The update, code-named Sphinx, will improve SQL Server's scalability, manageability, clustering support, and replication abilities, according to Dan Basica, a SQL Server product manager at Microsoft.
But the most radical part of the update will be an all-new Windows 95 version of the database aimed at mobile and disconnected users. The small-footprint version of the database will be identical to the Windows NT-based SQL Server, allowing developers to write applications to one API (application programming interface) and run them on either platform.
Basica said the company will revamp SQL Server's current replication tools to include support for multimaster replication, also known as symmetric replication, which allows two sites to maintain and update separate copies of the same database while the replication software keeps both copies in sync. Also new will be support for disconnected users, so mobile users on laptops can receive database updates on the road via a dial-up connection.
Microsoft is evaluating which features of its own messaging software technologies for inclusion with the product, Basica said.
A version of SQL Server tuned for mobile use will help Microsoft catch up to competitors already offering mobile databases, including Oracle, which already ships Personal Oracle7, and Sybase, which offers SQL Anywhere.
"Microsoft has a gaping hole on the desktop and on mobile systems when compared to Oracle or Sybase," said Stan Dolberg, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Competitors right now have better technology."
Dolberg said the move makes sense, since many companies are now rolling out mobile computing applications.
The Sphinx release will improve SQL Server's scalability to both low- and high-end systems, including multiprocessor servers. SQL Server's administration tools will be simplified, and certain features, such as space allocation, will be automated to allow the database to be deployed on mobile systems without the need for a database administrator. Disk allocation tools will be simplified, and support will be added for multiple server management though a single interface.
Basica said additional features are planned for the release, and will be disclosed as Sphinx nears beta testing, sometime next year. The product has been in development since April, he added. No packaging or pricing information has been finalized.
While Microsoft already sells two Windows 95 databases, Access and Visual FoxPro, Basica said the Windows 95 version of SQL Server differs from those products in that it is a database engine only, and includes no forms design, development, or query tools.