Microsoft releasing first SQL Server '08 service pack

The release rolls up all fixes since the initial launch, and could spur adoption of the database

The anticipated initial service pack for Microsoft's SQL Server 2008 database will be available imminently, Microsoft said Tuesday.

Many SQL Server 2000 and 2005 shops have been waiting for the pack before upgrading to the 2008 edition, as it contains all the cumulative updates and fixes issued since SQL Server 2008 was released to manufacturing in August, resulting in an overall more stable application.

Service Pack 1 (SP1) also makes it easier to deploy SQL Server 2008. A feature called Slipstream allows users to install the database and service pack at once, easing the process of loading the software onto hundreds or thousands of servers, said Fausto Ibarra, director of product management.

There isn't much in the way of new features in SP1, but that is a deliberate reflection of Microsoft's strategy to put out initial releases that are feature-complete, with packs only used for fixes, he said.

"We got feedback from customers that they wanted more predictability, service packs that they could deploy without worrying about application compatibility."

Should there be a compatibility problem, users have the ability to uninstall the service pack, he said.

While Microsoft is hoping the service pack's release will entice more SQL 2000 and 2005 users to upgrade, the company claims SQL 2008 has been downloaded more than 3 million times already.

Some Microsoft customers, such as the financial services company Raymond James, haven't bothered to wait for SP1.

Raymond James is using SQL Server 2008 to power its BI platform, said Todd Daniell, manager of the company's BI group.

The platform is being used by about 7,000 workers, from back-office employees to financial advisors at Raymond James' many locations around the country, he said.

Daniell is looking forward to the service pack's fixes, but said the initial release "was pretty solid."

SQL 2008 has improved scalability, performance and security, and also has "fantastic" data-compression capabilities, he said.

"I can't tell you how much that is going to save us over the long run," he said.

Raymond James was able to compress one of its largest tables by more than 70 percent, and went from a total data warehouse size of 2TB to less than 600GB, according to Daniell.

The company was also able to move its BI systems from an HP Superdome computer to commodity hardware, saving more than $100,000 per year in maintenance payments to HP, he said.

While Raymond James may buy other tools for "light, ad-hoc type of reporting," the company plans to stick with Microsoft products for its BI needs because the platform allows workers to interact with familiar front-end environments, such as Excel, he said.

Another reason the company isn't interested in other BI platforms, such as Oracle, is because Daniell's team doesn't have Oracle expertise, and the cost to buy Oracle products plus train his workers would be too high, he said.

But as enthusiastic as Daniell is about Microsoft tools, that does not extend to the prospect of running his BI operation on cloud services like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft's Azure platform, given the type of regulations the financial services industry must follow.

"I'm sure their security is a lot better than others," he said. "But man, you don't know until you know, and with something like this it's better not to know."

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