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SQL Server 2008 Overview

Last updated Mar 28, 2003.

SQL Server has a long history, starting out in the days when the engine was licensed from Sybase. As time went by, everything was slowly re-written to the product it is today. You might be reading this article just as SQL Server is released, or by the time you read it SQL Server 2008 might have been out for years.

This “history lesson” on SQL Server is important. It’s important to watch the product grow, because the features are added (and those that are removed) show you the general direction of the product. As you decide on the technologies that fit your organization best, you need to know about where they eventually lead. This is especially important in the case of a database system, since it’s the slowest software to change in your technology inventory. The data you store is pretty much forever — if you record a sale that happened last Wednesday, that record will probably always be the same forever. The database system that stores that data serves lots of people and possibly several applications, so changing that software is difficult without affecting multiple applications and people. For those reasons, people change out their database systems very rarely. So it’s important to know at the start which features the vendor seems to be adding and subtracting from the product, since that will show you if it matches what you are going to need in the future.

For instance — SQL Server was introduced primarily to run on one server, serving multiple databases. As time went by, people began to use the “multiple instances” capabilities, server clustering was added, and then other services that use the database such as Analysis Services and Reporting Services were also put into place. All the while the features were enhanced to support more memory, higher chip architectures, and larger storage options. Clearly, Microsoft desires SQL Server to be used in larger and larger shops, all the way through enterprise installations. So if you’re looking for a small, single user database system that runs on personal computers, perhaps you should investigate using the Express or Compact editions. On the other hand, if your organization is growing, SQL Server Standard or Enterprise is probably a great choice, since it is growing in capabilities as well.

The other reason that history is important is because you might want to know how often the vendor plans to upgrade the software. Microsoft didn’t have a regular schedule for SQL Server until this version. Previously, they developed the software to include a new set of features, and when that was complete, it was sent out to a Beta and then finally released. In the case of SQL Server 2005, this took five years. Since Microsoft is a commercial enterprise with public shares, the shareholders weren’t able to figure out when SQL Server would contribute in a big way to the company’s revenues. So Microsoft has come up with a new way of guaranteeing a predictable release cycle, one they’ve standardized as every three years. What happens is that a set of features is proposed for the release, just like before. But instead of developing all of them at once, they are stacked such that the ones that can be done together as a package are started, and when those are complete they add the documentation, the installer, the testing and so on as if it were to be released that day. This is called a “Community Technical Preview” or CTP, and if perhaps ten features were ready in three years, that would be the new product. If all of the features planned made it in within three years, then that would be the release. It’s a way of satisfying both the software engineering requirements and the market demands.

Before we go on, you should know that the Reference Guide sections here at InformIT that do not have a version in the title are kept up to date for all the versions of SQL Server. If there is something specific to a version, we’ll call that out in the title. So that means you can navigate the site with confidence that even though we have articles all the way back to version 7, you have the information you need through the latest version.

Setting up SQL Server 2008

OK — what does all this company and marketing information mean to you? Well, it means that you should plan your upgrades for every three years, or perhaps to “leapfrog” one release to upgrade every six years. There are good reasons for both strategies, but the point is you should know about this interval. It will help you and your organization.

As the versions change, another thing to be aware of is how previous features and releases are handled. As a rule, SQL Server can usually restore a backup taken on the last version in the new version. In fact, you can usually do this for two revisions back, but that isn’t guaranteed. You can also “attach” and even import the last version or a database to SQL Server. This is true for SQL Server 2008. In fact, since Microsoft is aware that many of its customers are still on SQL Server 2000, you can do all that from SQL Server 2000 to 2008.

There are three ways you can get the newer version of SQL Server on your system. The first is to upgrade either SQL Server 2000 or 2005 to 2008. It will transfer all of the data, keep your settings, security, database encryption and so on to the higher version, replacing all of the files along the way. The other method is to install SQL Server on the same system as the earlier version. It will leave the old system intact, replacing only those common files that are needed by the new version. This is called a “side-by-side” installation. Finally, you can install SQL Server 2008 on a system that doesn’t have any previous versions at all. In this case, if you have any older data you can restore, attach or transfer it to the new version.

The installer in SQL Server 2008 has changed to have some “under the covers” enhancements that won’t mean anything to you directly, but it allows Microsoft to create that release cycle I explained a moment ago. But it also has a couple of other interesting features.

Now when you install, you download one set of media. The evaluation editions (which let you use them for free for a limited period of time), the Developer Edition (I explain more about the editions of SQL Server in this overview) and all of the other editions are on a single DVD, and when you enter your license code it will install the proper bits.

One difference here is SQL Server Express — that is the small, free edition from Microsoft. That one has its own download and media.

The other primary difference during the installation is the removal of the examples. They are no longer included on the media. You now get all of the examples from a site Microsoft runs called “Codeplex”. You can find that here.

For the rest of the upgrade and installation instructions, check out the links at the bottom of this article.

There are things that a developer cares more about, and things a DBA cares more about. Of course, most developers do some maintenance tasks, and most DBAs do some development tasks, so make sure you read about each no matter which camp you fall into.

Features for the Database Developer

Let’s start with the additions and enhancements SQL Server includes for the developer. I’ll do this in a chart format so that you’ll have an overview, and then in future articles and tutorials I’ll cover them in depth. I won’t cover every new feature here, but I will cover the ones I think will make the biggest difference in your programming.

What the feature affects

Description

Storing Data

There are a few new types of data you can store in SQL Server, and some changes to the current ones.

A new spatial data type allows you to store geographical information and retrieve it from SQL Server.

You can now store dates as a date, or a time.

A new “hierarchy” data type lets you store lists ordered in a hierarchy like a table of contents.

A new Table data type lets you work with sets of data in one cell — sort of a “table within a table”.

You can now compress tables and indexes for better storage.

A new FILESTREAM feature lets you store binary data out of the database, but still controlled by the database – even the backups capture this “out of database” data.

New sparse data storage makes storing ragged data more efficient.

Programming Languages

Transact-SQL now allows you to set a variable in the same line you DECLARE it in. w00t!

There’s a new “MERGE” statement that performs statements on a table based on a join.

There’s a new way to query data from SQL Server, called LINQ, although this isn’t technically a SQL Server 2008 feature, but a Visual Studio feature.

New query and table hints allow more control over the plan guide for a query.

You can disable lock escalation on a query.

Transparent Data Encryption is a new feature that allows you to apply encryption to an entire database without changing the application.

Change tracking

Two new features, Change Data Capture and Change Tracking, allow you to track and migrate changes in data and structure from one system to another.

A new view, sys.dm_db_persisted_sku_features, shows you which features are still available in the database in case you’re creating new functionality that you need to track in your applications.

Service Broker

Although Notification Services is now gone, the Service Broker steps up with new tutorials and a simplified interface for designing new SB applications.

The Development Environment

SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) now includes “Intellisense” for Transact-SQL (T-SQL), which means it fills code out for you as you type.

SSMS includes a T-SQL “Debugger”, which lets you walk through your code, adding breakpoints, watching variables change as the code runs, and getting the messages the code creates.

Analysis Services

There is a new designer for aggregations, cubes, relationships and more.

The Business Information Development System (BIDS) is now based on Visual Studio 2008.

Many new enhancements are in Data Mining, including changes to the time algorithms.

There’s more integration with Microsoft Office for BI.

Reporting Services

New Report Design features include new objects such as Tablix, Chart, and Gauge data regions.

Of course there’s more, but these are the ones that caught my eye. Let’s take a look at the improvements for managing the system.

Features for the DBA

In this release, Microsoft put a lot of time in improving the way you can manage the system. Once again, I’ll include a chart here and then we’ll dive in later.

What the feature affects

Description

Management

Policy Based Management is a way to enforce a desired state on a server. In fact, this feature in part replaces the Surface Area Configuration (SAC) tool found in SQL Server 2005.

Interfaces

SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) now has configurable columns in the Object Explorer Details view.

SSMS includes a new “Object Search” feature that allows you to find and act on objects such as tables, views and stored procedures in one or more databases.

PowerShell is a scripting environment I’ve written about quite a bit here on InformIT. SQL Server 2008 includes a new provider for PowerShell so that you can navigate and work with SQL Server as easily as with the operating system.

Performance Tuning

The Data Collector is an engine that can automatically collect system counters to show your server’s activity.

The Management Data Warehouse is a database that can store data from one or more Data Collectors.

Performance Reports are new active reports in SSMS that work over the Management Data Warehouse to find and fix performance issues quickly.

The “Resource Governor” allows you to assign users a certain percentage of memory and CPU usage automatically.

There are lots of new PerfMon counters for everything from Database Mirroring to replication.

Backup and Recovery

Backups can now be compressed on the fly.

And, like the programming side, there’s a lot more. I’ll cover those in other tutorials.

InformIT Articles and Sample Chapters

To learn more about SQL Server in general, make sure you bookmark this page.

Books and eBooks

For even more information on SQL Server 2008, check out the Developer's Guide to Data Modeling for SQL Server, A: Covering SQL Server 2005 and 2008.

Online Resources

Before you start any installation or upgrade to SQL Server 2008, make sure you check out the official documentation for that. You’ll be glad you took the time.