Microsoft SQL Server Buying Guide

This article is all about Denali. No, not the new Cirque du Soleil show, but rather Microsoft’s latest release of SQL Server, the very popular relational database management system (RDBMS). Be forewarned, it comes with a highly restrictive licensing and high cost of ownership if the database is of significant size or is used by a large number of clients. Nonetheless, MS SQL Server has an extremely large user base to attest that it provides superlative value with its user-friendly interface, ease of use, installation, and configuration.

For those of you who are new to the Database Buyer’s Guide series, this is instalment five in the series. In part one, Database Types and Features, we covered the myriad of DBMS types out there. These include desktop, server, web-enabled, and cloud DBaaS.  Many database management system (DBMS) products are offered in free open source editions as well.  After reviewing some of the more critical evaluation considerations throughout parts one and two, we looked at the top three products in the desktop databases category.  In part four, we stated to look at the top database servers, with Oracle’s Database Server 11g.  

You may want to read over the series from the start in order to gain some context before delving into Microsoft’s SLQ Server, aka codename Denali.

Microsoft Interoperability

SQL Server comes packaged with a number of bonus applications that tightly integrate SQL Server with other popular Microsoft applications like Excel. Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 and the .NET language, for instance, help developers build rich, intuitive, and connected applications. Microsoft SharePoint 2010, the SQL Server Business Intelligence Development Studio, Report Builder 3.0 help managers tap into the business intelligence features that are built into SQL Server. Finally, the Analysis Services Deployment Wizard and the Master Data Services Configuration Manager are of great benefit to Database Administrators (DBAs).

The downside to all this integration is that it forces you to keep your operating system and programs updated to the most current release. 

A Plethora of Editions

SQL Server comes in so many editions that it is not so much a product as a full product line. There are a number of editions to choose from the Premium, Core and Others categories. These range from the Express, a freebie for small server applications, to the new Parallel Data Warehouse, which accelerates processing and overcomes the limitations of conventional storage by using a high degree of parallel processing. Here is a complete list of editions:


  • Parallel Data Warehouse: described above.
  • Datacenter: for large-scale, mission-critical applications.


  • Enterprise: designed for large organizations.
  • Standard: for small to midsize organizations.


  • Azure: a cloud-based relational database service.
  • Web: for hosted websites and applications.
  • Workgroup: provides remote synchronization and management capabilities.
  • Developer: licensed only for development, test and demo use.
  • Compact: For building standalone and occasionally connected applications for mobile devices, desktops, and Web clients.
  • Express: described above.

Business Intelligence

The new PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel 2010 add-in is for business users who perform modeling and analysis of the data. Data manipulation is performed using the Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) language, which utilizes expressions similar to standard Excel formulas. Moreover, those who are familiar with Excel can use it with PowerPivot to collect data, manipulate it, and create presentations and reports completely within Excel, directly against the data tables in SQL Server.

Another tool called the Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS) is a Visual studio shell for developing BI solutions using SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). It provides a highly flexible way for end users to create databases, find data, process it, analyze it, and present it in reports. The user is free to create a workflow starting with either the database or with the analysis tools.

New Appliances from HP and Microsoft

New appliances from HP and Microsoft, optimized, pre-configured, and pre-tuned for SQL Server by Microsoft and HP, are meant to greatly diminish deployment times for your data-driven solutions. The idea is that deploying an appliance instead of building a solution from scratch results in shorter deployment times. That in turn enables your IT resources to focus on other priorities, thus increasing productivity.

Database Management Made Easier

For the database administrator, the SQL Server Utility makes administration of multiple databases across multiple servers a lot 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.

Complex Event Processing (CEP)

StreamInsight is another application that is installed with SQL Server. StreamInsight is an extension to Visual Studio intended to handle real-time data streams. In addition to typical computer interface events such as mouse clicks, key presses, etc., event stream sources may also include data feeds, operational data from sensors, or any other sort of analog or digital data. The Visual Studio tools are used to create data structures for real-time events, while the StreamInsight Event Flow Debugger provides tools to trace events.


I have always found that businesses and IT departments are either a Microsoft shop or they aren’t. Few fall in between. Therefore, your most weighty factor on whether or not to invest in MS SQL Server is likely to be how many Microsoft products are already in use in your company. If you have a lot of reporting requirements and personnel who like to manipulate data in Excel and SharePoint, then MS SQL Server might be the perfect solution for you.

More Information


Latest version: 2008 R2

Licencing: You can purchase SQL Server 2008 R2 under a Server/Client Access License (CAL) model with a server operating-system license and incremental CALs, or a per-processor license model. This 12-page guide helps provide a better understanding of available licensing options.

A 180 day evaluation copy is also available.

See all articles by Rob Gravelle


Robert Gravelle
Robert Gravelle
Rob Gravelle resides in Ottawa, Canada, and has been an IT guru for over 20 years. In that time, Rob has built systems for intelligence-related organizations such as Canada Border Services and various commercial businesses. In his spare time, Rob has become an accomplished music artist with several CDs and digital releases to his credit.

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