Microsoft Tool Eases Management of Cloud Databases

Microsoft yesterday released a rough-around-the-edges CTP of a SQL Azure database management tool code-named "Houston," designed to let Web devs easily create and manipulate data-driven apps in the cloud.

"Project 'Houston' provides a Web-based database management tool for basic database management tasks like authoring and executing queries, designing and editing a database schema and editing table data," said Microsoft's David Robinson in the Azure Team Blog announcing the release.

Users can go to SQL Azure Labs to access the CTP of the Sliverlight-based tool, previewed at PDC09 and updated at MIX in April.

If you do, however, be prepared to deal with the usual hiccups in a Community Technology Preview. Robinson listed 19 "issues" with the CTP, ranging from not being able to reopen the Start page to zoom-related browser display problems.

Other bugs and suggestions have been submitted to the feedback page, including one complaining that the keyboard shortcuts don't behave as they do in SQL Server Management Studio, the tool previously used to manage databases in Microsoft's cloud (though the poster did say, "I understand that it's beta, so won't complain too much").

SQL Azure team member Liam Cavanagh, though, sees Houston as a great improvement over SSMS in regard to Data Sync Management. He said that prior to Houston, if he wanted to work with a customer who wanted to try Data Sync Management, the user had to install SSMS. "Now with Microsoft Project Code-Named 'Houston,' people can go directly to this Web-based management tool and start creating their SQL Azure databases without installing anything," he said in a blog posting.

Cavanagh expounds more on "Extending SQL Server Data to the Cloud using SQL Azure Data Sync" in a video tutorial. Other instructional videos about Houston can be viewed on TechNet.

Cavanagh also lauded the increased performance over SSMS. Because Houston is hosted on the SQL Azure data centers (just one so far), the latency is reduced from that experienced with SSMS, "which in many cases has far greater distance to communicate with my SQL Azure database," he said.

So check it out and let me know what you think. Comment here or drop me a line.

Posted by David Ramel on 07/22/2010 at 12:52 PM1 comments


Doing The News Right, And A Cool Dev Tool

Data Driver, the global leader in database-related blogging, serving a constituency of high-quality readers worldwide, and product of 1105 Media Inc., parent company of award-winning publications and Web sites such as Redmond Developer News and Visual Studio Magazine, acknowledged leaders in the Microsoft developer-related media space and universally praised as premier venues for the best tech-related advertisers to reach sophisticated enterprise decision-makers, today announced how not to write a news release.

Sorry, I'm deviating briefly here. I just can't stand it anymore--I'm constantly bombarded with news releases that start out like the above. Don't these guys get it? Who gets past an opening paragraph like that?

Just get to the news, will you? It's not like any self-respecting media outlet is going to use that crap anyway. How can they not notice that that never happens?

What finally brought this to a boil such that I absolutely had to vent is a news release from a company that actually knows how to do it right. It's such a rare gem that it gets some free publicity here (OK, it's also about a newsworthy product that data developers might find interesting).

The company is Alpha Software, and the news release announced Alpha Five Version 10.5. The release (and blog item on the company's site) was titled "What Would the Web Look Like If Everyone Could Build Their Own Web 2.0 Data-Driven Apps?" (instead of, say, "Award-Winning Leader In Web Development Announces Revolutionary New Product"). It's about a tool for do-it-yourself Web devs, though, as the company states, it's for pros, too: "Professional developers will find everything they could wish for in a robust development environment, especially the ability to build Ajax-powered, SQL database-driven Web apps without having to code."

Sounds good to me. You can try it for free and decide for yourselves. Let me know what you think.

Anyway, back to my rant: these guys are different. The release's lead paragraph framed the product in the context of how simplified blogging tools opened up the blogosphere to everyone. The company isn't even mentioned until the fourth paragraph. And the release is chock-full of links pointing to more information--and they go all over the place, not to the company's site.

I checked out other news releases and found one about training classes that actually led with a reference to The Clash's seminal album, London Calling. It links to sites about the band (which happens to be my all-time favorite), the album, Rolling Stone and the list of the top 500 greatest albums. See, you want to click that link and check out the list, don't you? Stuff like that gets your attention.

I really hope these "but-we've-always-done-it-this-way" PR flacks are paying attention. You don't have to be unimaginative, boring, plain-vanilla, run-of-the-mill, mind-bendingly dreary hacks. It's OK to be creative and interesting. Really!

Posted by David Ramel on 07/14/2010 at 12:52 PM0 comments


Simplified SQL Server Aimed At Web Devs

Microsoft yesterday introduced WebMatrix, "a new lightweight Web development tool that ... makes it even easier for people to get started with Web development using ASP.NET."

This announcement came in Scott Guthrie's blog, where he previously introduced the three main components of the new beta tool: IIS Developer Express, ASP.NET "Razor" and the new SQL Server Compact Edition, an embedded database.

While it's been around for quite a while, SQL Server CE steps up from Version 3.5 to Version 4, which has been specially designed for Web development, said Guthrie, a vice president in Microsoft's Developer Division. In response to a reader's question about how the new version differs from the old version, Guthrie said: "The biggest improvement is that it now designed and tested to work in a multi-threaded environment.  Previous releases of SQL CE only worked in client apps and would corrupt/crash in server environments.  SQL CE 4 specifically supports server scenarios." Also he said, Version 4 handles shared hosting and medium trust scenarios and is more compatible with the regular SQL Server, allowing for easier migration to the full-featured database environment.

In the meantime, with SQL Server CE, Web developers don't have to install a database in their projects. You just need to copy its binary files into a specific directory, Guthrie said. Database files are stored on disk, after which SQL Server CE runs in-memory, which allows for much faster data manipulation and is the trend of Microsoft data-intensive products such as the new PowerPivot "self-service" business intelligence tool.

Other features of SQL Server CE 4 include:

  • Visual Studio 2010 and Visual Web Developer 2010 Express Support
  • Compatibility with existing .NET Framework-based data APIs
  • Support of shared Web hosting ("medium trust")
  • Support of development and production scenarios

In response to dozens of questions from readers, Guthrie indicated future enhancements of SQL Server CE would likely include:

  • SQL CE for Silverlight clients (and Windows Phone 7)
  • Support of geographic types
  • Support for databases larger than the current limit of 4GB
  • Providers to support ASP.NET membership and profiles

The blogosphere, as usual, supplied plenty of alternative takes on the announcement. One blogger referred to SQL Server CE 4 as "Microsoft's response to SQLite." Another offered up a comparison with Firebird Embedded. Another wondered about the possibility of using SQL Server CE 4 to offload work from a main database.

The WebMatrix public beta is available as a 15MB download (50MB if you need to install .NET 4).

Posted by David Ramel on 07/07/2010 at 12:52 PM2 comments


Security Expert Dan Kaminsky Seeks Source Code Input

“This is a little rough, but I want to get the code out there.”

That's how security expert Dan Kaminsky starts out his Install.txt file that accompanies his brand-new security tool, Interpolique, released in a hurry on Monday to fight recent SQL injection attacks such as those that compromised the Web sites of The Wall Street Journal and others.

Interpolique, available for download for examination by experts, was described Monday by DarkReading.com as “a tool for application developers that helps prevent pervasive string injection-type attacks, such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS).”

DarkReading said the tool is designed to relieve developers from much of the burden of providing security measures in their code. Kaminsky told the site: “Security development tends not to care how inconvenient it is for developers. [This is] about meeting developers halfway."

But don't try using it quite just yet -- DarkReading reported the tool was released for experts to investigate and provide feedback, and not for operational use. Kaminsky is expected to share the feedback at next month's BlackHat USA security conference in Las Vegas.

And you'd better know what you're doing if you want to fool around with Interpolique, produced by the Kaminsky-headed Recursion Ventures. The skimpy install file, which comes with a bunch of C, SQL, PHP and JavaScript files, includes directions like:

Compile the MySQL Base64 UDF with:

gcc -Wall -I/usr/include/mysql -shared lib_mysqludf_str.c -olib_mysqludf_str.so

But if you are an expert, feel free to join the fight and help. Kaminsky himself issued the invitation in the Install file: “Let's figure out what's up,” he said.

If you check out the code, let us know what you think. Comment here or send me an e-mail.

Posted by David Ramel on 06/17/2010 at 12:52 PM1 comments


Microsoft Shows Off BI "Engine Of The Devil"

Microsoft hinted at some amazing new capabilities coming to its BI products in yesterday’s Business Intelligence Conference keynote, including an "engine of the devil" that allows instant analysis of more than 2 billion rows of data.

Microsoft BI engineer Amir Netz joined senior exec Ted Kummert to demo new technology the company is working on to go beyond current capabilities of its recently released PowerPivot "BI for the masses" application. I previously wrote about a demo I attended that showed how easily PowerPivot could handle 44 million rows of data.

Netz had upped the ante Monday at Microsoft’s TechEd conference in New Orleans with a 100-million-row example. Yesterday, using a server with more memory than the desktops used before, he seamlessly tackled the 2-billion-row demo with the same storage technology used in PowerPivot. "You know, we talked about wicked fast yesterday," he said. "This is beyond wicked fast; this is the engine of the devil, right?"

The crowd loved it, but Kummert wasn’t so sure about the characterization. Microsoft senior leadership probably isn’t too keen on branding its products with references to Satan. "You said that, I didn’t," Kummert said, before joking about Netz’s upcoming performance review.

Netz said the company had received great feedback on PowerPivot, but some BI pros wanted more capabilities and functionality. His demo connected the PowerPivot technology that can be used in Excel to SQL Server Analysis Services for some incredible performance metrics.

He explained the demo: "We have 10 widgets on the screen, six slicers and four charts. And each one of those sends two queries to the data source in order to render itself. So we have about 20 queries being sent. Every one of those queries is a full table-scan of the 2 billion rows. So all together whenever I click, we are scanning 40 billion rows, and it takes about two and a half seconds to do that. So if you just do the math in your head, we are seeing here a scan rate of a trillion rows per minute. That's kind of what we're talking about."

Then he jokingly countered Kummert by saying "Performance review!"

Netz also shows some striking PowerPivot data visualization capabilities that reportedly will be available in the next 30 days.

In another tidbit, Kummert said the company was working on bringing the full capabilities of SQL Server to SQL Azure, its cloud-based "set of relational features oriented toward application development scenarios." That mismatch of features has been a point of contention in the SQL Server community.

"We're hard at work on that now," Kummert said. "I'm not announcing the specific release timeframe for that, but this is something you're going to hear from us shortly in the future."

Check out the video of the keynote and weigh in with your thoughts in the comment section below or send me an e-mail.

Posted by David Ramel on 06/09/2010 at 12:52 PM1 comments


Getting Your Tech Questions Answered

While perusing my daily Google Alerts I found this heading:

"Do newer versions of SQL Server support read consistency equivalent to Oracle?"

I was surprised to see this question was asked--and answered quite ably--in LinkedIn.com Answers. I don't use LinkedIn as much as I should (not enough hours in the day), so I was unaware of this service. Of course, there are many like it (including Yahoo! and "expert" services, where answers cost you money), but I was struck by the quality of the answers on LinkedIn.

A database expert named Victor (DBA and developer) provided the "best" answer to that question: "Yes." But the original poster had included a second part to his question:

"I have no experience with SQL Server and have only read in various forums that 'writers block readers and readers block writers.' Is that true? Or is it true just for older versions and not 2008?"

To this, Victor supplied a detailed, well-written explanation full of links for further information. I'm pretty sure you couldn't find a better answer on those pay-as-you-go "expert" services. LinkedIn also provided four or five other answers, some from DBAs, providing information and links to follow for further details (and of course, the mandatory MySQL shill).

I decided to try out LinkedIn Answers and asked a question to get info for an article I'm researching (topic categories, such as "software development," help target your query). I almost immediately got some great stuff.

So I'm sold. I know there are myriad support sites, forums, groups and such all over the Web, but if you haven't tried it, you should think about LinkedIn Answers the next time you need a tech question answered. I don't know where these guys find the time, but there are plenty of experts out there willing to help you out.

What's your experience with LinkedIn Answers? What other sources do you use to get answers to your dev questions? We'd love to share. Comment here or send me an e-mail.

Posted by David Ramel on 06/02/2010 at 12:52 PM0 comments


Here Comes The No-NoSQL Movement

There's a new kid on the block: VoltDB, a "next-generation" DBMS released yesterday that's the brainchild of database pioneer and brilliant iconoclast Mike Stonebraker.

Or maybe it should characterized as a new sheriff in town, because this newcomer to the database market has some serious backing, stemming from a joint project by MIT, Brown University, Yale University and HP Labs.

VoltDB is an open-source, in-memory OLTP database system designed to handle serious transaction numbers in gaming, SaaS, financial, online and other high-performance systems.

And guess what? In addition to eschewing more traditional relational models, VoltDB is also spurning the NoSQL movement. It even accommodates SQL. Parent company VoltDB LLC said that "unlike NoSQL key-value stores, VoltDB can be accessed using SQL and ensures transactional data integrity (ACID)."

The company's news release quoted gaming company CEO Henning Diedrich as saying "VoltDB is faster than MySQL with Memcached, and always returns valid data. It's more useful than key-value stores and even allows for cleaner SQL schemas than MySQL or Oracle."

It further stated "VoltDB has also been benchmarked against a NoSQL key-value store, and VoltDB executed a variety of key-value store workloads with equal or better performance."

In case there's any doubt about the intent of those potshots, The Register's VoltDB article is titled "Database daddy goes non-relational on NoSQL fanbois."

Ouch.

I can't wait to see how the "fanbois" react to this.

Take a look at this supposed game-changer and get back to me with your opinion. Is it revolutionary? Is it a flash-in-the-pan? Who's it going to hurt the most? Comment here or send me an e-mail.

Posted by David Ramel on 05/26/2010 at 12:52 PM1 comments


New Help For SQL Server Setup

A reader has prompted Microsoft to launch a vast new resource for easing the SQL Server set-up process.

Okay, just maybe it's a coincidence. Anyway, reader Brian M.'s complaint about the difficulties of installing SQL Server seems to have hit the nail on the head. Last week he commented on my post concerning a "SQL Meme" circulating the 'Net, gathering gripes about SQL Server.

Brian's contribution started out with this: "Obviously an installer written by a bunch of CompSci PhD's. Ridiculous."

Just as obvious: Ballmer & Co. hang on every word printed here (Hi Steve--call me!).

Yesterday, just six days later, Microsoft announced the "The SQL Server Setup Portal," described as "a one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about planning and setting up SQL Server." They may as well have put "Hey, Brian..." in the portal title.

Buck Woody, a Microsoft database specialist, admitted in his Carpe Datum blog announcing the portal that the set-up process can be difficult. Pointing out the myriad hardware/software driver combinations supported by Microsoft, he said, "Making all of that work together is a small miracle, so things are bound to arise that you need to deal with."

You don't need to tell Brian M. He said he's been trying for a week to set up R2, with at least a dozen attempts, with no success. He even hinted at shooting himself in the foot, while waiting for the "R2 Pre-install Cleanup/Fixit Package."

Well Brian, hold your fire. Here's help: "whitepapers, videos, and multiple places to search on everything from topic names to error codes."

And no thanks needed; that's what we're here for. Just please let us know how it turns out.

What SQL Server installation nightmares have you encountered? Does the new portal help? Comment here or send me an e-mail.

Posted by David Ramel on 05/18/2010 at 12:52 PM2 comments


So, What Do You Hate About SQL Server?

Paul S. Randal stirred up the SQL Server community this week with a blog post titled "What 5 things should SQL Server get rid of?"

He tagged five friends and started a chain reaction--or SQL Meme--of bellicose bombast across the blogosphere.

Randal's No. 1 complaint? "Auto-shrink." The CEO of SQLskills.com said, "I tried to have it removed during SQL 2005 and SQL 2008 development, but to no avail. It needed to stay for backwards compatibility."

While he makes good arguments for his choices, others seem somewhat surprising. For example, Adam Haines wants to delete PRINT and SELECT * from SQL Server.

Some are pretty broad in their scope, such as Aaron Bertand's desire to drop "syntax inconsistencies" and "the current setup program."

Some nuance the nitty-gritty. Denis Gobo volunteered "Unique constraints with one NULL value" and "Restrictions on Indexed Views" while providing explanations, screenshots and recommended substitutions.

Some targeted specific tools. Jamie Thomson, the SSIS Junkie, tackled SQL Server Integration Services. His suggestions included the Web Service and ActiveX Script tasks. Todd McDermid followed this foray into SSIS with the "Properties Window" and "Data Profiling Task."

Brent Ozar has some rambling, inchoate ("Any feature described using the phrase ‘down payment' ") gripes about SQL Server Management Studio, including database diagrams and "Every SSMS UI designer."

Of course, readers were all over the subject, contributing their own colorful comments. One said the Web Service Task "should die. Horribly. Painfully."

By the time this is posted, I'm sure there will be dozens more. So let's board the bandwagon. Let it all out. Give Redmond an earful. (after all, so many people on TV say Windows 7 was their idea, why can't you claim that the next SQL Server edition was your idea?)

Weigh in here or drop me an e-mail (just don't start any memes about bloggers who should be banished from the Web!).

Posted by David Ramel on 05/12/2010 at 12:52 PM4 comments


Rapid SQL Tool Catches Up With Windows 7

Way back in November,Rapid SQL XE, Embarcadero's integrated development environment for SQL coders, now includes support for Windows 7, the company announced recently.

Microsoft developers will also be glad to hear that the new IDE has enhanced object management capabilities for SQL Server, along with Oracle and DB2.

Also, it "includes support for all database platforms with a single product, interface and license," the company news release states. (Really, all database platforms? That’s a pretty strong statement. OK, the PR people just got carried away there -- other company sources indicate it works with the "major" databases: DB2, Firebird, InterBase, SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle and Sybase.)

Other enhancements include Unicode support, SQL syntax alerts, new object filtering capabilities and more. The tool, which costs $1,495, is available for a 14-day trial.

Posted by David Ramel on 05/07/2010 at 12:52 PM0 comments


Microsoft Nods To PHP Community (Yet Again) With SQL Server Driver

Microsoft continued to cater to the PHP community last week, announcing a Community Technology Preview of SQL Server Driver for PHP 2.0.

For the first time, PHP developers can use PHP Data Objects (PDO) with the SQL Server driver.

"For PHP developers, this will reduce the complexity of targeting multiple databases and will make it easier to take advantage of SQL Server features (like business intelligence & reporting) as well as SQL Azure features (like exposing OData feeds)," said Microsoft's Ashay Chaudhary, program manager for the driver project.

The move was especially welcomed by developers working with Drupal, the popular open-source content management system that's written in PHP and powers Web sites around the world, including whitehouse.gov.

"This driver allows you to install and run Drupal 7 using an SQL Server database, and it makes it possible to deploy Drupal on a full Microsoft stack (Windows Server, IIS, and SQL Server)," said a spokesman for Commerce Guys, an e-commerce company that works extensively with Drupal and worked on the driver project with Microsoft. In conjunction with Microsoft's announcement, the company presented a beta version of Drupal 7 running on SQL Server at the DrupalCon conference in San Francisco.

Chaudhary said the driver's support for PDO was developed as "a direct result of the feedback we received from the PHP community." Much of that feedback came in a survey Microsoft conducted last October. The new driver is the latest in a series of moves Microsoft has made to accommodate that PHP community.

The strategy seems to be working. "This is a great achievement, PDO support was much requested for the longest time by many in the PHP community, particularly Drupal folks," said one comment on the blog post that announced the new driver.

Another said, "WISP (Windows, IIS, SQL Server, and PHP) application development has been an interest of mine lately, and this definitely looks promising."

The driver CTP is available for download, with the final version expected later this year.

Posted by David Ramel on 04/28/2010 at 12:52 PM0 comments


Is Oracle's MySQL Move Really A Threat To Microsoft?

A lot of people believe that Oracle last week left no doubt that it will wield MySQL as a potent weapon to fight Microsoft for database market share. The company announced several new MySQL products at a conference in California and reaffirmed its commitment to the open-source software it acquired from Sun Microsystems earlier this year.

As reported by Reuters, "In a bid to woo customers from rival Microsoft Corp, Oracle Corp will boost investment in the widely used MySQL open-source database."

A ZDNet blogger said Oracle MySQL head honcho Edward Screven noted that "more customers deploy MySQL on Windows than on any other platform. That certainly gives Microsoft SQL Server a run for its money."

InformationWeek believes that Screven was "trying to lay apprehensions to rest" on the part of MySQL backers when he said: "We will make MySQL better. We plan to continue this level of investment. A lot of people questioned what motivation Oracle had in acquiring MySQL (as part of Sun Microsystems)."

In the ongoing database wars among the top vendors, this might give pause to database programmers who are choosing which technology to focus on, with Microsoft's SQL Server already being in second place behind Oracle's flagship product.

Or will it? Others aren't so sure.

Ken Hess wrote on DaniWeb.com that: "In essence, Oracle will continue on the same path with the commercial and community versions of MySQL just as MySQL AB and Sun did."

Or not!

He followed that up with:

"Uh huh. And I have some lovely beach front property in Arizona that I'd love to sell you. It isn't that I don't believe that Oracle will continue to support the MySQL Community version, it's that I don't think they'll continue to support it at the same level as they do the commercial version. The Oracle database doesn't need community support so why should MySQL?"

Expert analyst Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC, was even more skeptical when she told this site:

"Clearly the open-source community at large and the open-source developer community were hoping for specific reassurances from Oracle that it would continue to support, refresh and develop MySQL. Additionally, developers were also keen for Oracle to offer specific details regarding which MySQL features and functions, if any, will require a commercial license. The latter point is crucial for any organization building an in-house custom application or any third-party ISV developer contemplating whether to build a MySQL application or an application for Microsoft's SQL Server.

"Oracle did state it would continue to develop and promote MySQL to compete against rival Microsoft SQL Server, but many corporate developers, enterprises and industry watchers remain unconvinced and will take a wait and see approach before committing to put their development monies and R&D efforts behind MySQL. Oracle's announcement was long on promises and short on specifics on the all important open-source code vs. commercial licensing aspects of MySQL. Oracle still has a long way to go to quell developers' well-founded fears."

So, as with a lot of open-source issues, this one has polarized much of the IT community.

What do you think? Was it a stiff tilt at Microsoft or just a lot of smoke and mirrors? Weigh in here or send me an e-mail.

Posted by David Ramel on 04/19/2010 at 12:52 PM1 comments