes for SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1 at this wiki page.

Microsoft described the availability of Denali CTP3, as well as SP1 for SQL Server 2008 R2, at this SQL Server team blog post.

Denali CTP3 Features
Some new Denali CTP3 features got showcased during a Tuesday session talk at the WPC by Robert Wahbe, Microsoft's corporate vice president for server and tools marketing. He boasted that Gartner has ranked SQL Server at the top for its business intelligence capabilities. He also touted SQL Server Denali's security capabilities, although the database management system is still relatively new on the scene.

"One thing that's very amazing about this release is that we've had zero, literally zero security vulnerabilities, so [it's] the most secure database in the world of any of the major vendors," Wahbe claimed.

Wahbe listed a few other Denali highlights during the talk, including AlwaysOn, which is designed to enable high availability for SQL Server.

"We now have a new feature in Denali called 'AlwaysOn'," Wahbe said. "It allows with a very simple wizard, small number of clicks, [that] you can have multiple secondaries for disaster recovery," he explained.

Wahbe also noted a new "column index" feature in Denali for running data warehouse queries. Possibly, that's the code-named "Apollo" feature that Microsoft described when it first announced Denali back in November.

"We have now new in Denali a column index, which improves the performance of data warehouse queries 10x," Wahbe claimed. "So literally, [the performance is] 10x faster for the most large and complex data warehouse queries."

Perhaps the most exciting Denali feature shown at the WPC was its "Crescent" analytical mashup capability, which can produce charts with a high degree of interactivity and drill-down capability. Wahbe described Crescent as part of Microsoft's general approach of enabling business intelligence capabilities for information workers.

"We are a leader in BI, with our solutions between Excel and PowerPivot, SharePoint for sharing of those BI scenarios, and then SQL Server powers all of that with reporting services and analysis services," Wahbe said. "And Denali takes an even bigger step forward with technologies like Crescent, which allows ad hoc exploration."

Crescent Demo
Amir Netz, a Microsoft distinguished engineer, showed off Denali's Crescent capabilities in a demo during the session talk. The demo charted application performance vs. service level agreement uptime. With Crescent, Netz could click on a graph and drill down to see specific performance information, and the performance of the mashup was supported by using AlwaysOn.

"In SQL Server Denali, we have a new capability that is called AlwaysOn," Netz said. "And AlwaysOn is a great way to get the right set of nines out of your applications for both performance and availability. Setting up AlwaysOn in an application is just a five-step wizard, and when you set it up, you have a host of features, including for example, active secondary. And with active secondary, you not only get availability from the secondary, but you can also use the hardware that is using them for the backup to get better performance."

During the Tuesday keynote earlier in the day, Netz showed a different Crescent demo that plotted car sales against gas prices, with the aggregated gas price data being pulled down from Windows Azure storage. Netz demonstrated how Crescent can display the data in a slideshow-like format, with graph lines showing car-model sales rising or falling relative to gas price data. For instance, Netz's demo showed a hybrid car model gaining traction over an SUV model over time as gas prices increased.

The gas price vs. car price Crescent demo is an example of a business intelligence mashup that incorporates data from Microsoft's Windows Azure Marketplace. Last fall, Microsoft started to provide data access services through the marketplace. Now, Microsoft has added applications to it, including direct services such as full software-as-a-service-type applications. The apps, currently numbering in the hundreds, are available only in the United States today, but availability will be expanded to additional markets in the coming months, according to Amy Barzdukas, general manager of communications for the Server and Tools Business Group at Microsoft.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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