Editor's Note

Flex Your Data

Ted Neward

Do not attempt to adjust your magazine—everything is under control. Howard Dierking is away this month and we asked our guest editor, Ted Neward, to write the Editor's Note for this issue. Howard will return in time for Tech•Ed and the August issue. —Ed.

We've devoted this month's issue to the topic of data storage, manipulation, and access. Few topics in programming elicit debate the way questions of data access do. Whether the question surrounds the efficacies of the object/relational-mapper, the need for an ad-hoc query syntax, or the performance drawbacks of relational normal form, the data debate never disappoints.

The continuing advances in cheap storage and the increases in access speed mean that even individuals have access to more data than industry visionaries could have imagined just a few years ago. I recall wondering how I would ever fill up the first 1GB drive I owned. Now we're swiftly encroaching on the 1TB barrier.

The nature of that data has changed, too. Simple business information such as purchase orders, customer names, and the like once represented the majority of data storage. Now it includes personal information along with larger and more complex file formats such as photos, songs, and voicemails. Such data is not easily captured in the relational format. One of the challenges we face is the need to integrate this new kind of data into the traditional business space—how to index it, search it, and relate it to other critical data.

To meet the challenges, either relational databases will have to evolve to store (and allow queries on) these new data formats, or we will have to discover new non-relational ways to store data. David Robinson presents one such approach this month in his article on SQL Server Data Services.

From now on, data storage will not be confined to centrally located, managed, optimized relational databases. In fact, it's likely that more and more data will live on the edge of the network, either on the user's machine or in some other local store. Thus we'll need to devise new ways to query across devices and tiers, a subject John Papa addresses this month in DataPoints.

As users grow more accustomed to owning their own data, they will get better at managing it. If my mother's portable music player dies, it takes the music stored there with it. And my mother, a non-technical user if ever there was one, understands that. She knows she, not the company that sold her the music player, is responsible for backing up her data. The burden of managing data is shifting somewhat, from the developer to the user herself. This shift will require other changes as well.

We'll need to create automated scenarios in which data on a device is automatically synchronized with, say, a desktop machine or external drive and then backed up. These kinds of automated scenarios will appeal to users because they make data safety so easy.

As you flip through the pages of this issue, take note of all the changes in data programming and management on the horizon. We hope they'll light a few sparks and get you thinking differently about your future data projects.

In other news, we are hosting two new Virtual Labs in this issue. The first includes the projects discussed in Joshua Smith's article this month, "Data and WPF: Customize Data Display with Data Binding and WPF," at go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=120301. Just start the lab and code along as you read.

We're also featuring a Virtual Lab for Dr. James McCaffrey's Test Run column on testing SQL stored procedures from the April 2008 issue of MSDN Magazine. You can get started by pointing your browser to go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=120461.

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Visit us at msdn.microsoft.com/msdnmag. Questions, comments, or suggestions for MSDN Magazine? Send them to the editor: mmeditor@microsoft.com.

Thanks to the following Microsoft technical experts for their help with this issue: Melitta Andersen, Spotty Bowles, Alex DeJarnatt, T.J. Goltermann, Kapil Gupta, Michael Howard, Shalini Joshi, Steve Maine, Tim Mallalieu, Kevin Ransom, Daniel Simmons, Beatriz Stollnitz, Jon Wheeler, and Jesse Yurkovich.

Ted Neward is an independent consultant specializing in high-scale enterprise systems. He is the author and co-author of several books, a Microsoft MVP Architect, a BEA Technical Director, an INETA speaker, and a PluralSight instructor. Reach Ted at ted@tedneward.com or visit his blog at blogs.tedneward.com.