Microsoft publishes a list of so-called Common Engineering Criteria that its products should be compliant with. And this list is updated every year to keep up with the new technology and business development.
Among the new criteria added this year, the following caught my eyes:
Safe for Image-based Deployment
With the increased emphasis on virtualization, Microsoft server products must be safe for imaging and deployment. Server products must not store "state" attributes that will impede image-based deployment such as machine-specific state, AD information, Windows SID or Windows machine names locally or in a private store.
SQL Server is currently not compliant with this criterion, and I'm not sure to what extent SQL Server 2008 will be compliant. But I want to applaud Microsoft for realizing the paramount importance of improving the deployment of its server products including SQL Server to make them operationally more scalable in a large enterprise data center environment. Even though I personally don't think this criterion has gone far enough to address all the installation related pesky issues (e.g. virtualization is only a small part of the problem), it's an excellent start. When SQL Server becomes compliant with this criterion, it would go a long way in positioning SQL Server in the large enterprise space because of the significant and tangible savings this can bring (as compared to the current sad and messy state of its local-computer-centric and manual installation process that involves hundreds of steps and hundreds more disconnected pieces).
I'm excited about this, and can't wait for the day when running SQL Server installer packages on each individual server is a thing of the past. It may still take a long time for that to arrive, but one can always dream. By the way, there is absolutely no technology reason that can't be done. All it takes is a change of mindset.