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Microsoft Takes Reporting Services to Next Beta

Microsoft Friday said the development of its new business intelligence software has reached enough progress to take its latest beta test public and that the first iteration of the product should be available in Microsoft SQL Server 2000 by year's end.

Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services is the Redmond, Wash. software giant's latest foray into business intelligence, a market that had enjoyed a lot of momentum since July when three major acquisitions in the space highlighted a frenzy of consolidation in the applications market. It's also a market the research firm IDC claims could top $4.7 billion by 2007.

Reporting functions in BI platforms help business managers of all levels create malleable reports -- such as customer profiles and statistics -- with graphics.

Stan Sorensen, director of product management for SQL Server, said Microsoft has a vision of business intelligence for the entire organization that includes a platform and services that allow people to view and use information they need to get their jobs to done.

Microsoft began offering some semblance of BI features in 1998 when it released SQL Server 7.0 with online analytical processing (OLAP) and extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) features.

But, Sorensen told internetnews.com, one of the gaps included reporting capabilities, which let users grab data from a variety of resources, put them in a single schema to create, distribute and manage reports. SQL Reporting services plugs that hole.

Now SQL Server runs the gamut of features one would expect to find in a business intelligence platform: OLAP, data mining; data warehousing; ETL and reporting functionality.

To wit, the reporting services include report authoring, with which developers can build applications from scratch by using Visual Studio .NET. Microsoft has also cobbled together an XML-based Web services interface based on its new language, Report Definition Language (RDL).

Sorensen said the company has not yet decided whether or not it will submit RDL to a standards body such as OASIS or the World Wide Web consortium for open consumption.

They also include report management, in which report definitions, folders, and resources can be published and managed as a Web service. These reports can then be executed on demand or on a specified schedule, and are cached. Lastly, the software features both on-demand and event-based report delivery to the end user, who may view reports in a browser or in e-mail.

While successful pure-play BI concerns such as Business Objects and Cognos sell BI platforms as standalone products, Sorensen said Microsoft has long concluded that the best way to offer business intelligence is to bundle it with SQL server because customers have come to expect it in the platforms they purchase. Thus far, the usage results have been satisfying, Sorensen said.

"We had 5,000 people sign up for beta 1 and we expect to have twice that if not more for beta 2," Sorensen said.

A valid SQL Server 2000 license is required for each server on which Reporting Services is deployed. Sorensen said SQL reporting services will also be bundled into Microsoft's next-generation version of its SQL database, code-named Yukon, next year.