SQL Server users prepare for Yukon trip

DENVER – While there were no signs of dogsled races or gold rush museums at the SQL Server users conference held here this week, there was a big buzz in the air about an upcoming trip to the Yukon.

That’s Yukon, as in the name of an upcoming release of Microsoft Corp.’s database offering, an enhancement that’s been in the works since early last year, but which users probably won’t be able to buy a ticket for until late 2002, at the earliest.

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 about what to expect in the months ahead.

Much of that forward-looking discussion centred around Yukon, articulated most notably in a keynote address by Gord Mangione, vice-president, SQL Server team for Microsoft. Among the main enhancements to be included in the upcoming release are those in the area of programmability, which Mangione identified as “probably the number one goal we have with Yukon.”

“What this offers you is the ability to use modern programming languages to program your source procedures and triggers inside the database,” said Mangione. “You’ll be able to program in C-sharp, Visual Basic, Cobol if you want, running inside the database.”

Mangione also stressed improvements to scalability and availability with Yukon. On the scaling-up side, he said Microsoft is continuing to work with Intel Corp. and OEMs to optimize Yukon on platforms such as Intel’s McKinley architecture. And on the scaling-down front, 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 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.”

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 Corp.’s market share on Windows servers for the first time.

In an exclusive interview with ITWorldcanada.com, 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, the 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.

“We started off pretty small a few years ago and we looked at what was most affordable for us,” said Josie Bradley, vice-president of information technology for Mark Anthony Group. “When we started getting bigger, we asked ourselves, ‘Is there a real reason to switch? Does it really make sense to jump over to the Oracle side?’ and, quite frankly, it didn’t.”

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 interest is minimal because for Mark Anthony, “it’s more about using the tools we’re using right now effectively rather than saying, ‘OK, what is the future going to offer us?'”

The increased ability to use SQL Server data on handheld devices is one upcoming feature that the company finds appealing, but Bradley added 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.”

Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont., is at http://www.microsoft.ca/