Microsoft has revealed a new road map for SQL Server and promised a range of additional functionality and product integration that it hopes will eventually redefine business intelligence and data warehousing.
The next version of the database server, code-named Kilimanjaro, is set for release in the first half of 2010. it will focus on self-service and reporting capabilities for BI. Microsoft plans to have a "community technology preview" (CTP) available within the next 12 months.
The self-service features are wrapped up in a set of technologies code-named Gemini. Those technologies let users build BI applications that can access data across many sources, aggregate the data, build charts and reports and share the resulting applications via SharePoint.
Microsoft also plans to integrate the unified communications capabilities of Office Communications Server to aid the sharing of BI results.
Microsoft said much of the Gemini technology will be tied to Excel, allowing users of that desktop programme access to the self-service analytics.
Microsoft made the announcements at its annual BI Conference, which is going on in Seattle this week and is expected to draw 2,500 users and partners.
The company's acquisitions in the BI market and its stated intentions to expand BI capabilities on the back of its popular SQL Server have been shaking up the market recently.
Giants such as Business Objects/SAP, Cognos/IBM, Hyperion/Oracle are among the BI heavyweights with an eye on Microsoft.
A report by Gartner earlier this year said Microsoft still "lags behind pure-play vendors in terms of metadata management, reporting, and dashboard and ad hoc query capabilities."
Microsoft plans to systematically address those deficiencies.
The immediate goal is to extend its BI tools and software so they are more accessible to users, especially those using Excel and SharePoint.
With Gemini, Microsoft hopes to bring BI to users without sacrificing IT control.
"One important thing about Gemini is managed self-service," says Fausto Ibarra, director of product management for SQL Server. "Managed means IT is in control of the process where today end-users use Excel without control of IT or without control on data."
With Gemini, IT will be able to see how data is being shared, will have control of security on the data, and will make data sources available to users.
Those sources could include ERP data, mainframe applications and independent software vendor programs.
Another key feature of Gemini is in-memory BI, which analyses large amounts of data in memory in order to speed performance.
At the conference, the company also unveiled plans for a highly scalable database technology code-named Madison that would be available in an appliance. Madison integrates SQL Server with technology the company acquired when it bought DataAllegro earlier this year.
DataAllegro developed large-volume data warehousing appliances, and Microsoft hopes to scale Madison to handle hundreds of terabytes of data. At the conference, Microsoft showed a demo using 1 trillion rows of data.
The company also plans to use data quality technology acquired when it bought Zoomix in July to enhance the quality of available information. Microsoft would only say the technology will come in "future versions" of SQL Server.
CTPs of Madison will roll out in the next 12 months with the appliances available in the first half of 2010. Dell, HP, Unisys, Bull Systems and EMC have signed on as hardware partners.