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Microsoft Community Release for SQL Server Service Pack

Microsoft Wednesday delivered the first Community Technology Preview (CTP) of Service Pack 1 for SQL Server 2005, including the data mirroring technologies that missed last fall’s release of the big update to Microsoft’s flagship database product.

But just as important, a leader of the SQL Server team says, are fundamental changes they are making to improve the collaboration between customers and Microsoft developers – and the CTP process is key to that shift.

At the core of the shift is the realization that long deep beta test cycles have been increasingly frustrating to developers and testers alike. The CTP process has the benefit of releasing a lot more builds which gets customers more involved.

“There was too much time between betas so [that] what we’d get is a small committed group of testers,” said Ilya Bukshteyn, director of product management in the SQL Server group. “[With the CTP process], we have more frequent releases and that drives a lot more feedback from customers,” he adds.

The CTP process is one that has been spreading like a virus across Microsoft in the past two years or so. The team that developed Visual Studio 2005 started the ball rolling, and the SQL Server group picked it up during the development of SQL Server 2005, which was released with much fanfare last November.

Most recently, Microsoft’s Vista development team adopted the CTP process last summer. This is the first time the CTP process has been applied to development of a service pack, however.

“The SQL Server team is introducing a new transparent customer collaboration model, which will extend the CTP process to service packs, re-engineer the development process for more predictability, and release isolated security updates,” a Microsoft spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s SP1 CTP includes data mirroring capabilities that weren’t ready in time for last fall’s delivery of SQL Server.

SP1 will also include SQL Server Management Studio Express, a scaled-down version of SQL Server’s Management Studio tool, as well as other feature fixes and adjustments, according Microsoft. Final release of SP1 is currently on track for April, the Microsoft spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

On a higher level, however, the advent of the CTP process may fundamentally change how Microsoft tests products going forwards.

“The new CTP model is the first step SQL Server has taken to re-engineer its product release and service pack schedule and provide greater predictability and functionality to its customers” the Microsoft spokeswoman continued. In addition to extending CTPs to service packs, the new customer collaboration model will enable a separate release mechanism for security fixes.

Because of the success of CTP process, Microsoft has decided to adopt it more widely and apply it to the service pack process, the spokeswoman added.

The CTP will be available for download here: www.microsoft.com/sql/ctp_sp1.mspx.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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