Tech-Ed: SQL Server 2008 Nearly Ready

The keynote kicking off the second week of Microsoft’s annual Tech-Ed conference – this week for IT professionals — didn’t have Bill Gates. That was last week, when Gates gave his goodbye speech to third party developers.

What Tuesday’s speech did have, though, were several important product updates. Top of the list: SQL Server 2008, which has finally reached the “release candidate” (RC) stage, the last step in testing before a product is “released to manufacturing.”

In his keynote at the 16th Tech-Ed in Orlando, Fla., Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Server and Tools business, said the releases help mark the company’s progress on its “Dynamic IT” initiative. Practicing Dynamic IT “converts IT from a business expense to a business asset and shifts the IT focus from activities that just keep datacenters running to those that can result in strategic advantages,” according to a company statement.

Tech-Ed 2008 comes at a time when Microsoft is close to delivering key parts of its vision of IT in a changing world – particularly SQL Server 2008 and the company’s server virtualization engine, known as “Hyper-V.” Both are due in the third quarter.

Among the other announcements Muglia made during the event: Beta 3 of Identity Lifecycle Manager “2” has begun; the company plans to deliver RC1 of Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 later this month.

“As far as Dynamic IT [goes], a lot of progress has happened in the last five years, but another five years of work is needed,” Muglia said.

The annual event has become so popular that this year the company had to split it into two separate weeks of sessions and keynotes – one for developers, which was held last week, and this week’s event for IT professionals.

Release of the first RC of SQL Server 2008 – referred to as “RC0” – may mean that the product will arrive a little earlier than most recently promised target of before the end of the third quarter given that the first RC, as it’s called, is debuting in June.

SQL Server 2008 was launched but not delivered in late February at Microsoft’s “Heroes Happen Here” event. That gala was meant to mark the arrival of Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008, and SQL Server 2008, but only the first two products were actually ready in time.

However, SQL Server 2008 was not the only product AWOL from the February launch. Also absent was Windows Server 2008’s virtualization engine – referred to as “Hyper-V.” That work is progressing, too, Muglia said.

“Hyper-V will be done this summer … we said early August and we’re going to beat that date,” he added. Additionally, the next generation version of Hyper-V will feature the ability to migrate a running virtual machine (VM) from one location to another without downtime and without the user noticing, he said.

This capability is viewed as a requirement by at least one analyst, given that Hyper-V’s biggest competitor, VMware’s (NYSE: VMW) ESX Server, already has that capability with a technology it calls “Vmotion.” The question remains, however, How important is it really?

“[Live migration of VMs] will eliminate a big sore point in terms of competing with VMware, but I can’t tell whether the need is real or a marketing point,” Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft, told

Microsoft also announced the beginning of Beta 1 of its Forefront Security for Office Communications Server. Like versions of Forefront Security for other Microsoft servers, the package for Office Communications Server “includes multiple scanning engines and … blocks instant messages containing inappropriate content,” the company said in a statement.

Finally, the company also announced that its Forefront Client Security product has added support for Windows Server 2008’s Network Access Protection, a technology that quarantines new devices on the network until they meet NAP’s security requirements.

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