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Microsoft raises the bar with SQL Server 2012

New business intelligence and uptime features are impressive, but beware of licensing, bandwidth issues

By Barry Nance, Network World
July 16, 2012 12:09 AM ET

Network World - While SQL Server 2008 was little more than a service-pack level upgrade, the 2012 version of Microsoft's database has a boatload of new features and delivers solid performance improvements.

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Specifically, SQL Server 2012 offers Business Intelligence to help companies analyze business data, an AlwaysOn availability and uptime enhancement, Contained Databases for managing databases as a group and a quick-query tool called ColumnStore Index.

On the flip side, Microsoft's new licensing model will probably cost enterprises more money. And database administrators should be aware that taking full advantage of these new features will require additional network bandwidth and will impose extra burdens on IT.

SQL Server 2012 comes in three versions: Standard, Business Intelligence and Enterprise, with most of the new features reserved for the Enterprise Edition. And Microsoft has replaced its per-CPU licensing model with a per-core model. (See how we conducted our test.)

For earlier SQL Server versions, you bought one license per physical processor regardless of how many CPU cores it had. If you chose your server hardware smartly, you could buy eight CPU cores for the cost of one SQL Server license and save enough in licensing fees to pay for the new server. To license SQL Server 2012 for that same server, you'll need eight core licenses. The new core license fees are less than the previous per-CPU fees, but, if you do the math, Microsoft has conspicuously increased SQL Server's price.

Here's a rundown of the new features:

Business Intelligence

SQL Server 2012's Business Intelligence improvements essentially let users view a database as a spreadsheet. Users can program sophisticated spreadsheet formulas and reports that operate directly on database contents.

A user can, for example, program a new database report via these spreadsheet operations and then take a notebook computer running the new report (and connected wirelessly to the database server) into a meeting. The attendees can watch the report update in real time as database contents change.

Business Intelligence is a godsend for companies whose corporate policies allow (or encourage) users to program their own spreadsheets. However, BI is anathema for companies that want to control ad hoc manipulation of databases - and the decisions that ensue from such manipulation.

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In companies that embrace Business Intelligence, network and database administrators will see their workloads blossom. As we tested Business Intelligence in the lab, we saw this effect firsthand. Extrapolating our results across a large company, we estimate that the unbridled use of SQL Server 2012's Business Intelligence feature will likely increase administrator workloads by 10% to 25%.

AlwaysOn

Think of AlwaysOn as database mirroring in which the secondary (substitute) server can be an active, already-in-use SQL Server 2012 instance. The secondary server takes up the slack when a primary instance fails. Because the substitute server may not have the horsepower of the primary server and because it's also doing other work, response times may slow dramatically. But the application blithely carries on without suffering an outage. The mirror doesn't have to be a standby server that sits idle until failover time.

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