Tying Windows Home Server to SQL Server

This week, I want to talk about the Windows Home Server announcements made during Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' recent keynote speech at the Windows Hardware and Engineering Conference (WinHec) 2007. Those announcements might not seem like compelling news to the Microsoft SQL Server community at first glance, but I think they're interesting in several ways, especially in the long term.

First, what is Windows Home Server? “Digital devices and digital media are now an essential part of so many aspects of our lives, and their importance continues to grow,” said Gates. “With Windows Home Server, we’re launching a new category of consumer products that will make it much easier for people to connect to their digital content and share experiences with friends and family no matter where they are.”

That might not sound all that different from what Windows OSs can theoretically do for you today. I think of Windows Home Server as a product to help savvy home users, especially those with multiple PCs and laptops, do what they’re already doing on their home computers more easily and with particular emphasis on the management of home media, such as photos, music, and videos. I hope that Windows Home Server lives up to its touted advanced media management capabilities. If you’re like me, you’ve certainly been tempted to buy a Windows XP Media Center Edition-based machine to make your enjoyment of music, photos, videos, and TV a simple, integrated experience. And if you’re like me, you're too scared to buy an XP MCE PC because, well, it’s Windows, and you know that no matter how well it should work, you’re likely to pull out your hair in frustration and experience the ”blue screen of death” while watching your favorite TV show.

Let’s assume that the first--or more likely the second or third--generation of Windows Home Server is actually successful. What does Windows Home Server have to do with SQL Server? I’ll admit, tying Windows Home Server to SQL Server is a bit of a stretch. But a recent press release ( http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2007/may07/05-15WHSNewHardwarePR.mspx ) piqued my interest from a SQL Server perspective by mentioning that third-party products will work with Windows Home Server to provide the following capabilities:
· “…integrate with Windows Home Server to help consumers manage home lighting systems, security cameras, climate control, and audio and visual components.”
· “…provides a complete, 'always on' digital entertainment experience for the enjoyment of personal media and online content on any TV or PC screen, at home or away…”
· “…CD loading service for Windows Home Server will convert and load a customer’s entire CD collection for storage and protection on Windows Home Server.”
· “…universal plug-and-play media streaming from Windows Home Server to a variety of entertainment devices in the home.”
· “…The product will have storage options of 500 GB up to 2 terabytes…”

Are you still not seeing how Windows Home Server ties to SQL Server? How about 2TB of storage becoming a standard in the home--that's enough storage for a small enterprise. I’m willing to bet that if that much storage becomes a home standard, it will drive down storage costs for traditional business databases. I’ll admit that many of the bullets above aren't directly related to traditional database applications. Historically, database servers (e.g., SQL Server) have done a pretty bad job of searching and storing unstructured data, and data doesn’t get much more unstructured than streaming video. However, there’s an unimaginable amount of content in that data, as unstructured as it might be. Great advances have been made in parsing video and other media-related feeds from a search and storage perspective in recent years, and more and more companies are trying to break into this market. Video is emerging as one of the killer applications on the Internet and is fundamentally changing what’s considered to be typical in terms of necessary storage and network bandwidth.

Eventually, we’ll figure out how to build searchable databases on top of all this unstructured data, creating entirely new classes of databases. I’ll go ahead and coin the term "multimedia database management systems (MMDBMS)" and see if it sticks.

Driving technology such as Windows Home Server into the home will create more consumer demand for products that let you search, store, and archive the massive amounts of data that typical households accumulate. I certainly don’t expect Windows Home Server to have a short-term impact on SQL Server, but over time, I think that the adoption of technologies similar to Windows Home Server could have a substantial impact on the direction of storage and search technologies, which will eventually affect traditional databases.

As I said, tying Windows Home Server to SQL Server is a stretch, but it’s a fun scenario to explore. For now, I’ll just hope that Windows Home Server doesn’t blue screen my TV.

For more information about Windows Home Server, go to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/windowshomeserver/default.mspx .

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