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A New Yorker relocated to Florida. I have fifteen years in the IT industry, with stints in product management, database management, application programming... I've been a CIO, a consultant, a software evangelist... one of these days I'll write up a proper profile.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Commoditization of Databases and WinFS

IBM recently made the core of DB2 (DB2 Express-C) available for no-cost. Combined with the widespread adoption of open source databases such as mysql and postgres, it’s fair to say that we’re moving toward the commoditization of the database. Base engines are well on the way to being free or very low cost. Meanwhile advanced features such as clustering will generally require commercial licenses, which is how vendors such as IBM and Oracle will continue to prosper.

I was reminded of this in reading an excellent article in InfoWorld on the new Microsoft SQL Server release ("SQL Server Bulks Up.") The article is devoted to describing new features, but the main talking point is that the new release of MS SQL Server brings that product into the heavyweight arena of databases where it joins the likes of IBM and Oracle. Is Microsoft just in time to see its product forced to be given away?

I don’t think so, and the ties to Vista are relevant. Or more specifically, the ties to WinFS are relevant.

WinFS of course depends on a stripped down version of the new MS SQL Server that rides atop the NTFS file system. Note that if you haven’t read much of the documentation so far on WinFS, the key is that it’s not a replacement. WinFS depends on metadata associated with each file, the use of schema to describe that metadata, and MS SQL Server for the engine that relates and queries the data. NTFS is still underneath it all. Two good articles, if you haven’t had the opportunity to review WinFS are "WinFS 101: Introducing the New Windows File System" and "Microsoft unpacks details of Longhorn storage."

In practical terms, I think that we'll be seeing a lot of hidden files (xml and other data) in WinFS, and think that the format that Microsoft Office uses to save web page properties may be an indication. If you've ever noticed when saving a bare bones html file with Microsoft Word, there is no properties sheet for the file in Windows Explorer. But then, if you fill in the File Properties dialog in Office and save it again, you'll find a folder with various helper files, and xml inserted into the html file. For fun, try to delete the folder in Explorer!

At present, in Windows Vista beta 2 without WinFS, only the Mobile SQL server libraries are present (in the system32 directory). ODBC is present, and if the product distinctions we see in the products mentioned above hold true, we will not see SQL Server Integration Services, which is the replacement for Data Transformation Services, in Vista. This would be a shame because features such as fuzzy search and data mining are contained in SSIS. Imagine how they could empower document search! The screen below shows the SQL Server libraries in Vista today. As mentioned, only the SQL Server mobile engine is currently present, presumably for file synchronization. Based on the current marketing trends, I do not think we'll see SSIS included in WinFS, but I hope to be proven wrong.



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