Microsoft seeks data warehouse credibility

New Microsoft reference spec, forged with integrators and hardware partners, aims to bring SQL Server 2008 into the thick of data warehouse applications.

A new reference specification from Microsoft aims to entrench SQL Server 2008 as the basis for hard-core data warehouse applications and make it a credible competitor to Oracle and Teradata.

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Microsoft worked with systems integrators Avanade Inc., Cognizant Technology Solutions, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Hitachi Consulting Corp. on templates that will be bundled with SQL Server 2008 and sold with hardware from Bull, Dell and HP. Microsoft claims that the result will be pre-tested and pre-configured data warehouses starting at $13,000 per terabyte (TB) of data.

The work, called SQL Server Fast Track Data Warehouse, builds on Microsoft's acquisition of DATAllegro and was announced at The Data Warehousing Institute World Conference in Las Vegas on Monday. Some see this as a response to Oracle's Database Machine -- a high-end appliance for database-intensive applications.

"I see this as a similar product. This is an appliance move," said Lee Blackstone, CEO of Blackstone & Cullen Inc., an Alpharetta, Ga.-based SQL Server specialist. Other players include Netezza Corp.

For years Microsoft has pushed SQL Server up the food chain, from small business and departmental use to the higher reaches of enterprises. One area in which it still lags Oracle and Teradata is data warehouses.

In this tight economy, SQL Server partisans see their database of choice replacing pricier Oracle and IBM DB2 databases in some accounts. "A lot of these companies have [Microsoft] enterprise agreements and SQL Server is covered in a lot of those," Blackstone said.

Stuart Frost, general manager of Microsoft's data warehousing product unit and DATAllegro founder, agreed that data warehouses remain a frontier for Microsoft, and that packaging and pre-tuning SQL Server with templates will help it to crack the market.

Tuning is a big factor. "We haven't changed any actual SQL Server code. We added some new settings and guidance on the physical layouts -- how you set up tables and index them -- and there's a very specific fill of materials for the hardware," Frost told SearchITChannel.com. The goal is to ease the plight of database administrators, who, over time, have had to become not only database experts, but also hardware experts and storage experts in the data warehouse world, he said.

Frost said a Teradata solution can cost as much as $200,000 per TB of data. "We want to be the price leader here as elsewhere," he said.

Other solution providers said that Oracle and Teradata solutions can be pricey, but that both companies also offer lower-end versions that are more price competitive.

Frost spoke of Microsoft's collaboration with systems integrators and that value-added resellers can do good business with this software. "We're really encouraging them to put their vertical market apps on the BI stack and SQL Server. Historically, as the scale of data has gone up, they've had to turn to other vendors who leave less room in the deal for third-party work."

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