Why Microsoft Partners Are Pumped For SQL Server 2012

Microsoft is less than two weeks away from launching SQL Server 2012, the next generation of its database software, and channel partners are already deep into proof-of-concept development work and gearing up for anticipated upgrade demands from customers.

"It's a core element of just about everything we do," said Adam Worobec, business intelligence practice director at Tallan, a Hartford, Conn.-based solution provider and a Microsoft partner. "It's a critical piece of our business."

SQL Server 2012, code-named Denali for much of its development, is now in Release Candidate stage -- the next to last step in Microsoft's product rollout process before software is released to manufacturing and generally made available to customers and partners.

It's the first major release of the database software since the company shipped SQL Server 2008 R2 in April 2010.

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Microsoft has yet to disclose the release-to-manufacturing/availability date for SQL Server 2012, an announcement that presumably will come at the product launch event on March 7, if not before.

Just how much pent-up interest there is in the new database is hard to gauge. One solution provider said that given this is such a major upgrade of the software, he expects many customers to hold off until the first SQL Server 2012 Service Pack is available to be sure all the bugs are worked out. Others, however, said they see a lot of early interest from customers.

While Microsoft is best known for its Windows operating system and Office desktop applications, SQL Server and other business-centric products such as SharePoint and Exchange are accounting for an increasingly larger share of Microsoft's business.

In the company's second fiscal quarter ended Dec. 31, revenue generated by the company's Server and Tools business -- including SQL Server -- increased 11 percent to nearly $4.8 billion. That's the first time that that business' sales exceeded those of the Windows and Windows Live Division, which reported a 6 percent drop in revenue in the second quarter to $4.74 billion.

Microsoft channel partners who resell SQL Server or do development work based on the database said the new release offers enhanced capabilities, ranging from "self-service" business intelligence features to data quality management tools, to more advanced high-availability/disaster recovery technology.

"We've had working demos of the entire environment for quite awhile now," said Duane Schafer, a senior technical architect who leads the Microsoft business intelligence practice at Perficient, a St. Louis-based Microsoft Gold partner and Microsoft-designated National Systems Integrator.

Schafer said tight integration between SQL Server 2012 and Microsoft SharePoint 2010 more effectively combine the database's back-end tools -- such as reporting and analytical services, master data management and data quality management -- with SharePoint's content management, workflow and search capabilities.

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In SQL Server 2008 R2 Microsoft introduced PowerPivot, a tool that allowed users to create their own data models for developing Excel-like reports without help from IT department developers. SQL Server 2012 offers Power View (developed under the code name Crescent), a tool that takes the database's self-service business intelligence capabilities even further.

Along with new data exploration and visualization features, Power View works with SharePoint to help users save and share data models -- empowering information workers to build their own reports without waiting for help from IT.

The new database also offers a single business intelligence semantic model for users with multiple ways of building business intelligence applications. "This gives us more choices in how we can design a BI solution," Perficient's Schafer said. "[Customers] now essentially have all the business intelligence functionality they need."

Tallan, which holds Microsoft Gold competencies in business intelligence, application integration and application life-cycle management, has been developing proof-of-concept systems around early releases of SQL Server 2012. The solution provider, which builds data warehouse systems and reports for customers, has been holding seminars on the new product for clients and developers.

SQL Server 2012 incorporates in-memory column store technology (code-named Apollo) and new development tools (code-named Juneau) for developing database, business intelligence and Web applications for SQL Server and SQL Azure.

Such capabilities expand the range of problems users can address with the database and help partners such as Tallan complete projects more quickly while spending less time building database infrastructure. "The flexibility is tremendous," Tallan's Worobec said.

SQL Server 2012's integration with the SharePoint Active Directory will become increasingly important as more users access the database through the cloud, said Ronnie Parisella, IT director at Power Consulting Group, a New York-based IT consulting and managed services company that partners with Microsoft. "And the new Hyper-V integration is going to be killer," he said, noting SQL Server 2012's new virtualization abilities.

Completely new to SQL Server is the addition of data quality services for profiling, cleansing, validating and matching data. The new capabilities are in addition to enhancements to the master data management capabilities that were introduced in SQL Server 2008 R2.

The data quality services tools, along with enhancements to the master data management features, mean that Microsoft SQL Server now has a complete lineup of enterprise information management technologies -- a point that Schafer said is prominently mentioned in the SQL Server 2012 marketing materials. "The entire EIM stack is maturing," he said.

SQL Server 2012 also offers a range of improvements in clustering, high-availability, failover and disaster recovery. Most important are the new SQL Server AlwaysOn tools including AlwaysOn Failover Cluster Instances, AlwaysOn Availability Groups, AlwaysOn Connection Director Capabilities and AlwaysOn Active Secondaries.

The new Availability Groups enhance the database system's data mirroring capabiliites, for example, while Active Secondaries allow backup databases to be used to run reporting queries and other tasks instead of sitting idle.

Other enhancements include improvements to the database's full-text search capabilities, improved SQL Server auditing tools, and a new distributed, multithreaded replay utility for simulating production workloads for testing after system upgrades or configuration changes.