Microsoft is touting its new Release 2 of SQL Server 2008. If they weren't planning to charge for it they would be honest and call it a service pack, not a Release. When you consider that SQL Reporting Services arrived in a free service pack for SQL 2000, what R2 offers as a full release is a bit underwhelming.
R2 has its one flagship feature, self-service business intelligence in the PowerPivot for Excel feature, but that is not available in Standard Edition. I have not used the feature yet but I have my doubts that it will bring business intelligence to the masses as promised.
My opinion, based on my experience, is that the masses don’t want business intelligence. A two dimensional grid like a spreadsheet is about as far as many business users are willing to go.
There is only so much simplification that can be done to allow rank and file users to create and browse multi-dimensional data. (How many business users do you know who can even create and use an Excel pivot table?) Real BI may always be beyond the capacity of the casual business user.
For the Standard Edition user, there is even less that would drive you to upgrade. The backup compression feature of SQL Server 2008 Enterprise Edition has been added to the Standard Edition of R2. That’s about it.
R2 introduces two more SQL Server editions, Parallel Data Warehouse and Datacenter. They are dubbed Premium Editions because they come at a distinctly premium price. Either one will set you back $57,498 per processor (list price). However, Microsoft is the only database vendor who counts processor sockets rather than cores in its licensing scheme. So an 8 core processor will cost you the same as a single core. This makes the premium editions an attractive alternative to Oracle where you would need to pay for 8 licenses.
Oddly enough, these two new expensive powerhouse editions may be the most compelling reasons to upgrade, but only for those who need to deal with multi-terabyte databases and huge processing loads. These editions are designed to close the gap with Oracle at the high end of the database spectrum with attractive pricing. If you live on the upper edge of the spectrum you might want to look into what they offer.