Microsoft Outlines Next-Generation Databases

Microsoft kicked off its BI Conference this week in Seattle with news that it's planning to enhance the BI capabilities in the next version of SQL Server database.

Microsoft is planning to enhance the BI capabilities in the next version of its flagship SQL Server database, the company revealed today. The company kicked off its second annual Business Intelligence Conference in Seattle by outlining plans for a new set of managed self-service analysis and reporting capabilities that will be integrated into the next version of SQL Server.

The upgraded BI analysis and reporting capabilities will emerge from a project codenamed "Gemini," and will be part of the upcoming SQL Server "Kilimanjaro" release. Essentially, Gemini is a bundle of easy-to-use tools designed to enable average information workers gather and manipulate structured and unstructured data for better business decisions.

"Project Gemini is going to do for BI what wikis and blogs have done for creating content on the Web," said Kristina Kerr, senior product manager in Microsoft's BI product group. "In the past, you had to have specialized programming knowledge to create a Web site, and there would be a few producers of content and everyone was a consumer. That's the state of the nation right now for BI; there are very few people who can produce that BI information, but everyone ultimately is or wants to be a consumer. With this announcement, we are shifting that paradigm and making it possible for everyone to be a consumer and a producer."

Gemini's managed self-service analysis capabilities will be deeply integrated with Microsoft's SharePoint and Excel, Kerr said. Microsoft expects Gemini to produce "an explosion on information unprecedented in the history of BI, making data truly accessible to everyone in an organization," she added.

The term "managed self-service" underscores the fact that while these capacities will give users a great deal of freedom to slice and dice company data, they won't be without supervision, according to Fausto Ibarra, director of product management in Microsoft's SQL Server division. Gemini enables users to perform analysis and build their own BI solutions with minimal dependence on IT, but it does so within an IT-managed infrastructure that "allows end users to produce, consume and collaborate on personal BI results, while allowing IT to capture business insights in the process," Ibarra said.

Microsoft also gave an update of a project codenamed "Madison," which integrates the technology assets Microsoft acquired this summer from DATAllegro, an Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based provider of data warehouse appliances. According to Ibarra, Madison builds on SQL Server's scaling capabilities to extend "massive scale-out capabilities" into hundreds of terabytes. He said Madison will provide an appliance-like solution in collaboration with hardware partners Dell, HP, Unisys, Bull Systems and EMC, which will enable Microsoft's customers to modify the appliance to conform with their existing hardware environments. Microsoft expects to release Madison formally in 2010, but also plans to provide technical previews within the next 12 months.

SQL Server 2008 was released two months ago, and the company is reporting more than 500,000 downloads of the product to date. Its successor, Kilimanjaro, is scheduled for release in 2010, with early customer previews available within the next 12 months.

It remains to be seen how developers will be able to exploit the new features in the new database, said Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at custom technology solutions provider twentysix New York, in an e-mail. Much will depend on the degree to which the product exposes an object model or API.

"If that programmability is exposed, the benefits will be enormous, because developers will have in-memory OLAP capabilities available to their line-of-business client applications," Brust said. "Like Gemini itself, this will make analytics capabilities accessible to the users who need it, without requiring IT to build the capability for them, but the ability to embed that power into custom applications (as opposed to making it available exclusively through Excel) would be huge."

Even if the programmability is limited in the initial release, Brust added, Gemini should bolster SQL Server as a platform for data-driven applications. Brust said its tie-ins to SharePoint and further extended Analysis Services are programmable and should advance SQL Server as a platform for developing OLAP and BI applications.

Although Madison's significance to developers is more subtle -- and may even seem irrelevant at first blush -- Brust suggested that in the long run, its impact may be significant. "Madison is going to facilitate SQL Server data warehouse implementations that are so large that many developers won't actually need it," he said. "But the very fact that SQL Server will be competitive for those scenarios will boost its credibility and qualifications with IT departments at the largest of organizations."

Brust pointed out that it's not uncommon right now for Oracle or Teradata to be used for enterprise data warehouses, which then populate data marts built with SQL Server. "Once Madison is ready, these same environments will be able to be implemented as SQL Server-only installations," he said.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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