SQL Server 7.0, better than 6.5, stands up well to Oracle

In my tests, SQL Server 7.0 stood head and shoulders above SQL Server 6.5 and acquitted
itself well against Oracle running under Microsoft Windows NT.

Furthermore, SQL Server has a lower price structure and features that can match or
surpass Oracle’s.

The standard edition of SQL Server 7.0 works with NT Server 4.0 and Service Pack 4. The
Enterprise Edition requires NT Enterprise Server 4.0 and Service Pack 4. Both come with a
third, desktop version for NT Workstation or Windows 9x. The desktop RDBMS also will ship
with Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0, and the engine will become part of Microsoft Access
2000. Pricing starts at $598 for the standard SQL Server 7.0.

Competitive upgrades and additional client license packs are available; a client
license is required for each installation of the desktop version.

SQL Server 7.0 has wide-ranging advances in seven areas: performance, maintenance,
management, replication, desktop and mobile use, data warehousing, and Internet or
intranet use.

Version 7.0 is faster, more flexible and easier to manage and maintain than 6.5.
Microsoft claims its engine can handle small mobile databases on up to terabyte-sized

It can automatically tune its own memory use and locking resources, and it supports
many replication scenarios. As a server, it can do full-text indexing and online
analytical processing.

Most queries and maintenance operations run noticeably faster than in 6.5. Performance
improvements include smart read-ahead, larger I/O block sizes, better query optimization,
additional index and join strategies, parallel intraquery execution on multiple
processors, faster sorts, dynamic row-level locking and, in the enterprise edition,
support for more than 4G of memory address space.

With Version 7 it is easier to profile and optimize queries and index usage, which has
an enormous impact on query performance. According to Microsoft, some independent software
vendors have achieved a 300 percent performance increase over Version 6.5 after doing some
tuning. My own test database migrated painlessly from 6.5, but the overall improvement was
not so dramatic. Automatic management of memory use means no more worries about seeing a
query die because the data area is too small or because you’ve run out of database
locks. You no longer have to spend hours monitoring server performance to see if
you’ve found the best compromise between database cache and free system memory.

Snapshot replication, which makes a one-time image of the subscribed data, imposes no
ongoing server overhead. Transactional replication, carried over from Version 6.5, updates
subscribers continuously as transactions are completed on the master database.

Merge replication lets users of the database work independently, combine their results
later and resolve conflicts where necessary. For example, multiple notebook computers
could run the desktop edition using independent copies of a tactical map, periodically
updating the master database as communications channels became available.

SQL Server’s OLAP services—relational, multidimensional and hybrid—make
it easier to analyze complex data. Pivot table services bring this down to the desktop
level for integration with Microsoft Excel 2000. I expect the link will make Microsoft
OLAP a widely used back-end analysis tool.

Data transformation services and linked servers can draw data from many sources in a
heterogeneous environment. With full-text search, users can look for words and phrases in
the database just as they would search a Web site, and using the same search engine.

The English Query feature lets developers associate English words and phrases with
database columns to generate SQL queries automatically from freeform questions.

Developers can use Visual Studio Enterprise Edition to design and modify SQL Server 7.0
databases, make queries visually and debug stored procedures. It worked well when
configured properly, supplying a useful tier of database development tools not present in
SQL Server. Access 2000 developers can design or modify SQL Server databases and queries,
as well as manage SQL Server replication, security and backups.

Overall, SQL Server 7.0 has a polished look and snappy feel. Wizards and other
well-designed interfaces make it possible to learn the wealth of features as you go.
Extensive online documentation is generally good, although some parts seem inconsistent or
out of sync with the final product.

Is 7 SQL Server’s lucky number? It certainly looks that way from here.  

Martin Heller is a software developer, consultant and writer in Andover, Mass.

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