Tuesday evening, Mike Otey and I met with the new Director of Product Management for SQL Server, Fausto Ibarra. Fausto has a lot of experience on the SQL Server team; over the past four years he’s done product planning, competitive strategy, and has worked on the launch of several technologies and SQL Server products, including SQL Server Express.

While we had a wide-ranging discussion, the most exciting point Fausto wanted to make was the swift uptake of the SQL Server 2008 RC, which was announced at the Tech Ed Keynote earlier on Tuesday. The release candidate is available for download from Microsoft. The 1000 DVDs made available to Tech Ed attendees were snatched up almost immediately and Fausto said they were working on making more available for SQL fans at the conference. In general, he says, interest in the CTPs of SQL Server 2008 has been high, with over 250,000 downloads. For the last CTP alone there were over 100,000 downloads.

Fausto says this RC is “feature complete” and on track for shipping in Q3 2008.

For those of you still on SQL Server 2000, Microsoft has shifted its migration advice. Last year, they recommended that SQL Server 2000 users upgrade to SQL Server 2005 and then to SQL Server 2008. It was a timing issue and this advice was based on “business value for customers.” Now they’re recommending that SQL Server 2000 users upgrade directly to SQL Server 2008 RTM, when that occurs. In Q3.

When I asked Fausto to name a few features he was excited about, he said he was glad to see “T-SQL debugging is back.” And, of course, he’s excited about the new policy-based management feature. “A lot of people are upgrading because of policy-based management.”