What is it?
Now that it has missed its own launch party, only the bravest would stake their reputations on when SQL Server 2008 will actually be with us. But even when it starts to ship, widespread adoption is likely to take years. There are still substantial numbers of SQL Server 2000 installations and even SQL Server 7 users still happily chugging along with a product released nearly ten years ago.
SQL Server has partly overcome its image as a departmental database that yields to Oracle or DB2 in the datacentre. But as analyst Gartner commented in its October 2007 report Data Warehouse Database Management Systems: "Many IT organizations do not consider SQL Server since they are not willing to run Windows Server in the datacentre environment."
But Gartner adds that while early adopters of SQL Server 2005 used it for online transaction processing (OLTP), "now we see from inquiries that SQL Server is also being used in data warehousing, especially for databases up to 5TB or 6TB in size".
Where did it originate?
SQL Server originated as a joint development by Microsoft and Sybase. By the launch of SQL Server 6.0 in 1995, the partnership had been dissolved and Microsoft rewrote the base code. Online analytical processing (OLAP) - a key data warehousing component - was introduced with the GUI-based SQL Server 7.0.
What's it for?
SQL Server 2005 has its own SQL implementation, Transact-SQL (T-SQL), with extensions that support XQuery for access to XML data. Also included is the SQL Common Language Runtime (CLR) and integration with Visual Studio.net, which enables stored procedures and triggers to be written in any .net language.
Until the "Plato" release of SQL Server 7.0, data warehouses had to be built from best of breed products - extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) tools, OLAP and reporting tools - in what could often be a complex systems integration exercise. SQL Server now comes bundled with its own ETL (SS Integration Services, SSIS) OLAP and data mining (SS Analysis Services) and reporting services.
Gartner says: "SQL Server 2005 scales from small warehouses to mid-size ones without a great deal of effort." But Nigel Pendse, author of The Olap Report , warns: "Although Analysis Services offers a greater scalability and new features, it is now a much more technical product than its predecessor making the product more suitable for professional developers, rather than end-users."
What makes it special?
Better integration with other Microsoft products means SQL Server can provide a route for turning commodity skills into premium skills, such as data warehousing.
How difficult is it to master?
Skills can be acquired inexpensively using online learning, which typically involves six to eight two-hour courses per topic (such as Writing Queries Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Transact-SQL). Microsoft provides a two-day introduction to Transact-SQL for people who already have "an understanding of basic relational database concepts". Experienced DBAs can take a three-day course to move their skills to SQL Server.
What systems does it run on?
Gartner says: "SQL Server only runs on Windows Server, and therefore lacks the portability of many of its competitors." But once acquired, SQL skills are portable.
Rates of Pay
From £25-35k for developers and DBAs with a year's SQL Server experience. £35-45k for data warehouse specialists. In each case, less than equivalent DB2 and Oracle positions.
Microsoft offers a variety of training options.