Microsoft has high hopes for the latest iteration of its database software SQL Server 2005. It finally believes it has the features that will allow it to tackle the dominant enterprise database vendors IBM and Oracle.
Certainly Robin Paine, CTO at the London Stock Exchange, was reassured that SQL Server 2005 was suitable for use in a market over which £20 billion is traded every day. The reason? Firstly, it has undergone 40 times as many stress testing hours than its predecessor, SQL Server 2000, over a million developers having tested it; secondly, Microsoft itself was running its invoice processing on it.
"Clearly [we have] quite a mission critical application," he says. "When I receive my bill it's nice to know that it has actually been processed using the technology we will be doing our processing on."
Five years of development have tested the patience of many SQL Server customers, eager to see the sort of features long-since bundled in its rivals' databases.
But the additional time has allowed Microsoft to totally redesign certain features, while adding others – such as online analytical processing (OLAP) and extract, transform and load (ETL) tools – that will ensure its database can compete.
Such features are common in standalone business intelligence products, and indeed SQL Server 2005 may not compare favourably against those products, but it is addressing a growth area for databases, namely data warehousing.
Initial customer also reactions bode well for Microsoft. One information service provider, a longtime Oracle customer who wished to remain nameless, has just switched to SQL Server 2005, citing ease of integration and significant reductions in the time to process information: One query that previously took 18 minutes now takes 30 seconds.
At Microsoft's UK launch event for SQL Server 2005, all of the reference customers on hand were already heavy Microsoft users, either migrating from SQL Server 2000 or installing such a database for the first time. But several proved the case that the new product was enterprise-ready.
Financial institution Barclays Capital is running its trading systems on it, while music retailer HMV is using it as the basis for its new Internet song downloading service. The London Stock Exchange itself uses SQL Server 2005 internally as a reporting tool, serving 200GB of data to around 200 employees. CTO Paine cites the increased scalability and availability as drivers for the purchase, and also integration with Microsoft's SharePoint communications platform and Visual Studio 2005, also launched in November.
Nick Lansley, IT manager at Tesco.com, the online arm of the supermarket giant, illustrates the difference between the 2000 and 2005 editions. When new users register on Tesco.com, they can use their existing loyalty card number to access a list of their most recent purchases in physical stores, to help select from the 20,000 items available online. "SQL Server 2000 was starting to crack under the load," says Lansley. "Maintenance took 12 hours a day and during that time [the loyalty card service] didn't work."
An upgrade to the 2005 beta on an incrementally faster server cut processing time to four hours. It enables the data – pulled from 800 million rows – to be sent back to the customer in 20 seconds, thanks to its online indexing capabilities.