Even now, although SQL Server 2005 has been for about 3/4 of a year, when I teach people about the new developer features, I'm still asked about the zen of the new features. Do they follow a common theme? Is there a usage pattern that emcompasses all of the things like Service Broker, SQLCLR, XML data type and query, Query Notifications, Event Notifications, HTTP Endpoints?

Here's an academic paper by Dave Campbell that explains at least one usage: towards a Service-Oriented, Active database. This paper, released in 2005, ties together most of it.

I've been just pointing out the paper when folks ask me the "why" question for some time now. Making a database Service and asynchrony-capable is one of the ways to build a scale-out solution. I'll never have to ask "what happened to my application state when [mid-tier host of choice here] was temporarily offline" again.