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Microsoft Hopes New Features Will Warm Up End-Users to Yukon

The wait for Yukon – the code name for the next release of SQL Server – is on, but, unfortunately, it’s going to take longer than first thought. The new database is now scheduled to ship in the second half of 2004, timed to coincide with the release of next version of Microsoft's Visual Studio toolkit.

Analysts, however, are concerned about the delays in releasing Yukon, originally scheduled for earlier in 2004. “The fact that it’s not coming out until the end of next year is quite a disappointment when you consider both IBM and Oracle have come out with two new versions in the last three years,” points out Charlie Garry, analyst with Meta Group.

Is Yukon worth the wait? Industry experts say SQL Server 2000 already has many of the capabilities data managers need for their environments. But for those that seek more robust business intelligence tools, native XML support, or a development environment integrated with .NET, Yukon has more to offer. Yukon will add a range of new features.

“Do I think SQL Server today is good enough for a vast majority of transactional workloads? Sure it is,” says Garry. “But the added functionality enables SQL Server to be pushed into the very high-end.” When the full version of Yukon does ship, customers should expect to see enhancements in three areas: business intelligence, enterprise data management, and productivity tools.

Business Intelligence

The enhanced business intelligence capabilities to be included in Yukon are what industry experts are buzzing about the most. According to Microsoft, Yukon will greatly improve performance on a range of existing functions, from OLAP and data mining to extract, transformation, and load (ETL) tools, data warehousing and reporting. “With Yukon, Analytic Services has moved to an entirely new technical architecture,” says Paul Bertucci, author of Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Unleashed and CTO of Collaborative Technologies, which is currently participating in Microsoft’s beta for Yukon. "Analytic Services exploits in-memory models and has shown massive benchmarking successes,” he says. “As a result, SQL Server is no longer the slowpoke. It has leapfrogged most other vendors with its new architecture. Its data mining tools now far exceed competing product capabilities.”

Bertucci points out that while “Microsoft was able to create a reasonably rich data warehouse and OLAP environment” SQL Server 2000 was limited by performance and scalability issues. “Those needed addressing if Microsoft was going to seriously take on the BI space,” he adds.

Others point to Yukon’s enhanced XML support as important feature for business intelligence. “With XML for Analysis Services, metadata exchange will be based on open standards,” says Rajiv Mistry, director of data warehousing and business intelligence at Avanade. “That means metadata can now be exchanged between SQL Server and other XML metadata providers, making it highly extensible.” Mistry adds that Yukon includes additional features that speed up the loading and transformation of data, as well as processing of OLAP cubes.

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Enterprise Data Management

Microsoft also has announced that Yukon will support both relational and XML data natively, enabling customers to chose the format that best suits their applications. Yukon will also support HTTP, XML, SOAP, XQuery, and XML Schema Definition (XSD). Native XML support “means you can query the database using Xpath,” says Tyson Hartman, .NET practice director with Avanade. “The vision of Microsoft .NET is to be the XML plumbing, and therefore, having XML as a native data type will have a lot of impact. The more we can all use one format and one protocol, the better.” Managing and storing XML-based data is a clumsy process in the current version of SQL Server, he adds. “Today, you have to store large XML strings in a less than optimal format.” Yukon will also support Common Language Runtime, or CLR, enabling developers to build .NET components on the database that support a number of languages.

Yukon will also include enhanced data partitioning capabilities, Meta Group’s Garry points out. With partitioning, data can be run in separate systems on the same hardware, therefore increasing scalability, he says. However, “Microsoft hasn’t been clear as to exactly how they’re going to do it, whether it will be hatch partitioning or range partitioning,” he adds.

Productivity

Yukon is also expected to include tools that will help increase the productivity of database administrators and developers. Microsoft has announced that Yukon will include a new management tool, expanded self-tuning capabilities, and a new programming model. Enhancements to SQL Profiler and other tools will also help database administrators tune their servers for optimum performance.

Microsoft also states that Yukon will help developer productivity through deeper integration with .NET technologies, and a single development environment for working in Transact-SQL, XML, and Multidimensional Expression (MDX) languages. “Microsoft is touting its deep integration with Visual Studio and CLR, which they feel gets them deep integration for things like security and performance and so forth,” says Meta Group’s Garry. “It’s revolutionary, because they own the whole stack, and they can do it. I don’t know what the impact will be, but it’s one of those things that buys you a whole lot of value without you having to realize that it’s there.”

About the Author

Joe McKendrick is an independent consultant and author specializing in surveys, technology research and white papers. He's a contributing writer for ENTmag.com.

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