Sunday, 24 June 2012

What’s new in SQL Server 2012

What’s new in SQL Server 2012

Business intelligence (BI) is critically important to organizations both large and small. In the latest release of SQL Server, there is no shortage of BI enhancements in addition to many other enhancements. This article will give you a preview of the requirements, new features and enhancements in SQL Server 2012 (code named Denali) including:

Always On

A new feature called Availability Groups that is an improved version of database mirroring

Improved failover clustering which supports multi-site clustering across subnets – above to failover across data centres.

ColumStore Index

A new type of index for data warehouses. This is actually pretty simple: the name says it all. Here is Microsoft’s illustration:

A columnstore index stores each column in a separate set of disk pages, rather than storing multiple rows per page as data traditionally has been stored.

Why do this? Because it is more efficient when the query only requests a a few columns from the table. Microsoft claims performance improvements from 6X to 100X in cases where the the data can be cached in RAM, and thousand-fold improvements where the working set does not fit in RAM.

SQL Server Data Tools

This is my favourite feature, probably because it is developer-focused. These are the tools that were code-named “Juneau” and which install into Visual Studio 2010. There are some visual tools, but this is essentially a code-centric approach to database design, where you design your database with all its tables, queries, triggers, stored procedures and so on. You can then build it and test it against a private “localdb” instance of SQL Server. What I like is that the database project includes the entire design of your database in a form that can be checked into source control and compared against other schema versions. Here is the Add New Item dialog for a database project:

Data Quality Services

Data Quality Services (DQS) lets you check your data against a Data Quality Knowledge Base (DQKB), the contents of which are specific to the type of data in the database and may be created and maintained by your business or obtained from a third-party. If your data includes addresses, for example, the DQKB might have all valid city names to prevent errors. Features of DQS include data cleansing, de-duplication through data matching, profiling a database for quality, and monitoring data quality.

Updated SQL Server Management Studio

SQL Server Management Studio now runs in the Visual Studio 2010 shell.


LocalDB is a local instance of SQL Server aimed at developers and for use as an embedded database in single-user applications. It is a variant of SQL Server Express, but different in that it does not run as a service. Rather, the LocalDB process is started on demand by the SQL native client and closed down when there are no more connections. You can attach database files at runtime by using AttachDBFileName in the connection string. LocalDB is intended to replace user instances which are now deprecated.


The FileTable feature brings support for the Windows file namespace and compatibility with Windows applications to the file data stored in SQL Server … In other words, you can store files and documents in special tables in SQL Server called FileTables, but access them from Windows applications as if they were stored in the file system, without making any changes to your client applications.
Enterprises can move this data from file servers into FileTables to take advantage of integrated administration and services provided by SQL Server. At the same time, they can maintain Windows application compatibility for their existing Windows applications that see this data as files in the file system.
Integration of the file system and the database is not a new idea, and Microsoft has tried variants before, such as the “M” drive that was once part of Exchange, the aborted WinFS feature planned for Windows Longhorn (Vista), and SharePoint, which can store documents in SQL Server while presenting them as Windows file shares through WebDAV.
That said, FileTables in SQL Server 2012 are not an attempt to reinvent the file system, but presented more as a way of supporting legacy applications while managing data in SQL Server. It is an interesting feature though, and it would not surprise me if users find some unexpected ways to exploit it.

Power View

Codenamed “Project Crescent”, this is a web-based reporting client for businesses that have embraced Microsoft’s platform, because it has several key dependencies:
  • SharePoint Server Enterprise Edition
  • SQL Server Reporting Services
  • Silverlight on the client
Power View reports that I have seen do look good, and have an Office ribbon style designer for designing customising the report. That said, I would guess that Microsoft now wishes it had used HTML 5 rather than Silverlight for this – there are those Apple iPad and Windows 8 Metro users to think of, after all.
Microsoft emphasises that Power View is not a replacement for Report Designer or Report Builder, but an ad-hoc reporting tool.

Hardware and Software Requirements

Microsoft recommends using NTFS file format instead of FAT32. FAT32 will work but you should probably not use it.

You can't install SQL Server 2012 (code-named Denali) on mapped drives or compressed drives.

You have to have the "no-reboot" package installed prior to installing SQL Server 2012 (code-named Denali). This is included in Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2. Otherwise, you can download the no-reboot package from Microsoft.

SQL Server 2012 (code-named Denali) requires the .NET Framework 4.0.
Virtualization is supported using Microsoft's Hyper-V technology.
You will need at least 3.6 GB of free disk space.
Microsoft recommends that you do not install SQL Server 2012 (code-named Denali) on a domain controller.
Recommended Processors & RAM
64-bit version: AMD Opteron, AMD Athlin 64, Intel Xeon with Intel EM64T Support or Intel Pentium IV with EM64T support running 2.0 GHz or faster. Recommended RAM is maximum that operating system supports or at least 2 GB.
32-bit version: Pentium III or compatible running at 2.0 GHz of faster. Recommended RAM is maximum that operating system supports or at least 2 GB.
Windows PowerShell 2.0 is a pre-requisite for installing SQL Server 2012 (code-named Denali). You can get this software from the Windows Management Framework page.

Multi-Subnet Failover Clustering

With SQL Server 2012 (code-named Denali), you can configure SQL Server where failover cluster nodes can be connected to a completely different subnet. The subnets can be spread out to different geographical locations providing disaster recovery along with high availability. In order for this to work correctly, you will need to replicate the data across the databases involved in this configuration. The SQL Server failover cluster is dependent on the Windows Server failover cluster so this has to be set up first. Keep in mind that all of the subnets involved in this configuration must be in the same Active Directory domain.

Programming Enhancements

Sequences: Sequences have been requested by the SQL Server community for years, and it's included in this release. Sequence is a user defined object that generates a sequence of a number. Here is an example using Sequence.

/****** Create Sequence Object ******/



/****** Create Temp Table ******/
FullName nvarchar(100) NOT NULL

/****** Insert Some Data ******/
INSERT @Person (ID, FullName)
VALUES (NEXT VALUE FOR MySequence, 'Jim Johnson'),
(NEXT VALUE FOR MySequence, 'Bob Thompson'),
(NEXT VALUE FOR MySequence, 'Tim Perdue');

/****** Show the Data ******/
SELECT * FROM @Person;

The results would look like this:

ID FullName
1 Jim Johnson
2 Bob Thompson
3 Tim Perdue

Ad-Hoc Query Paging

Paging results in SQL Server has been discussed for years. The Order By option in the SQL SELECT statement has been enhanced in SQL Server 2012. Using a combination of OFFSET and FETCH along with ORDER BY gives you control of paging through a result set. Using this technique can really help performance by bring back only the results you want to show to your users when they are needed. The following TSQL code runs against the Person table in the AdventureWorks sample database (available from Microsoft). In the sample query below, SQL Server would return 10 records beginning with record 11. The OFFSET command provides a starting point for the SELECT statement in terms of paging, and the FETCH command provides how many records to return at a time.

SELECT BusinessEntityID, FirstName, LastName
FROM Person.Person
ORDER BY BusinessEntityID

Full Text Search

The Full Text Search in SQL Server 2012 has been enhanced by allowing you to search and index data stored in extended properties or metadata. Consider a PDF document that has "properties" filled in like Name, Type, Folder path, Size, Date Created, etc. In the newest release of SQL Server, this data could be indexes and searched along with the data in the document itself. The data does have to be exposed to work, but it's possible now.

BI and Web Development Environment Improvements

Microsoft moved BI (Business Intelligence) closer to the end user with SQL Server 2008 R2. The Excel PowerPivot tool help users by creating a self-service reporting model.

The good news is PowerPivot is being enhanced in SQL Server 2012 (code-named Denali). Microsoft is adding KPIs and drill through, which will be really useful for all users.

Analysis Services will include a new BI Semantic Model (BISM). BISM is a 3-layer model that includes:
  • Data Model
  • Business Logic
  • Data Access
BISM will enhance Microsoft's front end analysis experiencing including Excel, Reporting Services and SharePoint Insights. Microsoft has said that BISM is not a replacement for the current BI Models but more of an alternative model. In simple terms, BISM is a relation model that includes BI artifact such as KPIs and hierarchies.

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