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SQL Server 2008 Release 2

Issue 2 Number 4 April 2010

Are There Reasons for You to Upgrade?

Microsoft is cranking out the publicity for its new Release 2 of SQL Server 2008, currently scheduled for May.  If they weren’t charging for it we might be tempted to call it a service pack, not a release.

When you consider that SQL Reporting Services arrived in a free service pack for SQL 2000, what R2 offers as a paid full release is a bit underwhelming, especially for users of Standard Edition.

Here is a summary of what you can expect in each edition.

Standard Edition
For the Standard Edition user, there is not much in R2 that would drive you to upgrade.  The backup compression feature of SQL Server 2008 Enterprise Edition has been added to the Standard Edition of R2. That’s about it.  It's useful to be sure but is it enough to tempt you to buy?

Enterprise Edition
This edition offers a bit more but it is questionable how useful these features will be to most users. 

  • PowerPivot for SharePoint is the poster child for R2 but it is only available in Enterprise Edition and above. It provides for simplified access to BI features and the ability to manage PowerPivot applications in Sharepoint.  We have more to say about this feature below.
  • Application and Multi-Server Management allows you to remotely manage up to 25 SQL Server instances. 
  • Master Data Services is an enterprise feature that helps maintain data consistency across different servers and different types of data stores.
  • There has been an enhancement to Data Compression to enable UCS-2 Unicode support.
If you have a specific need for any of these features, then of course you should consider upgrading, but we feel these features do not address the needs of most users.

PowerPivot for Sharepoint, an Opinion
R2 Enterprise Edition has only one new feature that is attracting much attention and that is PowerPivot for Sharepoint, referred to as Project Gemini.

Gemini provides managed self-service business intelligence.  It is a technology that allows users to access data warehouses, multi-dimensional data and other enterprise data stores through the Microsoft Excel interface. It also allows IT personnel to have oversight of applications created in PowerPivot through integration with SharePoint.

I have not used Gemini, but I have my doubts that it will bring business intelligence to the common business user as advertised.  Even if it does, I am not sure it is a good idea.

I have serious reservations about giving business users access to huge amounts of enterprise data through their Excel application.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  Everyone in IT has experienced the performance degradation when the ‘guy in accounting’ runs some of the reports he has created.

The ‘guy in accounting’ may know how to query the data he needs, but often he doesn’t understand or care about the impact his query has on other processes. Encouraging this behavior seems to me to be a recipe for performance problems.

The ‘managed’ part of managed self-service BI refers to the fact that the new BI will give IT some control over the many undocumented Excel-based applications that are created within a company by power users.

The assumption is that these power users will publish their PowerPivot Excel applications, reports, etc in Sharepoint to give IT management oversight on them.  Read that as meaning you will also need a Sharepoint server to get full functionality from Gemini.

Gemini has a social environment as well.  This was a jaw-dropping discovery for me.  Donald Farmer, architect and lead developer for Gemini describes it “...like a Facebook for data…” There is a rating and a comments system.  “People trust a report not because they understand the data and calculations, but because they trust the person who built it”.

Am I missing something? Is peer review by people who “don’t know the data and calculations” the wave of the future?  Is the next step to tweet corporate data across the enterprise?

I realize that making these kinds of statements without having used the product is a bit reckless but it is not the details of the program that I have reservations about, it is the whole concept of enabling and encouraging technically naïve users to query large amounts of enterprise data through their spreadsheets. It is not just a performance issue, the security implications are also enormous.
Premium Editions
R2 introduces two more SQL Server editions, Parallel Data Warehouse and Datacenter.  They are dubbed Premium Editions because they come at a distinctly premium price.  Either one will set you back $57,498 per processor (list price).

However, Microsoft is the only database vendor who counts processor sockets rather than processor cores in its licensing scheme.  So an 8 core processor will require only one license.  This makes the premium editions an attractive alternative to Oracle because you would need to pay for 8 licenses on a similar Oracle installation.

Datacenter supports up to 256 processor cores. There is no limit on the amount of memory it can support.  This edition addresses applications needing the highest level of scalability.

With the arrival of this edition, Enterprise Edition has been reduced to no more than 64 processors from its previous ability to handle the OS maximum.

Parallel Data Warehouse
This edition is sold as a hardware appliance.  The hardware itself can come from a number of leading vendors but the mélange of hardware and software is sold as a configured bundle.  Microsoft says this massively parallel architecture can handle databases and data warehouses up to hundreds of terabytes.

Oddly enough, these two new expensive powerhouse editions may be the most compelling reasons to upgrade, but only for those who need to deal with multi-terabyte databases and huge processing loads.

These editions are designed to close the gap with Oracle at the high end of the database spectrum with attractive pricing.  If you live on the upper edge of the database spectrum you might want to look into what they offer.

The Premium Editions bring value to those who need them and can afford them, but the enhancements for Standard and Enterprise Editions are not impressive. The original release of SQL Server 2008 was pale compared to to the huge number of improvements and new features that came with SQL Server 2005. SQL 2008 Release 2 seems paler still.

If you are bringing up a new SQL Server or upgrading an earlier version of SQL, it makes sense to license the latest release of SQL Server, but upgrading an existing SQL 2008 server to R2 doesn’t make much sense to me unless you have a need for PowerPivot and can afford the $28,749 per processor price tag for Enterprise Edition.

Afterward by the Author

I hope this information has been helpful to you. I would appreciate any feedback you can give me about this article or recommend future articles you would like to see. If you enjoyed reading this article, you might like to receive this monthly newsletter via Twitter. If so, follow me.

As always, if you have questions or comments give me a call at 503.914.6442 or send me email.

Kurt Survance, SQL Consulting, Inc.

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