Microsoft said it will make a preview of SQL Server 2008 R2 available this month that features new business intelligence integration tools and master data management features.

In addition, Microsoft said it will deliver two highly scalable editions of SQL Server 2008 R2 (formerly code-named Kilimanjaro) in the first half of 2010 when it ships the next version of the database server.

The announcements came at the annual Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) Summit. The PASS group is an independent, not-for-profit association.

Microsoft is pushing SQL Server 2008 R2 as the opening salvo in its strategy to turn the database into an "information platform". The company says the platform will integrate structured and unstructured data from a variety of sources, including SharePoint Server.

"The R2 release is a down payment on the information platform," said Fausto Ibarra, director of product management, SQL Server.

The review will include SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel 2010 (formerly Gemini), an in-memory analytics tools that will link Excel, SharePoint Server and SQL Server.

Power Pivot is the heart of what Microsoft calls managed self-service business intelligence, which lets users build BI programs for the desktop in Excel that combine data from diverse sources, process it using in-memory analytics tools and publish the results to SharePoint Server so users can collaborate around the results. In addition, IT can manage and control the BI programs users create by ensuring the proper infrastructure is available along with services such as data refresh.

"They are using and reading the meta-data from at least one other enterprise class information provider, which is SharePoint, and that is a big deal," says Mark Beyer, an analyst with Gartner.

"Trying to put together text and content with the more structured stuff has been one of the challenges to getting real information management in an organisation; to getting real data integration at the meta-data level."

What Microsoft is doing is significant in the aggregate because it elegantly combines data from two different sources, Beyer says.

"One of the constants I've had in my research is the pending earthquake of actually leveraging meta-data without having to import and export it from one place to another. That is where Microsoft is headed with its information management; reading through a service the meta-data in different enterprise applications that they have."

Beyer says the concept is one of data integration rather than interoperability. He says if Microsoft can create such an environment then the vendor will be one of the first to deliver such capabilities.

Also in the CTP are two new components, a master data management (MDM) platform that enables companies to integrate information from across multiple data sources in the network and create a single view of data such as customers, products or suppliers.

Previously MDM was only available as a third-party add-on. The second component is StreamInsight, a complex event processing platform that lets companies or independent software vendors build applications that can process large numbers of events in real-time.