SQL Server users heading up to Yukon

If network managers needed any proof that their world is becoming more mobile, they need look no further than a recently held Microsoft SQL Server users’ conference.

Held earlier this month in Denver, The PASS (Professional Association for SQL Server) North America Users’ Conference brought together about 2,000 of the group’s 15,000 members to talk SQL shop and learn from Microsoft what to expect in the months ahead from the database offering.

The bulk of the show’s buzz centred around an upcoming version of SQL Server known as Yukon. Aside from offering improvements on such traditional database fronts as programmability and integration with Intel Corp. chip platforms, one of the key new features will centre around mobile devices and allowing users to access SQL data on them.

During his show-opening keynote address, Microsoft Vice-President, SQL Server Team Gord Mangione said his company is looking at how it can take the technology it has today and “make it more suitable for client devices,” such as laptops and handhelds. That includes creating more data replication capabilities to provide offline data access to more client devices that are more and more of the mobile variety.

“We have a whole team…that is focused on the notebook and what it really means to get great performance characteristics on that without wearing down the battery while you’re on the road,” said Mangione.

He said users can expect to see a beta version of Yukon “sometime this year.”

Some recent numbers show SQL Server catching up in the database market. Last year, it surpassed US$1 billion in revenues, and Mangione pointed out that it is now Microsoft’s fourth-largest business. According to Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group, SQL Server also last year surpassed Oracle’s market share on Windows servers for the first time.

In an exclusive interview with Network World Canada, Mangione stressed the ease-of-use factor as an advantage that SQL server enjoys over IBM and Oracle, the traditional leaders in the database world.

“There’s 1,400 configuration options for an Oracle database. Heaven help it if the guys actually writing the code even know what to set for those 1,400 switches,” he said. In comparison, Mangione said he thought there were only four such options in the SQL SP Configure tool that users could set today.

For one attendee and SQL Server user, however, that ease-of-use trump card that Microsoft touts is a double-edge sword. Because the people who make up his company’s management team hear from Redmond representatives that SQL Server is easy to use and implement, “they seem to think it’s as easy as installing (Microsoft) Word,” said the Atlanta-based database administrator, who wished not to be identified. The purse-string controllers therefore aren’t willing to pony up the necessary resources to handle a task that “is much more complex. They just don’t get it.”

One firm pleased with its decision to go with SQL server instead of Oracle or IBM databases is the Mark Anthony Group, a Vancouver-based beverage maker that turns out Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Bradley said her company was pleased with the stability that the SQL Server product offered, and that it fit in well with other Microsoft products being used.

As for the upcoming Yukon release, Bradley said the increased ability to use SQL Server data on handheld devices is one feature that the company finds appealing. She added, however, that she’s cautious about conducting business in this manner.

“I have to say I’m scared of the smaller devices. The control of those devices is quite difficult at this time.…From the point of pure data security and user security, all of those things are not quite there. They’re certainly getting there, but being able to control access right now is more important than being able to load up a PDA and being able to share data that way.”