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Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 about to hit the streets

Microsoft has released to manufacturing SQL Server 2008 R2, which includes a new in-memory, self-service BI engine called PowerPivot.

Microsoft has released to manufacturing the latest version of its relational database management system, SQL Server 2008 R2.

The much anticipated release includes a new in-memory, self-service business intelligence (BI) engine called PowerPivot, which gives users the ability to process significantly more data for analytics than previous versions of the database.

Previously code-named Gemini, PowerPivot is an Excel add-on that Microsoft says will give casual users the ability to integrate nearly unlimited amounts of data for analysis from multiple sources, including data warehouses, databases from rival vendors and cloud-based data.

Users can then create reports and dashboards and perform ad hoc analysis against the data directly in Excel on their own and share them with colleagues via SharePoint Server, Microsoft said.

Data analysis in Excel was limited to around 64,000 rows of data before today’s release, and integrating data from multiple sources often involved manual hand-coding.

PowerPivot’s computing power is due in part to its in-memory technology that highly compresses data, increasing the amount that can be stored and analyzed directly at the desktop and server level.

The new self-service capabilities are intended to extend BI to non-power users throughout the enterprise, enabling more data-driven decision making for companies and a lucrative new customer base for Microsoft. Other BI vendors, including SAP and IBM, have also embraced the concept, commonly referred to as “BI for the masses.”

Other enhancements in SQL Server 2008 R2, itself previously code-named Kilimanjaro, include master data management (MDM) tools built on technology from Stratature, which Microsoft acquired in 2007, and complex event processing capabilities.

Microsoft also said customers can now run the database on systems with up to 256 logical processors and move to a virtualized data center with Hyper-V and Live Migration support.

SQL Server 2008 R2 has been in community technology preview since last fall, in which time it has racked up more than 300,000 downloads, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft also said it has non-binding commitments from more than 2,000 independent software vendors that plan to build new applications on top of SQL Server 2008 R2. Among them is Canadian BI vendor Panorama Software.

Based in Toronto, Panorama today released NovaView for PowerPivot, a BI suite that sits on top of SQL Server 2008 R2, which the company says adds improved enterprise-level security, among other capabilities.

Panorama chief executive Eynav Azarya said he believes the latest version of SQL Server 2008 will significantly increase the reach of BI inside enterprises. “This is probably the most important release from Microsoft in the last 10 years,” he said.

SQL Server 2008 R2, which Microsoft said will be available to customers sometime in early May, is a separate release from the upcoming SQL Server R2 Parallel Data Warehouse. Code-named Madison, the new data warehouse reportedly will scale to the petabyte level, putting Microsoft on a par with vendors like Teradata and Oracle.

SQL Server R2 Parallel Data Warehouse was originally scheduled to be released now, along with SQL Server 2008 R2, but has been delayed. Microsoft says it expects to finally release the warehouse sometime in early summer.

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