'Katmai' SQL Server To Go 'Beyond Relational'

In going beyond relational and XML data, Katmai will incorporate bits and pieces of Microsoft's long-promised-then-dumped WinFS functionality, Francois Ajenstat, director of SQL Server at Microsoft, told CRN.

The software giant talked publicly for the first time Wednesday about the Katmai version of SQL Server at its inaugural Business Intelligence Conference in Redmond, Wash.

The first public Community Technology Preview will be available within the month, Ajenstat said. Channel partners and customers will be able to download the code and try it out, he said.

So far, the only early code outside the company is in the hands of early adopters. The public testing will include a succession of relatively fast-turnaround CTPs. The term "beta test" is no longer operable for SQL Server, Ajenstat said.

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A new feature in the database, dubbed Filestream, builds on lessons learned from the WinFS effort, he noted. The Windows File System -- one of the original "pillars" of the upcoming "Longhorn" Windows Server -- was slated to be a native file store for all data types. It was subsequently pulled out of the Longhorn and Windows Vista releases, and last summer Microsoft pulled back on a stand-alone effort after promising a public preview at its annual partner conference.

The goal, which is really database nirvana, is for Katmai to handle, store and manage all data types natively rather than converting them into Binary Large Objects (Blobs).

Native support for non-traditional data types has long been the overriding goal for database geeks, solution providers said.

The Katmai take "sounds both evolutionary and revolutionary," said Frank Cullen, principal at BlackstoneCullen, an Atlanta database specialist with a strong SQL Server practice. "What it means is databases are going beyond rows and columns to a wealth of interactive media types. It's a powerful way to approach a number of business problems."

If databases are armed with such capability, for example, users could search YouTube based on an image rather than keywords, or a shopper wanting a red, V-neck T-shirt could search multiple sites using a scanned image rather than typing a bunch of keywords into a search engine.

Also new to SQL Server in this release will be policy-based management.

That will enable IT professionals and database administrators (DBAs) to more easily manage SQL Server and apply rules based on the user's role. "You can define this as an employee database, and this type of employee would need to have the following permissions and attribute set to do these tasks. They can be enforced by rules, or alerts can be sent," Ajenstat said.

The goal is better governance over data sources.

Another big perk will be what Microsoft is calling support for dynamic development.

"We are introducing an Entity Data Model that will let developers work at the logical rather than physical level," Ajenstet said. "That will mean they can focus on development and focus on business entities and objects -- a product, a customer -- and not have to worry about how to write that object."

LINQ is the programming construct underlying that theme, and it will let developers focus on higher-level query language. "We will support LINQ for data sets, XML and entities," Ajenstet said.

Microsoft has earlier characterized LINQ (also known as the Language Integrated Query project) as extensions to Visual Basic and C++. Those language extensions in turn extend the .Net Framework by integrating query capabilities for objects, databases and XML data.

The next Visual Studio, code-named Orcas, will also support LINQ.

Another thrust of Katmai will be what Microsoft dubs "pervasive insight" into business information. To that end, the company this week bought SoftArtisans' OfficeWriter software, which will let users tapping into the database and use their familiar Word and Excel applications with SQL Server Reporting Services.