After attending the annual Professional Association of SQL Server (PASS) conference in September and learning about the new features of Microsoft SQL Server 2008, I recalled a July 2006 blog entry by Kevin Kline (“It Depends on How You Define ‘Whining,’” InstantDoc ID 53930). Kevin bemoaned the fact that SQL Server has become so complex that even experts can’t master all of its vast functionality.

As president of PASS and a columnist for SQL Server Magazine, Kevin knows whereof he speaks. And Microsoft has a big job leveraging the strength of that complexity while it’s also positioning SQL Server 2008 as a “data platform” rather than simply a database engine. At PASS, I talked with Ted Kummert, Microsoft corporate vice president of the Data and Storage Platform Division, about Microsoft’s strategy of positioning SQL Server as a data platform—which, by no coincidence, is similar to how Microsoft Exchange Server is being positioned as a Unified Communications platform and Microsoft Forefront is being positioned as a security platform.

From Database to Data Platform
IT organizations that use Microsoft technologies can’t avoid SQL Server even if they want to. Not only are business applications built to access SQL Server databases, but an ever-growing number of Microsoft products— from Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) to System Center, Forefront, and SharePoint—require it on the back end as well. The advantage of SQL Server as a data platform underlying everything is that once you know SQL Server fundamentals, you can apply them in a variety of scenarios.

When I asked Ted about the thinking behind the shift from database to data platform, he said, “What \[customers\] want is to get some job done, and if they have to learn less to get that job done, that’s a good thing for them. We think that’s a part of the value proposition of the complete data platform. You deploy it in various workloads: You have it underneath a packaged application; you have it under a custom application; you have it in BI. You have a set of skills and knowledge you can leverage across your organization, and you don’t have to have people learn new things just to get the job done.”

To enable SQL Server to be this all-encompassing platform, you need the tools to manage the databases, and you need those tools to be as familiar as the database engine. To that end, SQL Server 2008 integrates with the System Center management platform model and embraces the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI). (For details about DSI, see “Radically Simplify IT,” April 2006, InstantDoc ID 49503, and “System Center Puts DSI into Practice,” March 2007, InstantDoc ID 94969, for my interviews with Kirill Tatarinov, Microsoft corporate vice president of the Windows Enterprise Management Division.)

Ted explained, “Fitting in with System Center, we are delivering all the manageability in SQL Server 2008 as part of that framework. We’ve talked a lot about DSI and that vision. A big part of it is a policy-based administration model for everything in all of our products and infrastructure solutions. We call \[SQL Server’s\] implementation \[of policy-based management\] the Declarative Management Framework \[DMF\]. We’re very focused on delivering solutions that work well with System Center.”

Ted gave an example. “Specifically, you’ll be able to see the state of your systems. You’ll go to Operations Manager and say, ‘These three systems are out of policy,’ and it will call DMF to put them back in state.”

Another example is the freshly released Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2007 (DPM), which supports SQL Server (plus SharePoint, Exchange, Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, Windows XP, and Windows Vista) and which Microsoft’s Jason Buffington demonstrated at PASS. (Jason also explained DPM licensing to me; for details, see the Web-exclusive sidebar “Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2007 Licensing,” www.windowsitpro.com, InstantDoc ID 97230.) Being true to the platform model, DPM not only backs up SQL Server, but it also incorporates a free instance of SQL Server 2005 under the covers for reporting.

Why Platforms?
Clearly it’s in Microsoft’s interest to propagate SQL Server in all of its products: It’s hard to switch to a different database and eliminate SQL Server if core technologies such as WSUS require it. But Microsoft sees the idea of its products being “platforms” as a win for its customers, too: The more Microsoft’s products to support each other, the less you have to learn when you implement a Microsoft product or version.

I’d like to hear what you think. How will Microsoft’s platform strategy affect you and your organization?