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xSQL Object – a cool SQL Server schema compare tool

This SQL Server database schema compare tool review includes xSQL Software's SQL schema compare tool. The installation, UI and functionality of this SQL schema comparison tool is taken into consideration for the product review. The pricing is also an important aspect for this SQL Server schema compare tool review.

All SQL Server database administrators and developers face a common challenge: how to effectively and safely publish database schema changes from the development environment to staging, to production.

Given this challenge we decided to take an in depth look into one of the SQL Server schema compare tools that was recommended by many of our readers, xSQL Object by xSQL Software. In short, we were very impressed with xSQL Object and highly recommend it, but please keep reading below for a more detailed description of our findings.

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Installation. Installation of the xSQL Software's SQL schema compare tool was quick and easy. The whole process, from completing the download form on their web site to having the xSQL Object installed on our machine took a total of 2 minutes and about 3-4 clicks in all.
Note: there was no option to download just the schema compare tool – both the schema and data compare tools led to the same download package (the SQL Server Comparison Bundle) that included both SQL tools. This did not present a problem for us, in fact we decided to take an in-depth look at their data compare tool next, but some of you may not like being forced to install both tools at once while you might only want one of them.

User interface. When you first launch xSQL's SQL schema compare application you may have a moment of hesitation, a blank window “staring at you” begs the question: “what am I supposed to do now?”, however, after a few seconds things start to clear up and you start warming up to the clean interface. Of course, a quick look at the SQL tool's help file will get you going in no time but even if you hate reading help files you will find the GUI intuitive enough to get going on your own. Here are some of the things we liked about the xSQL Object’s interface: the familiar SSMS (SQL Server Management Studio) style server pane; the schema comparison results window is well organized; color coded script differences; the summary action log that indicates exactly what changes will be made on the target database. A couple of areas that we think need some improvement are: Object filtering seemed a bit confusing; inability to modify the synchronization script. Overall xSQL Object's user interface is well thought out and provides easy access to all the features you would want in a SQL Server schema compare tool.

xSQL Object - SQL Server Schema Compare

Functionality. Our primary test case involved a SQL 2005 version of the AdventureWorks database and a SQL Server 2008 R2 version of the same. Both databases had been heavily played with so they incorporated significant schema changes from the original. xSQL Object schema compare tool had no trouble identifying the differences and generating the synchronization script which executed successfully on the target database. The process was flawless. In subsequent tests we ran into a situation in which certain views and SQL stored procedures were marked as non-comparable. After communicating with xSQL Software we learned that the most likely cause of this are invalid dependencies. And they had included an option which allowed us to force the comparison for those objects regardless of those dependencies. One added bonus was the ability to take a database schema snapshot so that you could save a version of the database schema exactly as it was before the synchronization. Furthermore, the SQL Server tool provides for comparing those snapshots with each other or with the schema of a database thus allowing us to easily reverse the changes we did to the target SQL database. Kind of un-related to the core functionality xSQL has included scripting capabilities that allow the user to script both the schema and the data in one place. We found this to be very helpful feature however, we are not sure that this product is the right place for that feature. We also liked the ability to generate a configuration file for the schema compare command line utility directly from the GUI. However we would have liked that feature to be more comprehensive as it does not seem to capture all the object selections one may have made on the GUI. So if the user let’s say wishes to exclude certain database objects from the comparison and include others the user would have to manually adjust the command line configuration file. Overall xSQL Object does what it is supposed to do very well.

Cost. While we were impressed with the xSQL Software's SQL schema compare tool overall we got the biggest pleasant surprise when we dug into their licensing model. First, we found that the SQL Server schema compare tool is completely free for SQL Server Express – now that is quite a big deal considering that the vast majority of our readers use SQL Server Express. No limitations whatsoever, the product works as a licensed product and there are no reminders or any sort of pushing to upgrade. Furthermore, we found that even if you are comparing databases that are hosted on a higher edition of SQL Server the database schema compare tool may still be free if the number of objects in the database is under certain limits listed on their site – this takes care of another big percentage of our readers. For the rest of the users a single machine license costs $349. Even for the paying customers they have done something interesting – site license (unlimited activations) costs only $1,999 which we think is a sweet deal for larger organizations with tens of SQL developers and SQL Server database administrators.

Conclusion. We found xSQL Object to be one of the best SQL Server schema comparison and synchronization tools in the market today and undoubtedly the best value for a database administrator can find.

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