Microsoft sees data warehousing as the future of the database and is targeting version 7.0 of its SQL Server database at the mass market.
It will add a raft of new decision support features to the database, codenamed Sphinx, to try to appeal to the mass data warehousing sector.
The aim is to make the offering as easy to install, deploy and use as possible in order to woo small and medium-sized companies. Microsoft also plans to move deeper into the enterprise by making the technology available to many more knowledge workers than at present.
As a result, another important goal is to make the database easy to manage, so that administrators, always in short supply, can spend more of their time on challenging rather than routine tasks.
William Baker, Microsoft?s product unit manager for the decision support product unit, explained: ?The data warehouse is the future of the database and the market is growing at 40 per cent each year compared to the database?s four per cent. The needs and requirements of the data warehouse will be the same as those driving the database forward, but these have so far been very esoteric. Our aim is to make it easy to design, build, manage and use cost effective data warehouse solutions using SQL Server and Windows.?
He continued: ?Our goal is to push things together and make the transaction and data warehouse worlds the same in one database. We want to make data warehousing mass market technology and our goal is to get to the concept of 'data, data everywhere'. If we push it into the organisation, we will create demand for data warehouses and related services and demand for online transaction processing will grow as a result.?
A key plank to this strategy of proliferating the data warehouse is Microsoft?s Zero Administration Server initiative, which involves trying to automate all routine operations in the database, or when this is not possible, to provide 25 wizards to make writing routines easier.
New features of Sphinx, which is a complete rewrite, include dynamic memory and disk space management, and an improved Enterprise Manager for multiserver installations. This comes as a Microsoft Management Console snap-in, so it has the same look-and-feel as the rest of the Back Office family of products. Agent technology has also been added, which can report back to a central server on whether a job has been a success or failure.
But, to ensure the technology can be used by as many people as possible, a mobile version of the database for sales staff will also be incorporated in the current line-up, which includes a Standard and Enterprise Edition.
This will act as a back end to Office 2000 applications, requiring 2-4Mbytes of memory and 32Mbytes of hard disk. It will provide bidirectional replication to ensure mobile workers have access to the most current information.
In a bid to make SQL Server even more ubiquitous, however, the next version of the Access development environment will support OLEDB, which means users can choose whether they want Jet as the back end database to their applications, or SQL Server. Jet will continue to be the default database, but SQL Server is expected to become the default offerings for applications such as Exchange over time.
Meanwhile, similar ease of use features will also be added to Microsoft?s new Plato online transaction processing offering, which will be called Decision Support Services (DSS) and come only with the Standard and Enterprise versions of SQL Server.
Such features include the ability to query Plato in English rather than SQL, to store only selected combinations of queries in a multidimensional database to cut down on the immense amounts of time currently spent writing aggregations, and the ability to choose whether to store data in a relational or multidimensional database, or mixture of the two.
Usage analysis tools will also be provided, which register queries into a log and then analyse them, so administrators can optimise the system for the busiest time or establish which aggregations are the most popular so they can prioritise them.
Plato will be completely integrated into SQL Server and the Back Office family of products, and will not be sold as a standalone server, which means existing users from the offering?s former days with Panorama Software will be forced to move to SQL Server.
Amir Netz, Microsoft?s lead developer for Plato, explained: ?We want to make Olap and data warehousing ubiquitous. Olap is becoming more popular, but the price tag and the current cost of consulting is enormous, so only the large corporates can afford it. We want to make Plato affordable, so we won?t introduce a different pricing structure from SQL Server. This will make it between 10 and 20 times cheaper than rival offerings.?
But, to ensure it has an end user query tool to bring to the party, Microsoft is adding its OLEDB for Olap application programming interface to the next version of Excel. This means customers will be able to access Plato via the spreadsheet, using its Pivot Table features to analyse multidimensional data.
Version 1.0 of DSS will not support Microsoft?s clustering technology, however, and users will not be able to access data from IBM?s DB2, AS/400, Informix or Sybase databases using native OLEDB drivers until release 2.0. Oracle support will be provided immediately.
Another important product to help optimise SQL Server for data warehousing is version 2.0 of the Microsoft repository. This will also be integrated into the database and enable uses to share metadata between their different data warehouse products and components to enable reuse.
The repository supports not only Microsoft tools, but also offerings from up to 32 third party vendors, and makes it easier to coordinate team development.
SQL Server 7.0 is due to go into its third beta in the next few weeks and is scheduled to ship by September. Microsoft claims it has already tested databases from 500 out of an expected 800 US customers to ensure backwards compatiblity and plans to open an upgrade laboratory in Europe in the next couple of months, so that its top ISVs can ensure their applications migrate easily.
It also intends to stump up $20 million in a bid to try and get interest going in the product. The money will be used to heavily subsidise training courses for up to 50,000 database administrators worldwide.
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