At this year’s Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) conference, Microsoft and numerous other industry experts are presenting a variety of sessions showcasing the latest release of SQL Server, code-named Denali. Expected to be released around the end of the year, Denali really ups the ante for what an enterprise relational database product delivers.

According to Gartner research, SQL Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server Denali are number two in the enterprise database market as measured by total revenue. Gartner’s 2010 survey of the relational database market revealed that Oracle still holds the top spot with 44 percent of the market. Microsoft and SQL Server moved from third place to second place with 18.4 percent of the market. IBM is now in the third position with 13.3 percent of the relational database market. While that may seem like a big separation between number one and number two, remember Gartner’s research is measured by revenue—not seats—and Oracle is much more expensive than SQL Server. Microsoft research indicates that SQL Server is first in terms of units sold.

More important than sales figures is the fact that Microsoft’s SQL Server has been the clear mindshare leader in enterprise databases since SQL Server 7 delivered OLAP Services as a part of the product with no additional licensing costs back in 1998. The path from those earlier releases to today’s SQL Server has been marked by a number of significant innovations. First, Microsoft needed to deliver on the enterprise part of the relational database. Since those early days, SQL Server has evolved from a departmental relational database back in the SQL Server 6.5 days to the enterprise-ready data platform that it is today. Questions about SQL Server’s suitability for enterprise scalability have been laid to rest for good since the SQL Server 2000 release almost 11 years ago. SQL Server’s relational database enterprise scalability has been proven by thousands of organizations not to mention many number one and top ten TPC-E, TPC-H, and TPC-E scores.

Enterprise scalability laid the foundation that allowed SQL Server to compete head-to-head with Oracle and IBM, but it was the other innovations that make SQL Server the mindshare leader. While other enterprise databases had Business Intelligence (BI) features available, those features were all expensive (and in some cases very expensive) add-ons. Adding BI to the base product was instrumental in enabling the entire BI market to grow from a niche segment to mainstream technology. Today’s SQL Server 2008 R2 and the upcoming SQL Server Denali release have so much additional functionality that the product has evolved beyond a relational database to an enterprise data platform.

While the foundation for SQL Server Denali is the relational database engine, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. SQL Server Denali also includes five other subsystems that each provide significant additional functionality beyond pure relational database capabilities. First, there is the Business Intelligence (BI) engine which is delivered in the Analysis Services subsystem. Analysis Services is the successor to the older OLAP Services and it enables fast ad-hoc decision support queries. Next, there is the Integration Service subsystem. Integration Services is Microsoft’s Extraction Transfer Load (ETL) tool which can transfer and transform data loaded into both data warehouses as well as relational databases. Next, Reporting Services is able to surface both relational OLTP data and BI OLAP data in a variety of formats that can be included in your applications and management dashboards. The combination of Analysis Services, Integration and Reporting Services form the core of Microsoft’s BI platform. In addition, the SQL Server 2008 release included Master Data Management Services which enables companies to create single authoritative data source by integrating definitions from multiple disparate databases. To this, Denali will add Data Quality Services, a data cleaning subsystem designed to make sure enterprise data conforms to an organization’s business rules.

Other important features that the Denali release will include are the new AlwaysOn high availability feature which combines the best of Windows Failover Clustering and Database Mirroring, the new SQL Server Development Tools IDE which provides a unified development experience for both relational and BI developers, the new columnar index feature which can speed up data warehousing queries by up to 100x, and the new project Crescent which is designed to enhance end user data visualization.

The upcoming SQL Server Denali release is no gamble. SQL Server may not be the market leader in enterprise database market revenue, but it is most definitely the leader in the features it brings to market. It provides more bang for the buck than any of the other enterprise-oriented relational databases.