Microsoft has made some big promises for SQL Server 2008, a major update of its enterprise database product. No precise date has yet been announced for the launch, but the new features have caught the interest of database developers, users and IT managers alike.
Users will notice a completely overhauled reporting engine and greatly improved OLAP performance. This should allow more users to run OLAP queries, or enable existing OLAP users to run more complex queries than are currently possible.
Among the highlights for developers is full support for a new geospatial data type — which could enable a new breed of low-cost applications for web commerce.
The new datatype allows applications to store and sort data describing locations. For example, a travel agent's database might store information about hotels, airports and restaurants; users could then search it for all the five-star hotels and restaurants within 10 miles of a particular airport.
Another groundbreaking addition is SQL 2008’s FileStream data type. These records can contain arbitrary data — such as text, sound or video — and can be searched using normal database commands. The difference is that FileStream records are stored on the local NTFS filesystem, which means they can contain much more data than a normal SQL record, and performance can be better too.
Despite being stored as files in the normal NTFS file system, FileStream data is thoroughly integrated with the database, which will keep it backed up, and will make sure that any transactions using it are consistent.
For IT managers, the biggest gains come in the shape of better performance and security. A new feature lets SQL Server encrypt data in transit transparently. The application need not be aware of it, so existing applications can use this feature without any changes to existing code.
Support has also been added for certificate-based encryption and authentication, which works with a range of certificate authorities, including Microsoft Certificate Services.
Microsoft claims SQL Server 2008 will run 14 per cent faster than SQL Server 2005 on a quad-socket server, and Microsoft has also made some more specific performance claims. For instance, automatic data compression for backups will reduce the amount of storage needed for backups by around 50 percent, Microsoft promises.
Database mirrors have been improved in order to store null values more efficiently, and the logs that synchronise database mirrors can now be compressed. This should reduce the amount of bandwidth needed to maintain duplicates of a database. Finally, a new resource governor enables administrators to assign CPU power to particular applications.
The most eagerly awaited feature, ironically, is not actually part of SQL Server 2008, but arrives at the same time: the LINQ Project, which lets Visual Basic and C## software applications include and verify SQL queries.
Previously about the only way to find out what was stored in a SQL database was to put SQL queries directly into an application coded as a text string, which would be sent by the application to the SQL database for processing. The trouble is that the software development tools don’t understand SQL queries, so the queries could not be automatically verified for correctness or efficiency.
LINQ is a set of extensions to the .NET Framework that enables the software development tools to understand the SQL queries, so they can manage them alongside the rest of the project. LINQ can also be used with Microsoft SQL Server 2000 and 2005.
Developers and IT managers are understandably eager to get to grips with the reality of this promised functionality. When the product finally arrives, they will be checking to see whether it lives up to the claims, and so will we.