At its North American TechEd developer conference last week, Microsoft firmed up some of its plans regarding the next editions of Visual Studio and SQL Server, revealed updates to its various systems management offerings, and announced a couple of minor acquisitions.
First, the fairly obvious: the next version of SQL Server, code-named 'Katmai', will be SQL Server 2008; and the next version of Visual Studio, code-named 'Orcas', will be, as we predicted, Visual Studio 2008. As per past practice, Microsoft did not disclose when in FY 2008 these products would be released, although it is likely that Visual Studio, which is currently in its first beta version, should be out fairly early next year.
Given that Microsoft has been rolling out technology previews, there has been little mystery as to the features that each would include. The highlight is declarative management, which enables you to manage SQL Server configurations across multiple instances by via policy rules.
In his blog, David Portas, a principal for Microsoft consulting partner Conchango, hailed this feature as simplifying management in larger data centres. "It is also unlike anything I have seen from the other DBMS vendors," he wrote.
Similarly, the new resource governor feature provides a new capability to allocate SQL Server resources so you can prioritise individual workloads within SQL Server, a capability that Oracle and DB2 have long provided.
As for Visual Studio, Microsoft is also offering a new option for partners to provide the shell, or user interface, which they can customise or extend for third party offerings. It will be available as part of beta 2 later in the summer.
This follows April's release of the initial betas of what will be Visual Studio 2008, plus the .NET Framework 3.5, which added direct support for the WinFX programming frameworks of Vista, including Windows Communications Framework and Windows Workflow Foundation.
Microsoft also announced a couple acquisitions that fit its usual profile of digesting small, niche providers who also happen to be partners. They included Dundas, which offers data visualisations such as dashboards, bar charts, animations and other chart types for SQL Server Reporting Services.
The other acquisition was Engyro, a Microsoft partner that offers adapters that extend Microsoft's Systems Center Operations Manager (SCOM) console with links to IBM Tivoli and HP OpenView monitoring consoles, and remedy and HP Service Desks. It also offers applications monitoring from Microsoft SCOM so you can monitor applications on VMware, Red Hat and SuSE Linux, most major UNIXes, and the MySQL and Oracle databases.
Among the laundry list of announcements were incremental updates of its desktop managements tools for Vista, including SoftGrid, which virtualises Windows-based applications and streams them to any desktop or laptop; and Asset Inventory Service, which provides dynamic discovery of what is on individual clients.
Additionally, Microsoft announced a new utility, System Center Desktop Error Monitoring (DEM), which provides a central reporting tool for desktop OS error reports; and it announced a new group policy management tool for managing changes, rollbacks, firewall, and other configuration settings via policies that can be role-based.
On the server front, Microsoft announced that Internet Information Server 7 (IIS 7) would become part of the core installation option of Microsoft Windows Server 2008, previously code-named Longhorn. This option is designed as Microsoft's answer to bare-bones Linux web servers, in that it pares down the number of Windows components.
And with IIS 7, Microsoft is claiming that its web server is finally industrial-strength, at least where it comes to security and scalability, areas which have not been traditionally thought of as IIS strong points.
Finally, Microsoft announced 'Stirling', the roadmap for its next generation of Forefront security products. Microsoft claims Forefront is the first server-based security offering that unifies antivirus software, server content filtering software, network firewalls, and VPNs (although Microsoft will also sell individual Forefront point products separately). But the weak spot is Forefront will not manage third party offerings, so if your company uses more popular antivirus products from Symantec, McAfee, or Trend Micro, they will still have to be managed a la carte.
Given that Microsoft has previously talked up the features of Orcas and Katmai, the slew of announcements coming out of TechEd this year are a bit anticlimactic. Acquisitions aside, most announcements focused on support of the new Vista platform and the latest version of the .NET framework, which would have been expected.
Most of the application deployment, security, and asset management offerings break little new ground, as the brunt of these capabilities are already available from third parties who in most cases have maintained their positions even with Microsoft's entry.
Nonetheless, the improvements to SQL Server are a significant, if otherwise expected, improvement in manageability of large scale installations.