Early discussions on SQL Server 2008 seemed to suggest that it would really only be a point release, quite unlike what occurred with SQL Server 2005. Anyone looking at the new and upgraded features in SQL Server 2008 would soon realize that it offers much more than that. Given that SQL Server 2005 took some time to achieve mass adoption, the question that arises is how fast users will migrate to SQL Server 2008.
While the situation at each organization is unique, there are three broad classes of users that will look to upgrade to SQL Server 2008: existing SQL Server 2000 users (possibly concerned about supportability), existing SQL Server 2005 users (looking for a service update), and existing SQL Server 2005 users (seeking to use new features offered by SQL Server 2008).
Existing SQL Server 2000 Users
A formidable product that SQL Server 2005 initially competed with wasn't Oracle or DB2–it was SQL Server 2000. Users with applications deployed on SQL Server 2000 were often happy, stable and seeing no need to upgrade in the near future.
With the end of mainstream support for SQL Server 2000, this situation has changed. Most enterprise clients running SQL Server 2000 are now looking to upgrade. The interesting question is whether or not they will completely skip SQL Server 2005 and proceed directly to SQL Server 2008. There are compelling reasons to do so but the more conservative organizations will continue to apply a "wait for service pack one" rule, much to Microsoft's disappointment. However, it is likely that the price-conscious organizations will move directly to SQL Server 2008 if they are not currently in a software assurance agreement with Microsoft.
Existing SQL Server 2005 Users (Looking for a Service Update)
Two service packs have been released for SQL Server 2005 to date. Since service pack two, a series of Cumulative Updates have been shipped. These updates are not of the same quality as a full service pack, mostly because of a lack of full regression testing. In many cases, customers have needed fixes contained in an update but then found new issues caused by the update. Many in the industry have been calling for service pack three to be created but Microsoft has made it clear that while there will be a service pack three, it will follow after SQL Server 2008. This means that for many users, SQL Server 2008 will be seen as the best service pack for SQL Server 2005 as it will incorporate the fixes for most of these issues and be fully regression tested.
Existing SQL Server 2005 Users (Seeking to Use New Features)
SQL Server 2008 offers a number of compelling features for users. While the list is quite long, here are some that will have the greatest impact. One concern is that many of the top-rated new features require the Enterprise Edition of the product. This reverses a trend seen in SQL Server 2005 where many users were able to downgrade to Standard Edition and save licensing costs. Often this was because Standard Edition included both failover clustering and database mirroring. In SQL Server 2000, clustering required the Enterprise Edition.
For database administrators, the Resource Governor will have a significant impact. This allows CPU time to be allocated appropriately to important workloads rather than being shared evenly. Customers have also been requesting the ability to encrypt entire databases without the need to make application changes. This is provided via Transparent Data Encryption. For those concerned with compliance, a detailed new auditing system has been provided. It allows auditing of all actions occurring on the database, including SELECT operations.
A high-priority request for many years has been backup compression. This has been delivered along with row and page compression of databases, which might be quite critical in migrating users from database management systems that already include compression.
Many new administration features have appeared, most notably the Declarative Management Framework (which introduces the concept of policy-based management) and enhancements to SQL Server Management Studio to simplify the management of multiple servers, including the ability to execute a command or batch against multiple servers concurrently.
For developers, there are a wealth of new options. Just as the introduction of Analysis Services many years ago started the new business intelligence realm in SQL Server, the introduction of the spatial data types is likely to start another new realm. Of particular note is the shipment of a stand-alone assembly containing the spatial libraries that can be incorporated into .NET-based client applications.
The near-religious debate that has raged for years over whether or not to store large binary objects in the database or in the filesystem now has a new twist with a middle ground option provided by the new Filestream data type. It allows access via both T-SQL and Win32 streaming APIs, while maintaining database security and transactional consistency.
Filtered indexes provide the ability to associate a WHERE clause with the definition of an index. While largely designed to support indexing of the new SPARSE column, they could also allow the design of much smaller indexes in many instances. For example, the active part of a table could be indexed differently from the inactive part.
A number of new data types have been introduced, including separate date and time data types, a higher-precision datetime2 data type and options that include time-zone offsets.
For business intelligence professionals, the population of data warehouses has been simplified via a new table change tracking system which operates as a log file reader, a new tool provides the ability to profile data and the cube design experience has been enhanced through a series of best practice alerts (commonly referred to as squigglies). Along with new rendering options, Reporting Services no longer depends upon IIS and instead talks directly to the HTTP.SYS driver at the operating system level. This avoids the concerns that many network administrators had with installing IIS on the SQL Server systems. The biggest change for SQL Server Integration Services is the support for the C# language for scripting.
Given the convergence of these three categories of users all heading toward SQL Server 2008, it is likely to have a much faster takeup in the market than SQL Server 2005 had.
About the Author:
Dr. Greg Low is an internationally recognized consultant, developer and trainer. He has been working in development since 1978, holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science and a host of Microsoft certifications. Low is the country lead for Solid Quality, a SQL Server MVP and one of only three Microsoft Regional Directors for Australia. He also hosts the SQL Down Under podcast (www.sqldownunder.com), and is a board member of PASS (the Professional Association for SQL Server).