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Inside the Windows 2008 stack experience

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Project Watch: Microsoft 2008 Register Developer regular Mark Whitehorn is rolling out a significant new IT project. This has, at its heart, a database of around 1TB and is ultimately expected to support several thousand users.

The project is using nothing less than upgrades to a trio of big-ticket products from Microsoft - Visual Studio 2008, Windows Server 2008, and SQL Server 2008 - that are due next month. With Reg Dev, Mark will chart his experiences and record his frustrations during deployment of these major updates.

Over to Mark who, this week, sets the scene...

Experience has taught database people to be very, very conservative. Actually, it's more like a selection thing. There are old DBAs and there are bold DBAs, but there are no old, bold DBAs.

If an application runs fine on version eight of your preferred RDBMS, why would you even consider upgrading to version nine? The best you can possibly hope for is that it continues to run fine (no gain there then); the worst is crash, burn and time to find a new job elsewhere. This is why we have production systems still running in COBOL.

Our current database is running on SQL Server 2005, sitting on Windows Server 2003. We are also using Analysis Server 2005 to produce the OLAP cubes and ProClarity for the data visualization. It works. So why am I sitting here, two months shy of the launch of SQL Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008, desperately seeking servers that will run this entire 2008 stack and porting an application that will go live (for a subset of the users) long before the summer?

Masochism and/or bravado spring to mind, but it isn't those. Killer features continue to appear in software that confer such competitive advantage that procrastination is impossible. Of course, it's only a killer feature if you need it and our application really, really needs it.

The "it" in question here is the ability to handle spatial data. SQL Server 2008 has it. End of story. Yes, I know Oracle had spatial data types first, but are there other, associated, reasons such as the business intelligence capabilities that made SQL Server 2008 the obvious choice for us.

OK, but why Windows and Visual Studio 2008 as well? Don't think we didn't think long and hard about this. But, while the decision adds to the workload now, it should reduce it in the future. And if we don't, we will spend the next two years sailing the sea of uncertain upgrades, dreading the support calls that start with "What OS are you running that on? Ah, well, if only you were running on..."

Having made the decision for all the right reasons, it would be disingenuous to pretend that we aren't looking forward to the challenge. I believe the conservatism discussed above is essentially forced upon DBAs by commercial considerations. In truth if we aren't excited by challenges, if we don't like problem solving, what are we doing working in computing?

And the good news is that I can share the excitement (and the pain) with you as the project proceeds. Does it really work? Where are the bugs, where is the missing functionality? How easy is it to load all three and get them working? What are the highs and lows?

Next time, Mark digs further into his need for spatial data and SQL Server 2008.®

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