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SQL Server 2005: Resources for learning

With all the hype surrounding SQL Server 2005, it's hard to know what exactly is new in this release. Adam Machanic highlights how to get the scoop on what this release brings.

If you've spent any time on Microsoft-centric Web sites in the last six months, you've probably heard about the new version of SQL Server scheduled to be released later this year. Yet with all the hype, promises and early reviews, it is sometimes hard to form a solid idea of what exactly is new in SQL Server 2005.

This is the first major SQL Server release in over five years. It boasts an impressive but intimidating number of new features -- so many that it's a good idea to start reading up on them now, in anticipation of the final release. To that end, I'm going to highlight some resources out there for getting the scoop on the gigantic feature set that this release brings to the table.

For a basic marketing-centric overview, check out Microsoft's own SQL Server 2005 Website, which has information on every part of the product and its three key areas: enterprise data management, developer productivity and business intelligence. Be sure to check out the Product Overview and Top 30 Features.

Next, familiarize yourself with changes to the T-SQL language. In SQL Server 2005, T-SQL undergoes a huge number of changes, with support added for ranking functions, enhanced recursion, new data types and new operators to make data access more intuitive and more performant. For a full rundown on these changes, see Itzik Ben-Gan's white paper on T-SQL enhancements.

Also new in SQL Server 2005 are improved partitioning features and the snapshot isolation level, both of which are intended to provide improvements in performance and scalability. The new partitioning features (much easier to use and manage than the former partitioned views feature) give DBAs the option to split up either tables or indexes across files -- or disks -- to make reading and writing faster and more concurrent. The snapshot isolation level greatly decreases blocking in many scenarios, thereby making applications much more responsive. For more in-depth analysis and discussion on these promising new features, try the MSDN library and Microsoft TechNet.

Be sure to take the time to read up on other changes to the relational engine, including the addition of an XML data type and the ability to implement stored procedures, functions and data types in .NET languages, such as C#. All of these updates represent a huge boon for flexibility but should be used carefully and with best practices in mind. To that end, Microsoft has published two papers: one on XML best practices, complete with illustrative examples, found here and one on CLR integration, which provides a careful comparison of the new features with existing programming models.

Of course, the relational engine is not the only component of SQL Server. Integration Services, formerly known as Data Transformation Services, has been completely revamped. For information on what's changed -- and trust me, everything has changed -- read Lessons from Project REAL on the MSDN site.

If you're a DBA, there is some good news and some bad news. Bad news first: The trusty sidekicks of SQL Server DBAs everywhere, Enterprise Manager and Query Analyzer, have been retired. Now the good news: In their place is the brand-new, all-encompassing SQL Server Management Studio. This tool contains all the functionality of its forefathers, wrapped in a Visual Studio-style interface. A full tour of the new features can be accessed in the MSDN Webcast: Introducing the New SQL Server Management Studio.

Finally, keep an eye on these resources for SQL Server 2005. In coming months I will present various SQL Server 2005 tips and tricks, as well as answer your difficult questions in SearchSQLServer's Ask the Experts space. I look forward to exploring SQL Server 2005 with you!

Adam Machanic is a senior database engineer for GetConnected Inc. He has several years of experience developing a variety of applications using SQL Server as a data repository and is active on numerous online technical forums. He is a Microsoft Certified Professional and a SQL Server MVP. Adam, who also serves as our SQL Server 2005 expert, welcomes your questions.

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