Microsoft has officially launched the release to manufacturing (RTM) version of SQL Server 2012 with a virtual conference and free downloads. SQL Server 2012 is heavily focused around three key themes and the company is positioning it as one of the most significant updates to the platform to date.

Launching SQL Server 2012 Toward Big Data and the Cloud

Yesterday, Microsoft held a virtual conference to announce the RTM release of SQL Server 2012. I have to admit the event was impressive. The 27 launch event sessions are categorized in three tracks that aligned with the official product strategy (I'm providing a marketing translation in parenthesis): mission critical confidence (high availability and reliability topics), breakthrough insights (self-service analytics) and cloud on your terms (Azure and hybrid cloud improvements).

The videos are high quality and more importantly, short, at around 20 minutes per topic. There is also an expo hall, which includes your typical vendor dog and pony shows, and a networking lounge organized in topic areas that enables social networking with other attendees and Microsoft folks.

All that’s missing is free t-shirts and stickers; wait, that’s available too -- kind of. The event has a gamefication style point system that awards points, badges and levels for completing activities like viewing sessions, tweeting and interacting in the forums. There are sweepstakes drawings every four hours for prizes like gift cards, headphones and an Xbox 360. 

Beyond the flashy launch event, there is the actual software, which Microsoft Corporate Vice President, Business Platform Division, Ted Kummert says is one of the biggest releases for SQL Server to date. Microsoft’s vision for SQL Server 2012 centers around three areas:


Interestingly, Kummert did not include the new high-availability and reliability features like AlwaysOn, which the company is clearly making a big investment in and may make the product more attractive to larger enterprises with more stringent performance and availability requirements.

The big data features in SQL Server 2012 may be the area that’s generating the most conversation: they’ve even published an infographic. The company is offering new storage options and providing tools that help with big data analysis.

The 2012 version will include an in-memory column oriented database to improve analytics performance, and as we previously reported, Microsoft is also developing a Windows-based version of Hadoop with Yahoo spinoff Hortonworks.  Last October, the company introduced a preview Hadoop service on Azure. The preview is being expanded to 2,000 users, from 400, for the 2012 release. A full release of the service is planned for the end of June.

Microsoft is also continuing its self-service business intelligence (BI) trend in 2012 that makes analytics more accessible to end users and integrates the capability into office products. I admit, self-service BI always sends a cold chill through my spine. Perhaps it’s arrogant of me, but I just don’t think most users should be allowed to run wild through fields of complex data and be left to draw their own conclusions. Although it seems convenient, I’ve seen it yield amazingly inconsistent results and create spreadsheet marts that companies have to spend countless hours and dollars correcting.

Microsoft is betting big on the SQL Server 2012 release citing information like Forrester’s Consulting Total Economic Impact study, which calculated a “potential return on investment of up to 189 percent with a 12-month payback period.” I’m always a little skeptical of these things. However, it’s definitely worth investigating, as are the almost 200 SQL Server case studies.

Getting More Details

If you want to know more about SQL Server 2012, there’s no shortage of free and detailed information. The SQL Server 2012 launch site, which is free but requires registration, includes tons of video, vendor white papers, a discussion community frequented by MVPs. Of course, some of the content is over the top marketing, but there are also lots of technical details and even some guidance on calculating ROI, which many organizations struggle to get right.

If you would prefer to take a more hands on approach, the RTM release is available for immediate download. There is also a RTM feature pack that includes add-on providers and several additional tools for SQL Server 2012.