Database Developers Join Visual Studio Crowd

DataDude a new Visual Studio Team System (VSTS) product -- Team Edition for Database Professionals

At press time, Microsoft was scheduled to release a new Visual Studio Team System (VSTS) product -- Team Edition for Database Professionals -- to manufacturing as of Nov. 30. The company said the product, which officials call "DataDude," apparently due to its impossible name, will be available to current VSTS suite subscribers within a few days of RTM. General availability is pegged for Jan. 1, 2007.

"[It] is designed to manage database changes, improve software quality through database testing, and bring the benefits of Visual Studio Team System and life cycle development to database professionals, such as database architects, database developers and database administrators," explains S. "Soma" Somasegar, corporate vice president of the Developer Division, in a blog posting regarding the new product.

DataDude aims to let database professionals take advantage of integrated change-management features to streamline changes to databases. It also attempts to reduce the risk of catastrophic failures related to altering database schemas by providing refactoring tools specifically to analyze a change's impact on the database application.

"Say I want to change the name of a column in a database, we scan the entire database to let you know what changes [are needed] -- to make sure changes are done throughout," explains Matt Nunn, Microsoft senior product manager for Team Edition for Database Professionals.

The new Team Edition tool supports integrated database testing, including unit tests, complex test authoring and automatic generation of test data. Schema and database comparison tools are also provided.

Part of the Team
Microsoft aims to give database developers the same tools used by other development teams in the enterprise, within VSTS's role-based development model. It's an effort that several analysts and developers welcome.

"It tries to bring the database guy into the development process because a lot of applications have a database," says Greg DeMichillie, lead analyst for development tools at researcher Directions on Microsoft. "It fulfills that role pretty well."

The new product lets database developers use the same tools as application developers participating in Visual Studio's teamwork environment, including source code control.

"This product, more than anything else, is about database change management, [which] makes it very different from other developer tools vendors' data products," says Carey Schwaber, analyst for application development at Forrester Research. "You can't really compare [VSTS] for Database Professionals with an offering like IBM Rational Data Architect, for example, which is about data modeling far more than anything else."

DeMichillie agrees: "Microsoft isn't as deep as Mercury Interactive [recently acquired by HP] or Rational, but the advantage is within the integration with Visual Studio."

DataDude fulfills a growing need, enabling full unit tests on database schemas that at least one beta tester has found useful. Stephen Chelack, a project architect at Schlumberger Information Solutions, a subsidiary of Schlumberger Oilfield Services, says: "[Unit testing] is where we saw the greatest potential value, especially because it allowed us to have a consistent environment for testing." The tool, he adds, "was flexible enough to allow us to define a broad range of tests including custom handlers and, most importantly, the ability to define pre and post conditions, which we needed in order to set up our tests."

Schlumberger Information Solutions used DataDude in a recent project called Seabed, a comprehensive data model and database for the oil and gas industry.

"The bottom line is that for the types of tests we need to validate our database, the unit testing has proved very valuable and we will continue to convert other test harnesses and infrastructure to DataDude," says Chelack.

Refactoring allows developers to analyze the impact changes can have on the database application.
[click image for larger view]
Refactoring allows developers to analyze the impact changes can have on the database application.

"The database refactoring, unit testing and data generator features are sorely needed by mainstream developers," says Andrew J. Brust, chief of new technology at twentysix, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner in New York. "The fact that DataDude is part of Team System ... really enhances its value and further ties it to what's already familiar to scores of developers and information workers."

Work in Progress
DataDude is a work in progress, says DeMichillie, who describes it as "clearly a version 1 product."

Chelack says the tool is lacking a few capabilities that prohibit Schlumberger from totally replacing its current technologies. "[Because] we generate [code] for Oracle and SQL Server, we need a testing environment that can test both," he says. "Additionally, we've built our system to be open and meta-data driven and having tools that support that model -- where we can plug our meta system into the DataDude architecture -- will be a big advantage to us."

VSTS for Database Professionals will be available to subscribers of Visual Studio 2005 Team Suite with MSDN Premium as part of their subscription. It will also be sold separately at an estimated retail price of $5,469.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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