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Security is the catch word for SQL Server's sequel

Microsoft's newest relational database management system will ship later this year with several new capabilities, as well as a heftier price tag than its predecessor.

Improved security in SQL Server 2005 is the No. 1 reason database professionals will tell their senior managers why they need to start planning a move up to Microsoft's newest database management platform when it becomes available later this year.

Microsoft has made it a point to

When [built-in] encryption becomes available, it will be a high priority for us …

Paul Garner, manager, database administration, Pioneer

explain just how much more robust this version of SQL Server is, and customers are hopeful that the software -- better known as Yukon -- will require far less patching than the current version. "When you have to start rolling them out over 50 or 60 servers, it eats up a lot of time," said Chuck Ballinger, an information analyst at Avista Corp., a Spokane, Wash.-based energy company.

Customers are also waiting for new features, such as built-in encryption, which lets database administrators encrypt data at the record and field level -- a capability currently only available through third-party vendor products.

"We need to protect our data not just from the outside but from internal personnel from unauthorized access," said Paul Garner, a manager of database administration at Pioneer Investment Management Inc., a Boston-based financial services firm. "When [built-in] encryption becomes available, it will be a high priority for us and it is one of the arguments I will be using for making a migration."

Long time between SQL Server versions

It's been five years since the last version of SQL Server was released. By comparison, Oracle Corp. has had two major releases of its product

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See what Microsoft had to say about SQL Server 2005 at the PASS Summit

during this time. So when it comes to improvements made for the benefit of security, plus other features, Microsoft is in a race to catch up with the two big database vendors, Oracle and IBM, said Noel Yuhanna, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.

But beyond security, there are some other big items that senior managers may want to know about. Perhaps the biggest change is in pricing. SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition, at $24,999 per processor, will be priced 25% higher than the previous version, SQL Server 2000, which was $19,999 per processor. The new version includes full database mirroring with database snapshot for reporting off mirrored servers, some advanced business intelligence features and some improved scalability, according to Microsoft.

"Microsoft is justifying its higher price by saying it has more functionality than other vendors, but I don't think so," Yuhanna said. "If they increase their price by 25% it may narrow the competitive edge against Oracle and IBM, and customers may think twice about acquiring new licenses.

SQL Server maintains SMB appeal

Yuhanna said Microsoft is getting just a bit of traction in terms of high-end performance delivery, but IBM and Oracle are still far ahead of SQL Server, according to the Transaction Processing Performance Council, an industry-led, non-profit group in San Francisco whose purpose is to provide objective benchmarks for database performance.

The main reason that customers like SQL Server is that it is easy to manage. Yuhanna said SQL Server will continue to be popular in small to medium-sized environments.

Database professionals still have a long time to wait before SQL Server 2005 becomes a reality for their production environments. A third beta is not expected until the end of this month. The final product is not likely to ship until at least fall.

Customers like Garner and Ballinger are already busy testing the new database in isolated environments, but said they don't expect to roll anything out to their enterprises until well into 2006.

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