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Visual Studio Adds Database Developer Support

Microsoft is broadening its Visual Studio 2005 Team System line. A new client designed specifically for database programmers and administrators provides them with the same version control and management tools most programmers use.

The Team System line consists of four products – Software Architect, Software Developer, Software Tester and Project Manager. All work with Team Foundation Server, which manages all of the functionality. Joining that line is Visual Studio 2005 Team Edition for Database Professional.

TFS serves as a single collaboration point for all of the members of a development team. The server tracks who is working on what code, their progress, how much testing they've done and how close they are to completion. It replaced Microsoft Visual SourceSafe, which had been a much more simplistic source code management program.

Even though there's plenty of database application development going on with Visual Studio, a separate product for database developers was needed because of the way they work, said Matt Nunn, senior product manager, developer division at Microsoft.

"There has always been somewhat of a disconnect between developer organizations and database teams," he said. "Database teams run against a live system, apps teams build apps in a closed environment."

One of the bigger problems is making changes to a database schema. Most companies don't have a second, separate database of their live data for testing, mostly due to security concerns. A company is not going to make a copy of a database with millions of personal accounts, complete with social security numbers and credit info for testing purposes.

The result, said Nunn, is work is often done against live databases, or dummy data is used in a test environment that doesn't adequately reflect the true nature of the data. Team Edition for Database comes with a tool called Data Generator, which creates test data that looks like what is found in a live environment, for more accurate testing.

Team Edition for Database also manages schema under source control management, so schema as managed just like standard source code. There's check in/check out and an audit trail of who did what, which isn't possible now.

The third element of Team Edition for Database is providing database administrators and managers with all of the life cycle management tools that come with Team Foundation Server. This means getting automatic reports on who did what, what projects programmers are working on, how far into the project they are, and so on.

Greg DeMichillie, lead analyst for developer tools at Directions on Microsoft, said there is a definite need for something like this, but wonders if developers will be overwhelmed by the beast that is Visual Studio 2005.

"A lot of database administrators aren't comfortable with anything that looks like Visual Studio," he said. "For many of them, development is writing some SQL scripts or a stored procedure or two. So my concern is will they feel comfortable with an IDE built off Visual Studio or will they find that overwhelming?"

Still, database programming does need some management tools, he said.

"I think the single biggest thing that the product does is it puts some formal structure in place around how database professionals manage the database," he said. "No dev team would let anyone make changes to the code without monitoring who did it. Every team has a structure in place to control how changes are made. This provides the same thing."

Visual Studio 2005 Team Edition for Database will ship by year-end. Anyone with Visual Studio Team Suite will get it for free. It will also be sold as a stand-alone product at a suggested price of $5,469.