SQL Server 2005: Users will upgrade...eventually

Large users want the security enhancements and will upgrade sooner; smaller shops worry about new-release glitches, and many say they'll wait for the first service pack.

With less than a month to go before the first major SQL Server upgrade in five years, users seem to be divided into two camps: those who are going into production as fast as they can and those who will upgrade sometime in the next couple of years.

According to Noel Yuhanna, senior analyst for Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., the difference reflects Microsoft's success in interesting larger customers with more critical databases in SQL Server. It's the heavy hitters who need the enhanced features of SQL Server 2005, while the small to medium-sized businesses that have been SQL Server 2000's mainstays will probably wait.

"With SQL Server 2005 there are some customers looking to upgrade right away -- they're looking for higher performance, greater stability, better security," Yuhanna said. "Customers in the financial sector, in banking, retail, and insurance -- some of these customers are just waiting to switch over to it." Yuhanna puts the percentage of users who are eager for the new release at about 20%.

Speed, security grab attention of early adopters

For the first wave of adopters, Yuhanna said the main incentive is security. "Data encryption is the key for financial and healthcare enterprises, which have regulatory requirements to encrypt data." New authorization and authentication features in SQL Server 2005 also appeal to those users.

The other reason for early migration is performance speed. "SQL Server 2000 falls short on higher-performance applications; SQL Server 2005 offers up to 25% improvement in performance, depending on the application," said Yuhanna.

Harold LaRoux, systems manager of Penson Financial Services, in Dallas, Texas, said he anticipates switching over in the first quarter of 2006, and the main feature driving the change is "it's faster." The reason Penson is not switching any sooner is the time involved in testing the upgrade. LaRoux isn't worried about the product itself. "We will definitely keep our eyes and ears open for word of problems," he said, "but currently we're assuming that the core DBMS is as solid as the current SQL Server 2000."

Stability seekers willing to wait

On the other hand, users who are planning to switch to SQL Server 2005, but perhaps not right away, seem to be those whose main motivation is the enhanced reporting services. "The part that makes us want to upgrade is the Business Intelligence piece, the reporting services," said Delton Blackwell, design process engineer at InPhonics, a Web-based cell phone services retailer who's been trying out the Community Technology Preview (CTP) version since June. "That's what we're using it for, and once it's stable, that's what we'll use."

Blackwell also said the reporting services have helped him make the case for the upgrade internally with the company's financial side. "They're the ones who are using it. If we can get the time it takes to give them the data they want down from two hours to ten minutes, they'll be happy. They're all for it."

Although Blackwell said he "loves" the new reporting capabilities, he also said he won't be upgrading to the new release until it's been out a while. "I've been using Microsoft for a long, long time, and I know I will feel comfortable after it's been out for six months."

Cecil Spivey, DBA for Green Tree Servicing LLC, a financial services company, will also be migrating for the reporting capabilities -- but he, too, will wait. "My preference is probably to wait for the first service pack," he says.

Analyst Yuhanna's take on why organizations who want the reporting services might be more willing to wait is that add-on reporting packages already exist. "It's very advantageous to have SQL Server 2005, with all those components built in," he says. "But other vendors have solutions around this already."

For some users, the issue is when applications will be ready to run on the new release. "Upgrading to SQL Server 2005 is what we're hoping for," said Tcharly Florestal, DBA at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla. "However, we do not do much development here. Most of our databases come with an application from a vendor. Therefore it is up to the vendors to test and have their applications up and running on the new release."

Likewise, Eric Johnson at ADD Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., design firm, said his upgrade plans are "tied directly to our accounting software's upgrade plans. We use Deltek Vision, which is why we currently have SQL Server installed. If we wanted to upgrade, we would have to wait until Vision is compatible with SQL Server 2005, which, as far as I know is not scheduled for anytime soon."

Cost appears not to be much of an issue. Yuhanna noted that although Microsoft raised prices earlier this year, it is still the low-cost option for large organizations, and it has addressed the needs of smaller licensees through SQL Server Express and the SQL Server Work Group edition. Users who have tried the Upgrade Advisor and Migration Assistant say they make the process relatively painless.

Yuhanna said, ultimately, the reason it will take time for shops to migrate to 2005 is, "they're happy with what they have now. Customers will finally get to it, but it will take them a while. If they're happy with what they have now, why migrate?"

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