New tool puts Oracle in the hands of SQL Server developers

Microsoft and Quest have banded together to help put development for SQL Server and Oracle databases under the same umbrella.

The development challenges of working with both Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle databases in the same environment are no secret to database professionals. Fortunately, the day when both databases can be developed using the same data management tools appears to be fast approaching.

Microsoft and Quest Software Inc. are set to unveil a tool designed to extend Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 support to Oracle databases.  The product, dubbed Toad Extension for Visual Studio, will be unveiled next week at the Visual Studio Launch Conference and Expo in Las Vegas.

The software could be welcomed by developers working in large enterprises with heterogeneous database environments. Daniel Norwood, a product manager with Quest, said the idea was to bring the declarative development functionality of Visual Studio for SQL Server to Oracle databases as well.

Norwood said that the ability to work with other database types via the same toolset has become increasingly important, considering how so many SQL Server professionals these days are required to work with Oracle as well.

The issue is centered on managing schema changes made between the time a database snapshot is taken for development and when that database is pushed out into production. Norwood said that while tracking and merging changes for SQL Server databases is simplified through Visual Studio, developers are in a much tougher spot when it comes to performing the same tasks on Oracle. He said Toad Extension for Visual Studio 2010 will allow developers to import, modify and refactor Oracle databases in the same way they would for SQL Server.

IT professionals can also then track schema changes for both Oracle and SQL Server with Visual Studio Team Foundation Server, and merge and compare those changers after the fact.

Declarative development branches out

Terry Clancy, a business development manager at  Microsoft, described declarative development as different from typical development in that all database objects are under source control. The key involves declaring how a database should be set up, so the tool can then create the appropriate update scripts before the database is pushed out.

Clancy said one problem with deploying to multiple databases is that people tend to go in and make changes, resulting in database schemas that are rarely exactly the same.

“Using declarative development, you just declare the way you want the schema to be and even if the target databases are slightly different, it will create the appropriate update scripts for each database,” he said. “So if they’re not conformant, [Visual Studio can help] bring them into conformance and make them all identical.”

The update is a notable milestone for Visual Studio, which up to this point has been mainly a SQL Server-only product. Clancy said that the functionality is the result of more than three years of work between Microsoft and Quest.

“ We’ve created a virtualization layer that allows us to support not only SQL Server, but any [other] back-end database,” Clancy said. “But the piece of third-party code that we need to do this is called a database schema provider.”

He compared such a provider to a sophisticated driver that allows Visual Studio to connect to non-SQL Server databases. While Toad Extension offers the schema provider for Oracle, the added virtualization layer within Visual Studio 2010 could potentially allow support of other database systems at some point in the future.  

Where the value lies

Quest’s Norwood said he thinks the technology will be a boon for both SQL Server and Oracle developers. For those accustomed to using Visual Studio for SQL Server, working with familiar tools for Oracle databases could be a major timesaver.

David McKinstry, vice president with Irving, Texas-based Notion Solutions Inc. and Microsoft MVP for Visual Studio Team System, said he expects consistency to be the key for those who are used to going back and forth from one database type to another. “The more times you have to switch contexts, the more opportunities there are to make mistakes, which, of course, are costly -- especially in the database world,” he said.

Toad Extension for Visual Studio is scheduled to be released on April 19, one week after the launch of Visual Studio 2010. Pricing for Toad Extension is set at $799 per developer, with support for the Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate and Premium editions. A freeware version will be made available a few weeks after the commercial release.

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