Welcome to the first of what we hope will be many BBBT blogs resulting from the collaboration of BBBT members. Several members were on the April 15, 2010 briefing held by Microsoft for SQL Server 2008 Release 2 (SS08R2).
We came away deeply concerned:
Microsoft has a scattered message, confused pricing, and serious challenges in product integration.
The following major points sum up our assessment.
Microsoft’s Database Messaging Is Confused and Not Targeted
More precisely, SS08R2 has too many targets and in attempting to reach them all, it fails to effectively reach any of them. Microsoft has an opportunity to differentiate SQL Server and its forest of surrounding offerings from its major competitors (Oracle, SAP, IBM etc.) but fails to do so. Instead, it shows a few trees to the “Office audience,” some of the same ones to BI, others to application developers, still others to DBAs, data center managers but all in the same pitch. None of the messages gets fully developed, and the big picture of the forest that would pull it all together is missing.
Naming is an example of the missing big picture: Colin White asks why continue the name, SQL Server 2008 R2, rather than update it to SQL Server 2010? Steve Murchie suggests (based on his experience at Microsoft) that the reason is that there aren’t enough significant changes in core database engine itself. They are mostly in the surrounding applications with a few changes to the database just to support the new applications.
SQL Server has a “server providing services” architecture that Merv Adrian suggests is a good story that facilitates its integration with the surrounding products (SharePoint, Office, and others). This release could focus on that - and, in so doing, leverage the surrounding announcements as well as present the vision it embodies.
The launch plan is not clear, but may be reduced to a feature of the Office announcement. Although developer events, PASS conferences, etc., have featured R2 messages for quite some time, and an enormous amount of information is available on the web site including a downloadable version of the community technology preview (CTP or “beta” for the rest of us), it appears that the Office launch is the vehicle Microsoft is using for one of the database industry’s top 3 products. We do not think subsuming SQL Server announcements under the Office banner is appropriate. By the way, there have been 250,000 downloads of R2 so far according to the people briefing us.
Product Pricing Is Equally Confusing and Disjointed
Message and pricing both need to be addressed appropriately. Colin White, Claudia Imhoff, and Merv Adrian all note that buyers want to know what packaging they need to perform specific functions (e.g., performance management) and what the TCO would be. But Microsoft’s reflexive marketing - pointed at individual users and developers, not enterprise procurement - creates cognitive dissonance. Depending on the use case, users may need licenses for SharePoint, Office, Visual Studio, etc. Not all use cases require the same “stack.” Perhaps bundling everything together into the enterprise edition is the goal; that is the “simplest” scenario for buyers across all the licensed pieces that make up the story. It may turn out to have the largest price tag across a large enterprise - but again, the messaging points at individuals, not enterprises.
Database Enhancements Were Barely Mentioned
As discussed above, it appeared that the database messaging was subsumed into an Office message. The briefing was touted as being for SS08R2 yet most time was spent on services provided by SS08R2 - to wit: CEP (StreamInsight), MDM (Master Data Services) - and on Office products (PowerPivot). Thoughts about some of these:
The Parallel Data Warehouse was barely mentioned and no launch date firmly given. Mark and Claudia pointed out that immediately after the July 2008 acquisition of DATAllegro, the analyst community was told it would take “six months to integrate into SQL Server”, to widespread skepticism - Mark was shut out by some publications when he questioned it. Two years later, it appears that the integration has not been as simple as Microsoft believed it would be. Perhaps there was a fundamental flaw leading to this lengthy integration time. This is a core database market, hotly contested by Microsoft’s competitors that lead all of us to question why this database release briefing had minimal comment on this offering.
Master Data Services (MDS) is finally launched - but what took so long? Claudia Imhoff pointed out that Stratature was bought more than two years ago. Mike Ferguson noted that there should have been some integration with their Zoomix Data Quality product, also acquired in July 2008, but no mention was made of it. He also wonders if MDS Hierarchy Manager integrates with SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) as well as Master Data. And why is MDS under the banner of BI at all? Steve Murchie believes this may be as far as they got with this release; perhaps it indicates a messaging change later on?
StreamInsight is a Release 1.0 offering in a “hot” category that already has several players. Seth Grimes suggested in a tweet that the speed/volume is far below industry norms at this point and may not have the speed and ability to handle volumes of data; we have not had time to dig in on this. Jos van Dongen noted that it often takes 3 releases for Microsoft to get it right. Merv Adrian noted that the interlocking dependencies make this a concern for overall stability and robustness. Claudia Imhoff stated that the speeds and feeds would improve with each successive release and she was glad that Microsoft finally had an offering in the stream analytics field.
Integration Opportunities Seem To Have Been Missed
There was an overall feeling that a lot of pieces were thrown into this release mix, but point-to-point integration, often representing significant value, were left unexploited or at least unexplained.
StreamInsight and PerformancePoint Mike Ferguson noted that PerformancePoint (now Services, not a server product) could create scorecards. Users want to know what is going on right now; they want a single management interface with a single sign on, for role-based performance management. He wonders how this can be done with the architecture described. If CEP is just another service to be consumed, then perhaps it could offer a solution.
UI lives somewhere else in the organization? Steve Murchie believes the current philosophy is that another group has this functionality; the server side teams won’t invest into the kind of offering Mike suggests because it belongs elsewhere in the organization. This could be an example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.
Dynamics and BizTalk are not in the picture. Merv Adrian pointed out that a similar organization boundary has arisen in conversations he’s had about BI and Dynamics, and it’s reflected here as well. The “services provision” model lends itself to a degree of integration that would make Microsoft much more competitive with SAP and Oracle in the applications space, but it remains unexploited.
PowerPivot and Excel win, ProClarity loses.
In the battle for marketing dollars and attention, Excel is the winner, hands down.
Where is the Metadata Story?
Mark Madsen pointed out that it was completely absent, although it’s implied in the MDS offering. Again, this reflected the non-audience-specific nature of the briefing. Had it been pointed at BI prospects and customers, one imagines that metadata would have been more of a focus - as would design, which also went virtually unmentioned.
John Myers summed up our thinking well when he asked if perhaps Microsoft’s change in messaging has adversely affected the product direction by watering down what they want to get accomplished. Our conclusion is that we will “watch and wait” to see if these questions and concerns are ironed out as the launch begins and the marketing gives way to actual facts.
Contributors to this joint BBBT blog include: Merv Adrian; Mike Ferguson; Claudia Imhoff; Mark Madsen; Steve Murchie; John Myers; Jos van Dongen; Colin White (Our short bios can be found in the Members section of this website). BBBT members also maintain their own blogs. My thanks to Merv Adrian for helping to write this blog.