Developer Product Briefs

Microsoft SQL Server Turns 17

After 17 years of non-stop development, SQL Server 2005 now has what it takes to give Oracle 10g and IBM DB2 a run for the money in the enterprise-scale, multiterabyte database market. But the SQL Server team didn't abandon its traditional small- and medium-size business customers.

Microsoft SQL Server Turns 17
After 17 years of non-stop development, SQL Server 2005 now has what it takes to give Oracle 10g and IBM DB2 a run for the money in the enterprise-scale, multiterabyte database market. But the SQL Server team didn't abandon its traditional small- and medium-size business customers.
by Roger Jennings

May 2, 2006

Microsoft SQL Server has come a long way since the release of Ashton-Tate/Microsoft SQL Server 1.0 on May 8, 1989, which had been announced by Ed Esber and Bill Gates on January 13, 1988 at a New York City press conference. The theory was that Ashton-Tate's dBASE IV would act as the programmable front end for an OS/2-hosted version of Sybase's SQL Server. dBASE III had 63 percent of the PC database market in 1988 and needed a client/server back end to handle multiple database users. Microsoft needed a client/server database to bring its version of OS/2 up to par with IBM's combination of OS/2 1.1 Presentation Manager and Database Manager. (Later, OS/2 Database Manager became DB2/2 for OS/2 and DB2/6000 for IBM's AIX flavor of Unix.)

From my early perspective as an MS-DOS database programmer, dBASE III+ Developer's Edition was the best thing since sliced bread—bulletproof and fast on the Intel 80x86 PCs of the time with 640-KB RAM. But dBASE IV turned out to be incredibly buggy and extremely slow; Ashton-Tate's database market share dropped to 43 percent in 1989 as a result of competition from FoxBase and Clipper.

Microsoft dropped Ashton-Tate from the SQL Server equation in 1990 with SQL Server 1.1, which ran under Windows 3.0 and OS/2 2.0; I turned to Clipper for larger single-user projects. Later, I became a beta tester for SQL Server 4.2 for Microsoft OS/2 v1.3 LAN Manager and then version 4.21a for Windows NT 3.1, also known as SQL Server for Windows NT. For the first time, SQL Server 4.2+ contained code contributed by Microsoft and Sybase. In those days, both the operating system and the database engine came on 3.5-inch diskettes.

By the end of 1993, I had convinced most of my Fortune 500 clients to migrate to SQL Server 6.0 running on Windows NT 3.1, although National Semiconductor continued to run DB2 under MVS on a Hitachi mainframe and Sybase SQL Server on IBM AIX boxes. Microsoft rewrote and augmented the Sybase code for SQL Server 6.0. Microsoft Access 1.1+ and Visual Basic 3.0+ quickly became my front ends of choice for Microsoft and Sybase SQL Server 6+, as well as DB2.

"Sphinx" (the codename for SQL Server 7.0), OLE DB, and ADO were the topics of one of my early client/server articles for Visual Basic Programmer's Journal (VBPJ), the predecessor of Visual Studio Magazine (VSM). SQL Server 7.0, which RTM'd on December 2, 1998 during COMDEX/Fall '98 in Las Vegas, was an immediate hit. SQL Server 7.0 exchanged devices for NTFS MDF and LDF files; introduced row-level locking, self-tuning, and self-management; provided the Starfighter (Enterprise Manager) client with the DaVinci query design toolset; added online analytical processing (OLAP) features; and delivered the freely distributable Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE) 1.0. Microsoft based the OLAP Services on the Plato product line that the company had purchased from Israel's Panorama. Scalability increased dramatically from the SQL Server 6.5 baseline and Microsoft's TerraServer proved the feasibility of managing terabyte databases with SQL Server 7.0.

PC Week (now eWeek) said, "SQL Server takes a big step toward enterprise capability and introduces dramatic ease-of-use improvements with Version 7.0 of the database server" and named SQL Server 7.0 Best of Productivity Software and Best of Show at Comdex. VarBusiness magazine gushed, "SQL Server is a part of the platform that makes data warehouse and business intelligence much more accessible to customers. … SQL Server 7.0 out-of-the-box contains a robust set of widely supported services and technologies unmatched by Oracle8i, Oracle Data Mart Suite or Oracle Warehouse Builder" (see Resources).

Microsoft released SQL Server 2000 on August 7, 2000. This version enabled running multiple server instances on a single machine, improved Analysis Services, added data mining capabilities, delivered an updated MSDE 2000, gave developers new XML capabilities with SQLXML, and implemented new clustering technology. Datamation anointed SQL Server the Product of the Year for Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence. Less than a year after the release of SQL Server 2000, the SQL Server product line was selling at the rate of one billion dollars per year (see Table 1 and Resources). According to The OLAP Report, Microsoft's share of the total OLAP market, which includes OLAP client and other software as well as consulting income, rose from 7.5 percent in 1999 to 28 percent in 2005 (see Table 2 and Resources). Microsoft consistently topped Gartner's relational database ranking for year-to-year market share growth, and SQL Server 2000 had garnered 20 percent of the $7.8 billion worldwide relational database management system (RDBMS) market for by 2004 (see Table 3).

IDG reported different SQL Server results for 2004: 13 percent of $15 billion for revenue of "just over $2 billion," according to InformationWeek's Charles Babcock, who observed: " The report predicts that IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle will be engaged in 'a battle royal' once Microsoft's SQL Server 2005 comes out. 'The landscape could change considerably,' the report says, adding that 'Microsoft's strong momentum should serve the company well.'" Microsoft Monitor's Joe Wilcox reports JupiterResearch surveys indicating that "26 percent of businesses with 250 or more employees plan to upgrade to SQL Server 2005 within 12 months."

"Never follow a banjo act with another banjo act," is a classic vaudeville house rule, but SQL Server 2005 undoubtedly will prove this adage wrong. InfoWorld's "Special Report: SQL Server's extreme makeover" begins with this summary: "Microsoft's flagship database pumps up to enterprise class with high availability, slick disaster recovery, rebuilt integration services, stronger analytics, and other heavy-duty enhancements." Sean McCown's "SQL Server bulks up" review emphasizes the high-availability and disaster-recovery (HADR) features implemented by database mirroring which, as of SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 1, is now supported (see Resources). Snapshot-based restores and log-shipping also enhance HADR. McCown gives SQL Server 2005 the highest score (9.1 out of 10) of the five major RDBMSs he reviewed in 2004 and early 2005 (see Table 4).

Tom Yager, chief technologist at InfoWorld's technical center, says, "Through integration with .NET, SQL Server 2005 takes its rightful place as an active peer, not a detached agent, in large-scale distributed applications. Tight and transparent DBMS integration was a key contributor to Java's overwhelming success, and as is the case with Java, .NET fits hand in glove with a DBMS." I'm less sanguine than Yager about the prospect of ubiquitous .NET integration with the database engine using SQLCLR. But running VB or C# code in the Database Engine's process certainly has the potential to deliver benefits far beyond those that the Jet Expression Service extends to Jet and Access SQL queries.

Here are my favorite new or improved SQL Server features that I've covered in recent VSM and FTPOnline articles:

  • The native XML data type and XQuery 1.0
  • The varchar(max) and varbinary(max) data types
  • Column-level and cell-level encryption
  • SQL Server 2005 Express Edition
  • Integration of SQL Server Management Studio with the Visual Studio IDE
  • New Transact-SQL (T-SQL) commands and functions
  • Database mirroring
  • Service Broker and Event Notifications
  • Query Notifications
  • ReportControls and Reporting Services
  • Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS)
  • Native XML Web services (with some reservations)

(See Resources for links to the articles.)

Microsoft increased the license cost for SQL Server 2005 Standard and Enterprise Editions by 20 percent (from $4,999 to $5,999 and from $19,999 to $23,999 per CPU, not per core.) The features Microsoft added to or enhanced in SQL Server 2005 more than compensate for the increased license costs, especially if you need OLAP and data mining capabilities. Microsoft hasn't released updated SQL Server 2005 versions of their "Oracle10g and SQL Server 2000 Price Comparison" or "IBM DB2 Version 8.1 and SQL Server 2000 Price Comparison" white papers and worksheets, but you can modify the earlier versions easily for presentations to management. If your database engine requirements are modest, the free SQL Server Express Edition (SSX) now offers SQL Server Management Studio Express (a GUI database administration tool), includes Reporting Services, and enables full-text search. Microsoft will release the lightweight SQL Server Everywhere Edition for Win32 desktop applications later this year. Small- and medium-size organizations that outgrow SSX can license the new Workgroup Edition for $3,899 per CPU.

Increased licensing costs for Standard and Enterprise editions haven't hampered SQL Server 2005 adoption so far. Microsoft's Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for 2006's third quarter says, "Server and Server application revenue, including CAL revenue, grew $347 million or 17 percent during the third quarter and $875 million or 14 percent during the first nine months of fiscal year 2006. The results reflect broad adoption of Windows Server System products, especially SQL Server, which grew over 30 percent for the quarter and 25 percent year to date" (see Resources). SQL Server 2005 was the bright spot in a quarter that failed to meet analysts' expectations.

Commercial (a.k.a. proprietary) RDBMS vendors have their work cut out to just maintain current revenues—not to mention year-to-year sales increases—in competition with "free," "open-source," or both database products, such as Oracle 10g Express Edition, IBM DB2 Express-C, MySQL 5.0, Ingres 2006, Sybase ASE Express Edition for Linux, and PostgreSQL 8.1. Microsoft's latest 10-Q warns, "We continue to expect overall server hardware shipments to grow approximately 11 percent to 13 percent in fiscal year 2006. However, we face strong competition from Linux-based, Unix, and other server operating systems as well as competition in server applications." But I think you'll agree with InfoWorld's editor-in-chief Steve Fox, when he says "SQL Server 2005 leaves open source databases in the dust." There's no question in my mind that he and Sean McCown are right on the money.

About the Author
Roger Jennings is an independent XML Web service and database developer and author. Roger’s latest book is Expert One-on-One Visual Basic 2005 Database Programming (ISBN 0-7645-7678-X) for WROX/Wiley. He’s also a Visual Studio Magazine contributing editor and FTPOnline columnist, and writes the OakLeaf Systems Weblog. His Code of Federal Regulations Web services won Microsoft’s 2002 .NET Best Horizontal Solution Award. Reach Roger at

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