Microsoft Outlines Next-Gen Databases

Redmond reveals “Kilimanjaro,” the business intelligence-focused successor to SQL Server 2008.

Microsoft plans to enhance the business-intelligence (BI) capabilities in the next version of its flagship SQL Server database, the company revealed last month. At its second annual Microsoft Business Intelligence Conference in Seattle, the company outlined plans for a new set of managed, self-service analysis and reporting capabilities that will be integrated into the next version of SQL Server.

SQL Server 2008 was released two months ago, and the company is reporting more than 500,000 downloads of the product to date. Its successor, code-named "Kilimanjaro," is scheduled for release in 2010, with early customer previews available within the next 12 months.

'Gemini' Gears Up
The upgraded BI analysis and reporting capabilities will emerge from a project code-named "Gemini," and will work with Kilimanjaro. Essentially, Gemini is a bundle of easy-to-use tools designed to enable average information workers to gather and manipulate structured and unstructured data in order to make better business decisions.

"Project Gemini is going to do for BI what wikis and blogs have done for creating content on the Web," says Kristina Kerr, senior product manager in Microsoft's BI Product Group. Gemini's managed self-service analysis capabilities will be deeply integrated with Microsoft's SharePoint and Excel, Kerr says.

Gemini will enable users to perform analysis and build their own BI solutions with minimal dependence on IT, but it will do so within an IT-managed infrastructure that "allows end users to produce, consume and collaborate on personal BI results, while allowing IT to capture business insights in the process," says Fausto Ibarra, director of product management in Microsoft's SQL Server division.

In addition to trying to up the ante with enterprise deployments, what is perhaps more notable about Kilimanjaro is that "it signifies a greater emphasis toward supporting the needs of end users by leveraging the capabilities of SQL Server and the ubiquity of Excel," writes Ovum Senior Analyst Helena Schwenk in a bulletin to clients.

"These are uncharted waters for Microsoft," Schwenk warns. "While Excel is a pervasive BI tool, it has certain technical limitations that prevent it from being used as a full-blown reporting and analysis tool."

Scaling Higher
Data Deliverables.  Click Image or a larger view.Microsoft also gave an update of a project code-named "Madison," which integrates the technology assets Microsoft acquired this summer from DATAllegro Inc., an Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based provider of data warehouse appliances. According to Ibarra, Madison builds on SQL Server's scaling capabilities to extend "massive scale-out capabilities" into the hundreds of terabytes.

Madison will consist of an appliance-like solution in collaboration with hardware partners. Microsoft expects to release Madison formally in 2010, but also plans to provide technical previews within the next 12 months.

It remains to be seen how developers will be able to exploit the new features in the Madison, says Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at New York-based custom technology solutions provider twentysix New York, in an e-mail. Much will depend on the degree to which the product exposes an object model or API.

"If that programmability is exposed," Brust says, "the benefits will be enormous, because developers will have in-memory OLAP capabilities available to their line-of-business client applications. Like Gemini itself, this will make analytics capabilities accessible to the users who need them, without requiring IT to build the capability for them ... The ability to embed that power into custom applications (as opposed to making it available exclusively through Excel) would be huge."
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