The Future of Data Storage and Windows

You've probably heard by now that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has released his scathing conclusions of law in the Microsoft antitrust case. Please see "Hot Off the Press" below for coverage of his ruling.

I attended a Microsoft SQL Server 2000 technical reviewer's conference in Redmond last week. Although I can't discuss product specifics due to a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), I can say that the next release of Microsoft's record-setting relational database management system (RDBMS) looks very exciting. I'll provide more information about SQL Server 2000 (code-named Shiloh)—and even the next release after that—as soon as I can.

One area I can address now, however, is the future of data storage and Windows. Back when Microsoft first announced Windows Distributed Internet Architecture (Windows DNA)—which is basically just a Windows-centric formalization of the n-tier distributed application model that's common with e-commerce Web sites these days—the company produced a road map for its server products that explained how it would embrace this brave new interconnected world. The first step was COM+, which was later delivered as a core component of Windows 2000 (Win2K). But the complete Windows DNA vision relies on two other yet-to-be-provided technologies, originally called Forms+ and Storage+.

Forms+ was to be a next-generation user interface technology that would meld the best of the Win32 API (how programmers currently create Windows applications) with HTML (the lingua franca of the Web). The specifications for Forms+ evolved to include XML, Dynamic HTML (DHTML), and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)—Web technologies that have become important since the original Windows DNA announcement. The first product to be shipped that incorporates Forms+-related technology will be Windows Millennium Edition (Windows ME), which includes hybrid HTML/Win32 Help and System Restore applications. When it's released next year, the next version of Win2K, code-named Whistler, will take this technology even further.

That brings us to Storage+, the final piece of the Windows DNA puzzle. Originally designed as a replacement for the Windows file system, Storage+ was to bring the power of the SQL Server relational database engine—with its rich searching and indexing functionality—to Windows users everywhere. But Storage+ is still in limbo at Microsoft for a variety of reasons. The company had originally hoped to ship the product—currently known as the Relational File System (RFS)—with SQL Server 2000. However, SQL Server 2000 is a relatively minor update (it was originally called SQL Server 7.5) with a short development cycle, and Storage+/RFS couldn't be implemented in the allotted time.

Oddly enough, AD might have played a role in the delay of Storage+. Based on the data store found in Microsoft's JET Engine-based Exchange Server product rather than the relational database engine in SQL Server, AD caused some unexpected rifts between two of the company's top BackOffice teams. Microsoft explains that the decision to go with Exchange rather than SQL Server was based on performance. The Exchange data store architecture was simply more efficient for Active Directory, which largely comprises read-only, Exchange-like objects. Another reason is that Oracle, Microsoft's arch-rival in the RDBMS arena, seized Microsoft's idea for a relational database-based file system and announced, then shipped, the Internet File System (IFS). IFS is basically Storage+ incarnate—minus any reliance on Windows. With the bar suddenly raised yet again, Storage+/RFS is once again in flux, its future uncertain.

Is the future of file-based data storage relational? I think it might be because the benefits are obvious. But does an RFS have any potential pitfalls?

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