Microsoft's SQL Server 2012 Ready For Prime Time

The company on Tuesday also released the second technology preview of its distribution of Hadoop, based on the Apache Software Foundation's open-source Hadoop platform for developing distributed, data-intensive applications.

Both products help IT departments deal with the explosion of structured and unstructured data they find themselves wrestling with today, said Doug Leland, general manager of Microsoft's business platform marketing group, in a phone interview.

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"Customers are living in a sea of data. We're now in a 'store-everything' era," Leland said. Technologies such as SQL Server 2012 and Hadoop offer ways to manage and analyze huge volumes of data in ways that create new business opportunities, he said.

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Market researcher Gartner calculates that the volume of global data is growing at 59 percent every year and as much as 70 to 85 percent of that is unstructured data.

While Microsoft is best known for its Windows desktop operating system and Office applications, SQL Server is one of the company's key products in its fast-growing Server and Tools business.

Partners have eagerly anticipated the SQL Server 2012, the first major release of the database software since the company shipped SQL Server 2008 R2 in April 2010. Developed under the code name "Denali," SQL Server 2012 offers enhanced capabilities ranging from "self-service" business intelligence features to data quality management tools, to more advanced high-availability/disaster recovery technology.

Microsoft partner Perficient, for example, has been receiving numerous customer requests for demonstrations of the new database, said Duane Schafer, a senior technical architect who leads the Microsoft business intelligence practice at the St. Louis-based Microsoft Gold partner and Microsoft-designated National Systems Integrator. Schafer is offering an online demonstration of SQL Server 2012's PowerPivot and Power View ad-hoc reporting capabilities.

New capabilities in SQL Server 2012 offer partners ways to expand their cloud computing services, Leland said. The database makes it easier to synchronize data between cloud and on-premise systems, for example, while links with Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud platform and SQL Azure cloud database make it easier to manage cloud and on-premise systems together.

Thousands of Microsoft customers have been testing earlier releases of SQL Server 2012, Leland said, and several hundred already have the database running in production environments. The executive also noted that business intelligence is a top priority on most CIOs' IT project lists.

Microsoft has scheduled a virtual launch event for SQL Server 2012 for Wednesday.

On the Hadoop front, Microsoft has been developing distributions of Hadoop that work with Windows Azure and the company's flagship Windows Server on-premise operating system.

This week's technology preview release for Hadoop-based services on Windows Azure follows a preview release in December that was limited to an invite-only group of 400 customers. While the second technical preview is also invite-only, Leland said the number of participants is being expanded to 2,000 customers. There is currently no date for the technology's general availability.

Microsoft is developing the Windows Server version of Hadoop in cooperation with Hortonworks, which developed its own Hadoop distribution and related tools and services.

SQL Server 2012 also has built-in Hadoop connectivity that allows the database's PowerPivot and Power View business analytics tools to tap into Hadoop-supplied data.

Microsoft also said Tuesday that it's releasing a major software update for Microsoft Parallel Data Warehouse appliances on April 1 and new half-rack form factors for the product.