Review: Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2

SQL Server 2008 R2, which ships this month, allows end users to tap into the powerful business intelligence features of SQL Server via tight integration with popular Microsoft applications like Excel. The downside, of course, is that to reap the full functionality of SQL Server 2008 R2 you also need to be running all the latest versions of Microsoft’s product lines Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Office 2010, and SharePoint 2010.

Compared with its predecessor, SQL Server 2008, the new version is more powerful, with support for up to 256 logical CPUs. And a new Unicode compression scheme, USC-2, can save up to 50% of storage requirements with Unicode data.

SQL Server 2008 R2 boasts a number of new services, including PowerPivot for Excel and SharePoint, Master Data Services, StreamInsight, ReportBuilder 3.0, Reporting Services Add-in for SharePoint, a Data-tier function in Microsoft Visual Studio that enables packaging of tiered databases as part of an application, and a SQL Server Utility that manages multiple SQL Servers – PowerPivot allows end users to import, manipulate, analyze and export data, as well as create reports, all using the familiar Excel interface and language.- Master Data Services is a new and powerful feature designed to help an organization create a structure and hierarchy for data, so that data collected and used across multiple departments, silos and databases is standardized and aligned. This ensures that different databases are interoperable.- StreamInsight is a new platform integrated with .Net and SQL Server for processing streams of data in parallel, allowing for many simultaneous queries running on live data.- The data-tier functionality in Microsoft Visual Studio is designed to make it simple to create n-tier applications that use databases on the back end, and package the entire application including the database as a single unit.- The SQL Server Utility allows for a single management dashboard across multiple servers and databases.

Installing SQL Server 2008 R2 is much easier than previous versions. The installer takes care of all prerequisites, configuring and downloading a whole bunch of stuff from Microsoft. Once the prerequisite installer runs, deploying SharePoint 2010 is straightforward, a matter of running the installer, entering a key, choosing the default install and applying updates. Finally, you run the installer for SQL Server 2008 R2. It runs through a lengthy but well-integrated process. The only thing that can’t be accomplished from within the installer is creating the service accounts.

SQL Server is also well integrated with Microsoft Visual Studio 2008, and includes the SQL Server Integration Services Designer that integrates into Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS). BIDS is a Microsoft Visual studio shell for developing BI solutions using SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). The result is a fluid solution that allows end users to create databases, find data, process it, analyze it and create reports, all using a very powerful set of tools that don’t require a set approach the user can start with the database, or with the analysis tools, or create a workflow, and connect the parts together on the fly.

For the administrator, the SQL Server Utility makes administration of multiple databases across multiple servers much easier. The components include a Utility Control Point that collects configuration and performance information from multiple SQL Servers, a Utility Explorer that provides a tree view of the servers, and a dashboard with summary information on the servers.Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 provides a host of new features that will be particularly welcomed by users who need business intelligence functionality. The support for up to 256 CPUs and new administrative tools will be helpful to administrators. On the downside, the new functionality may require substantial upgrades in organizations that haven’t yet moved to Windows 7, Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010.

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