Microsoft aims ‘Katmai’ at unstructured data

Microsoft used its first business intelligence conference this week to announce the upcoming version of SQL Server, which is due to be released next year and is capable of managing unstructured data.

Code-named “Katmai,” the new version is touted by Microsoft as having improved scalability, security, and manageability. A community technology preview version is set to be released next month. “It’s no longer just a database,” said Francois Ajenstat, Microsoft’s director of product management. “It’s a full data platform.”

Part of this new emphasis includes unstructured data management capabilities. “We’re moving beyond relational: instead of just words and numbers, it’s sight and sounds. That’s a specific innovation of this product — we want to be able to manage a new type of data.”

Warren Shiau, a senior analyst with the Toronto-based IT research firm The Strategic Counsel, said, “If they (can) do this, it will be very interesting. Managing unstructured data really accounts for a lot of IT time and thought. The whole notion of easily managing unstructured data … if delivered, will be extremely popular.”

He said that the preponderance of items like IO, video, and documents add a great deal to operations costs.

The new platform also will allow for expanded opportunity for development, according to Ajenstat. He said, “We want dynamic development. People can work on richer applications more than ever and work at a higher level of abstraction — the development side, rather than the data side.”

Ajenstat stressed the product’s scalability, saying that the product is equally at home connecting to a large-scale data warehouse or to thousands of users.

It can connect with other things, too. The product’s integration capabilities are designed to ensure that it meshes well with competitors’ products. Said Ajenstat: “People want to be able to leverage their existing data investments. If you have Oracle or DB2, you don’t necessarily have to move to another platform to get value from Microsoft. It can report on top of Oracle, on top of Teradata, on top of DB2.”

The product works seamlessly with Microsoft products like Office and SharePoint, easing the users’ experience. Shiau said that the product’s integration features are a key selling point of the new SQL Server. “The Microsoft advantage is that if it can all be done in a Microsoft stack (such as the Desktop or the users), then (it) becomes easier (to justify buying “Katmai”),” said Shiau.

Managing “Katmai” will be streamlined, as it will run on a new policy-based management framework. According to Ajenstat, this is a major diffentiator from Oracle’s offerings in that it will offer rules- and intent-based management, which will decrease the amount of maintenance time required.

“Katmai” will be targeted at the usual database market, along with Microsoft’s growing business intelligence customer base. A new area that the company will be targeting, however, is those in the spatial data market on the lookout for the ability to enable location-aware applications.

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