REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 4, 1999 — When Microsoft officially launched SQL Server 7.0 at COMDEX/Fall ’98 in Las Vegas in mid-November, it did so with a roar. The new version of Microsoft’s enterprise database software application made its official debut at the brand new, mega-luxurious Bellagio Hotel, where thousands of COMDEX attendees juked and jived to the ultra-hip sounds of swing-revival band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy after Microsoft president Steve Ballmer announced that SQL Server 7.0 would pass Oracle to become the leading database product within 12 months.
Even the computer trade press-which covers product launches by the score-was impressed. “It was a flashy way to launch a revamped database management system,” wrote one industry veteran, covering the event for VarBusiness. “Microsoft was busy building SQL buzz unmatched by anything since the Rolling Stones helped ‘start up’ Windows 95.”
By any measurement, the Las Vegas launch was a thundering success-SQL Server 7.0 was named Best of Productivity Software and Best of Show at Comdex by PC Week-but as they say in show business, you ain’t seen nothing yet. In the six weeks since the COMDEX premier, blowout launch events have been held in dozens of cities all around the world and momentum for SQL Server 7.0 is accelerating.
In Australia, for example, more than 10,000 people turned out for the SQL Server 7.0 launch tour to be part of what Microsoft regional director Eugenio Beaufrand called “the most important product launch for this year for Microsoft.” Among a slew of awards and accolades, the product was named Database Product of the Year at the Australian Impact Awards, sponsored by the country’s leading publisher of computer publications.
In Singapore, more than 1,500 people gathered as Microsoft “literally took over the whole of Suntec City,” according to Microsoft product manager Teo Wan Ping, “with banners blaring and SQL lights flashing all over the convention center.” There, in addition to speakers from Microsoft, the audience heard executives from SAP, Baan, Compaq, and Seagate announce a wide range of business solutions and support programs for SQL Server 7.0.
Meanwhile, in France, the Microsoft SQL team booked the Louvre for the product’s Paris launch. When the team started sending out invitations, the hope was that 1,000 people would attend. Within three days, 900 had said yes, and a few days later the number had climbed to 1,500. “At this rate they will literally fill the Louvre,” wrote Chris Atkinson, director of Microsoft’s applications development customer unit for France. “We are at the beginning of something very big.” In the end, Microsoft was forced to cut off attendance at 1,850.
Some of the launch events were impressive as much for who was on stage as for how many people were in the audience. In Argentina, for example, executives from Telefonica, Microsoft’s largest Latin American account, Coca-Cola, and Disco, which had built a commerce supermarket application that delivers perishable goods to any location in the country in under three hours, joined Microsoft speakers to discuss SQL Server 7.0 solutions they had already implemented. In Athens, Greece, a crowd of more than 800 saw early adopters of SQL Server 7.0-including Pireaus Bank, the country’s fourth largest financial institution, and Greece’s municipal election authority, which used SQL Server 7.0 to handle 9.5 million hits and distribute 35 gigabytes of data over the Internet during recent elections-announce complete satisfaction with the new product.
But probably the most over-the-top event took place in Jakarta, Indonesia. There, at the ballroom of the Shangri-La Hotel, a standing-room only crowd packed a ballroom made over to look like a scene from Egypt. “The lights went down and the spotlight focused on a lady, dressed up in a shining veil and costume,” reported Microsoft regional database manager Colin Png. “The audience went ‘ooooooooo.’ She stood up and started dancing. At the end of her opening presentation, she disappeared amidst the smoke, and the entire stage transformed into a high-tech piece with Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 logos everywhere. As you can imagine, we definitely captured the audience’s attention.”
Even before the event itself, the planning had attracted a great deal of attention. “Our Indonesian team did such a good job of hyping up the event,” wrote Png, “that we actually received calls from Oracle who politely requested for permissions to attend!”
All this for a database?
Why all the hoopla for a new database product, one might ask? After all, databases are not normally considered the sexiest of software products. Even VarBusiness, which makes a business of covering database products, called the category “the dowdy grandmother of computer applications.”
But the days when database products were mostly back-page news is over. According to Dataquest Inc., the market for relational database management systems alone stands at $4.5 billion. In a world in which the ability to store and analyze rapidly increasing volumes of data has become a prerequisite for business success, sophisticated database applications such as data warehouses are no longer the sole property of the largest multinational corporations. Today, even small- and medium-sized organizations are looking at sophisticated database solutions as invaluable tools for everything from creating online commerce sites to sorting through sales information to discovering hidden customer buying trends and preferences. As a result, the market for enterprise database applications is growing faster than almost any other software category.
The problem, of course, is that database products have been so complicated and expensive that they have been out of reach of all but a handful of major corporations. The release of SQL Server 7.0 changes the database landscape completely. Scalable from the laptop to small business servers all the way up to terabyte-sized databases, SQL Server 7.0 was designed to maximize ease of use with an array of dynamic self-management tools including auto-configuration and auto-tuning. Cutting-edge features and tight integration with Windows NT and Microsoft BackOffice make SQL Server 7.0 an ideal application for Internet, intranet and electronic commerce applications. SQL Server 7.0 also was designed to simplify mobile and distributed systems to help organizations serve employees and customers on the road and across the Internet, as well as in the office.
In addition, SQL Server 7.0 includes an incredible array of data warehousing features, including an integrated online analytical processing (OLAP) server, allowing organizations of any size to create corporate reporting and analysis tools that support sophisticated data modeling and intelligent decision making. SQL Server 7.0 also provides Data Transformation Services, which simplifies the automatic import and export of data on a regularly scheduled basis, and Microsoft English Query, which allows users to search databases using questions written in plain English instead of complex SQL queries. “It’s the first single product suitable for smaller organizations and larger enterprises,” says Microsoft data warehousing product manager Steve Murchie. “The driving goal of SQL is to make databases easier to use. With 7.0 we’ve made incredible strides.”
Murchie’s assessment is echoed in the praise that SQL Server 7.0 received in the days following its release. “SQL Server takes a big step toward enterprise capability and introduces dramatic ease-of-use improvements with Version 7.0 of the database server,” said PC Week.
“There’s no doubt that SQL Server 7.0 is faster and more scalable,” noted Information Week.
“SQL Server is a part of the platform that makes data warehouse and business intelligence much more accessible to customers,” added VarBusiness. “SQL Server 7.0 out-of-the-box contains a robust set of widely supported services and technologies unmatched by Oracle8i, Oracle Data Mart Suite or Oracle Warehouse Builder.”
Behind the scenes preparation
Clearly, it takes more than a big event at a swank hotel followed by some good notices in the press to create a product launch with “buzz unmatched by anything since . . . Windows 95.” Long before the official launch of SQL Server 7.0, Microsoft had been working with vendors, partners, value-added resellers, and others to ensure that when the product reached distribution channels, it would offer unmatched solutions and support. As a result, at COMDEX, Microsoft was able to announce that in the United States, within 90 days of its debut, more than 300 independent software vendors would deliver business applications for SQL Server 7.0 in 20 vertical and horizontal markets, with an additional 20 original equipment manufacturers, systems integrators, and global technology companies, including Compaq, Data General Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co, IBM Corp., and Unisys Corp., poised to deliver deployment services and software and hardware solutions. Worldwide, an additional 550 independent software vendors planned releases for SQL Server 7.0.
At the official launch party at the Bellagio Hotel, Ballmer was also able to announce that SQL Server 7.0 was already in operation at some 1,000 corporate sites. Executives from Pennzoil Co., Harper Collins Publishers Inc., and Barnesandnoble.com joined Ballmer on stage to express enthusiastic support for the new product.
Among the early avid fans of SQL Server 7.0 according to Information Week is David Lish, a vice president at Transamerica Corp.’s Flood Hazard Certification division, which handles up to 15,000 requests a day against a database that contains information on 100 million properties. “We’re seeing [a performance gain of] a factor of two,” he told the magazine. “Our whole business revolves around turnaround time, and knowing you can throw any volume of requests at it and have it come back instantly is spectacular.”
In addition to early corporate deployments, Microsoft has placed a great deal of emphasis on education. At COMDEX, Ballmer noted that Microsoft planned to spend more than $20 million in 1999 to provide training in SQL Server 7.0 to some 50,000 database administrators around the world. By the time the product was officially released, more than 35,000 software professionals had already been certified through the Microsoft Certified Professional program, including more than 3,200 in India alone.
Of course, not everything in the launch of SQL Server 7.0 in 53 countries went entirely according to plan. “We did suffer one major glitch,” reported Colin Png in Indonesia. “The power went down in the middle of our presentations. Thereafter, there were also a few intermittent lighting failures. Pretty annoying but really not within our control.”
Beyond that minor inconvenience, the debut of SQL Server 7.0 was a smashing success in nearly every corner of the globe. “The level of energy is building,” says Murchie, the Microsoft data warehousing product manager. “Because there has been so much complexity in databases, there’s incredible demand for this product around the world. We’re delivering an answer to that demand at a very attractive cost of ownership.”
Yigit Kulabas, the SQL server product manager for Microsoft in Turkey would agree. “The thunder has just started,” he noted after launch events in Istanbul and Ankara that drew more than 1,200 people. “We are going to get the results in the very near future.”
SQL Server 7.0 was officially released to manufacturing on December 2nd, 1998, and is currently channel-available.