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Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it (Hegel)

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Normally, the history of software is about as alluring as last night’s curry but in this case, it’s relevant because it is precisely this history that is at the root of SQL Server’s main problem. The product was originally Sybase by any other name; Microsoft simply bought the source code and re-badged it.

Sadly, even in its heyday, Sybase was not the sharpest tool in the box. The result was that the early versions of SQL Server for NT were dogs. Microsoft eventually noticed and, deciding to mix its metaphors, took the bullet and bit the hint. Version 7.0 was a total re-write of the entire code-base and, as a direct result, was a much, much better product. It was commendably fast, pretty robust and fairly scalable. Fine, but who wants to bet their career on ‘commendably’, ‘pretty’ and ‘fairly’?

SQL Server 2000 followed about two years later and in my opinion, for the first time Microsoft had a real database engine – reliable, fast and scalable. For all but the largest enterprises, SQL Server had finally arrived as a respectable database engine. For the last five years the main problem hasn’t been the software, it’s been the history. Database administrators are among the most conservative people in the software world. If your job were to specify a database engine for a company, would you choose one with a dodgy past or one with an impeccable reputation?

In case this makes it sound as if I am casting Microsoft as the poor, beleaguered, underdog, forget it! Microsoft was the company that decided to buy into the Sybase code in the first place; no-one forced it to make that extraordinary decision. But the history does explain why SQL Server, after all these years, has to be like Avis and ‘try harder’ than the competition.

Microsoft is, of course, still painfully aware of the problem. At last month's launch of SQL Server 2005 in London, Microsoft took the unprecedented step of interviewing IT journalists and asking them whether they thought that SQL Server 2005 was enterprise ready. However, journalists are as careful about taking risks as DBA managers and for similar reasons - so no journalist gave it an uncritical endorsement (and the most enduring visual image was, I think, a journalist rolling helpless with mirth on the bonnet of a Hummer). Unfortunately, Microsoft might find journalists an easier target than many DBA professionals.

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