SQL Server Data Tools – Clearing up the Confusion

By | 2013-08-09T09:00:53+00:00 August 9th, 2013|Application Lifecycle Management (ALM)|9 Comments

There has been a great deal of confusion around the product called “SQL Server Data Tools.” To begin with, is it a product? Or is it a feature of a product? If it is a feature of a product, what product? Visual Studio or SQL Server? Exactly what is SQL Server Data Tools anyway? The answer, like the answer to many technical questions is, “it depends.” During the install of either SQL Server or Visual Studio the option of installing SQL Server Data Tools is presented. What gets installed “depends” on the product and what you can actually leverage depends on other factors such as SQL Server and Visual Studio version in use. It’s all a bit confusing and getting the straight scoop in one place is painfully difficult. The option to install SQL Server Data Tools is given during the installation of SQL Server 2012 and Visual Studio 2012, but what gets installed is completely different.

These aren’t the tools you’re looking for…


Or are they?

OK, so maybe it’s not a Jedi mind trick, but having two tools with the same name is just a bit confusing. How did this happen and where do I find the right tools for the right job? Both are excellent questions and I will try to answer both, but first a little background.

When Visual Studio 2008 was released, it coincided with SQL Server 2008 and the two products were in apparent harmony as the two product teams, after the purported shotgun marriage of the SQL Server and Visual Studio product teams at Microsoft. The two products seamlessly combined in the Visual Studio IDE to provide a development environment for Business Intelligence projects (Analysis Services, Integration Services, and Reporting Services) as well as SQL Development projects that could be added to solutions that enabled new features such as data and schema compare, source control integration, database unit tests, and test data generation tools. The business intelligence features were combined in the tool “Business Intelligence Developer Studio” or “BIDS.” Which in reality was just a Visual Studio Shell with functionality limited to business intelligence projects. Installing the full version of Visual Studio extended the functionality to include all the rest of Visual Studio project types, including the SQL development tools in what was known as “Data Dude”. The marriage of the SQL Server and Visual Studio teams was short-lived and they soon diverged once again, leaving the feature set that would eventually be called “SQL Server Data Tools” in the wake of the post separation confusion.

With the release of Visual Studio 2010 the confusion began. It was introduced by the conspicuous absence of a new set of business intelligence tools. If you needed to create a reporting services project you still needed Visual Studio 2008. Inquiries about the missing tools were essentially met with silence. When it was announced that the features commonly called “Data Dude” would be developed separately and released as SQL Server Data Tools, many people assumed that the business intelligence tools would be a part of the tools, they were mistaken. The SQL Server Data Tools team was a separate product team that just worked on the database development features. The business intelligence tools were not in their scope of responsibility.

When SQL Server 2012 was released, things got even murkier. It included “SQL Server Data Tools” as an optional installation feature. But wait, SQL Server Data Tools was already a downloadable feature for Visual Studio. Wasn’t this the same thing? 
It seems there was “SQL Server Data Tools” and then there were “SQL Server Data Tools”.

-OK, now I am officially confused.-
Installing the optional component during the SQL Server 2012 installation added a Visual Studio 2010 shell, much like the installation of SQL Server 2008 added the Visual Studio 2008 shell.


The business intelligence tools were included, but also a link for SQL Server Data Tools projects.


Wait a minute! I thought I already installed “SQL Server Data Tools” when I installed SQL Server!

Why Microsoft decided to call both tools by the same name is apparently a closely guarded secret since no one has been able to explain it, but at least there was a way to build business intelligence projects in Visual Studio 2010 now, so a single tool could be used for all database related development. I can finally uninstall Visual Studio 2008! I am still a bit confused, but that’s ok, I have three teenagers at home, being confused is natural for me.
Installing the tools adds a new program group to the Start menu under SQL Server 2012, but opening up Visual Studio from it’s default location functions identically, unless of course Visual Studio hasn’t been installed.


The release of Visual Studio 2012, which also included an option to install “SQL Server Data Tools” did nothing to alleviate the confusion. The Visual Studio 2012 version of SQL Server Data Tools tools, like their 2010 predecessor were just for database development projects and not business intelligence. To their credit, Microsoft’s SQL Server Data Tools team maintained the ability to download and install the tool in two flavors, Visual Studio 2010 and Visual Studio 2012. However, neither contained the BI tools. The BI tools were available strictly with SQL Server.

Recently, Microsoft made available for download a new set of tools; “SQL Server Data Tools – Business Intelligence” which should not be confused with just plain old “SQL Server Data Tools”.


After a significant wait, we finally have the ability to create BI projects in Visual Studio 2012. We no longer need to maintain multiple versions of Visual Studio to support classic development projects and business intelligence projects.
There are many rumors afloat about the future of SQL Server Data Tools and SQL Server Data Tools – Business Intelligence, but for the time being, there is a stable supported development platform for all of your database development needs.

About the Author:


  1. Theron Knapp September 13, 2013 at 6:00 am

    Thanks for this explanation – I had been confused about this whole story for a while until I read this post! It makes sense to me to have the db dev tools separate from the BI tools, only not to give them the same name – especially simultaneously to the name change from BIDS and Data dude.

  2. Kurt Hill October 8, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    Excellent article — I have been frustrated with this for some time. I had trouble installing SSDT, though, due to a certificate validity period error, and ahd to set the system date/time back. I wrote it up (quickly) here:


  3. Rony Klachko November 20, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    Nice! So what about Visual Studio 2013?

  4. DanLWood May 15, 2014 at 3:40 am

    The 2013 BI Tools will be released with SQL Server 2014. They will also be available as a separate download. The download link for it at Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=42313) says it will be “a few more days” before it is ready.

  5. Steve August 11, 2015 at 7:58 am

    This article is awesome! I’m the TFS admin for my company and a lot of developers still use VS 2008 because of the BIDS tools. Now I can get them off of that and into VS 2012 or VS 2013 which will relieve the stress of having to switch between different tools.

  6. prazz April 21, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    Hi, is there any dependency between Visual studio 2010 shell and SQL server management studio 2014?? I just uninstalled VS 2010 shell and now I am not able to run SQL management studio. Thanks

  7. Nachiketh Hosakoti June 23, 2016 at 9:10 am

    I have installed SSDT 2015 and would like to connect TFS server what is best way of doing it. I don’t find any plugin or Team explorer for SSDT 2015

    help appreicated

  8. Nicole Pringle September 22, 2016 at 11:55 am

    did you ever get an answer to this question?

  9. kevon ward October 18, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    hey dan! do you have an update to this post which addresses at least a VS2015 development environment, and maybe 2016/2017?


Leave A Comment