SQL Server Drill Down

SQL Server Drill Down explores all aspects of Microsoft SQL Server and related applications, with a particular emphasis on issues of interest to SQL Server data professionals. Key areas of focus include business intelligence, database performance, data integration, virtualization, data protection.

One of the great promises of AI is contextual processing that come naturally to humans, such as understanding visual input and natural language. You can now get in on the new previews from Microsoft to accomplish these goals. Microsoft Cognitive Services is a collection of APIs that enable developers to tap into high-quality vision, speech, language, knowledge, and search technologies—developed through decades of Microsoft research—to build intelligent apps.

Posted October 07, 2016

As a heavy user of other RDBMS data platforms, I have long appreciated the extra effort that Microsoft put into their data management and administration tool, the SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). While SSMS is an outstanding administration and T-SQL programming tool, it does have its minor qualms and quibbles.

Posted September 02, 2016

I had the pleasure to spend some time with my old friend Mark Souza, a general manager in the Data Platform team at Microsoft, while speaking at the SQL Saturday event in Dublin, Ireland. Now keep in mind that Mark and I have known each other since the 1990s when SQL Server was just being ported to a brand new operating system called Windows NT. Mark and I were having a laugh and more than a twinge of nostalgia about how much SQL Server has improved over the decades and now sits atop the heap on most analysts' "best database" reports. This isn't just two old-timers sharing a few war stories though. This is a living, breathing transformation that is still in process.

Posted August 04, 2016

There's a new buzzword on the loose, the data lake. At first glance, a data lake could be easily mistaken for a data warehouse. The two big data concepts have a common focus on analytics and they may, in certain situations, produce roughly equivalent output. But that's about where their similarities end.

Posted July 12, 2016

While temporal data support is something that has existed in the past within other database platforms, it is a newly available feature with the RTM version of SQL Server 2016. In case you haven't heard of temporal data values (or for some, "bitemporal"), here is a brief explanation.

Posted June 09, 2016

Many thought it was an early April Fool's Day prank, but it was no joke: On March 7, 2016, Microsoft announced the beta release of SQL Server on Linux with the intention of shipping a full release of the product by April of 2017.

Posted May 04, 2016

Microsoft has been on a tear for the past couple of years. It has been pushing forward with a very steady stream of powerful new features and capabilities, even entire product lines, within its Data Platform business. But while Microsoft has been hard at work on this deluge of new technologies, it would be completely forgivable if you haven't noticed. The reason it's OK is that Microsoft is advancing on multiple fronts, both in the on-premises product line and even more dramatically with the Azure cloud-based products.

Posted March 31, 2016

Microsoft first truly disrupted the ETL marketplace with the introduction of SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) back with the release of SQL Server 2005. Microsoft has upped the ante yet again by bringing to market powerful ETL features to the cloud via the Azure Data Factory, which enables IT shops to integrate a multitude of data sources, both on-premises and in the cloud, via a workflow (called a "pipeline) that utilizes Hive, Pig, and customized C# programs.

Posted March 03, 2016

If you're into data and databases and you have not heard the term "machine learning," may I suggest that you're not reading enough? This technology is hot and hyped, largely because it is the secret ingredient in many successful Big Data projects.

Posted January 07, 2016

In addition to StretchDB and AlwaysEncrypted, there are two more exciting features in the works for SQL Server 2016: dynamic data masking and row-level security. In the case of these two features, they'll be released first to the cloud platform (Azure SQL Database) and, later, to the on-premises version of SQL Server.

Posted December 02, 2015

The PASS Summit 2015, the largest conference in the Microsoft SQL Server world, was held in October in Seattle, WA. The event provided a look at key initiatives that Microsoft's SQL Server group has been working on and a glimpse of what's ahead for the future.

Posted November 09, 2015

Prior to SQL Server 2016, currently in CTP, your main method for encrypting a SQL Server application was to use a feature called Transparent Data Encryption. TDE provides strong encryption, but with some shortcomings. First, you have to encrypt an entire database. No granularity is offered at a lower level, such as encrypting specific tables or certain data within a table. Second, TDE encrypts only data at rest, in files. Data in memory or in-flight between the application and server are unencrypted. Enter Always Encrypted.

Posted October 07, 2015

The SQL Server world has its own set of challenges when it comes to database administration. One of the biggest challenges is that there are never enough skilled DBAs. Consequently, many people who are not true DBAs are pressed into service, perhaps a Windows SysAdmin or the lead developer on an application using a SQL Server back end, so-called "accidental DBAs." That means that people doing DBA work on SQL Server frequently do not know the fundamental technical details or the processes and practices commonly used by experienced enterprise DBAs. What are the Top 10 Mistakes of SQL Server DBAs?

Posted August 10, 2015

The Microsoft data platform team is on fire! It is delivering more updates and features faster and more thoroughly than ever before. If you're a data professional and you're using the Microsoft stack, this is a really exciting time to be involved. Here's a look at the top new capabilities in SQL Server 2016 Public Preview, SSIS Feature Packs For Azure, and Azure SQL Data Warehouse.

Posted July 08, 2015

If you've been managing databases for any length of time, you've probably had to contend with the "noisy neighbors" scenario. In this scenario, you have several applications, each with their own database residing on a single instance of SQL Server, which don't share the resources of the server nicely. To deal with this issue, you might want to investigate Resource Governor as an alternative.

Posted June 09, 2015

With all the cheerleading and the steady drumbeat of new features being released to Azure, it's easy to lose track of the many cool and valuable new features released in the on-premises version of SQL Server. One of the crown jewels of SQL Server, the cardinality estimator (CE), underwent a large redesign for SQL Server 2014 to improve performance. Cardinality estimates are an extremely important part of query processing. In a nutshell, cardinality estimates are what the relation engine predicts for the number of rows affected by a given operation, including intermediate row sets like those created by filters, aggregations, joins and spool.

Posted May 14, 2015

Using StretchDB, an enterprise can "stretch" an on-premises database into the cloud, such that "hot," heavily used data is stored in the on-premises instance of SQL Server, while "cold" and infrequently used data is transparently stored in Azure. A stretched database automatically and transparently manages synchronization and movement of aging data from on-premises to the cloud.

Posted April 06, 2015

If you lead a team of DBAs or run an IT organization, you've probably already felt the pinch of finding talented DBAs. In macroeconomic terms, demand is rising sharply while supply is tight and shrinking. DBAs are among the most sought-after of IT professionals and - despite the fact that U.S. News & World Report ranks the DBA profession as the #5 best IT job and the #12 overall best professional job - are among the hardest to find. This shortage is continuing to drive the phenomena of "accidental DBAs," people who are forced to do the work of a DBA without the training.

Posted March 12, 2015

It's already a great time to be a DBA or to consider becoming one. U.S. News & World Report ranks the DBA profession as the No. 5 best IT job and the #12 overall best professional jobs for 2014. The job outlook is very strong at 15% growth year-over-year, far greater than the U.S. economy in general and the IT industry in particular. For added context, consider that the business world is now enamored with data, analytics, and data visualization.

Posted February 11, 2015

It's a good time to be or become a DBA, but it's going to come tougher as an employer of DBAs. There are a number of factors as to why this is true. Let's look at the factors coming to bear on the wider market.

Posted January 07, 2015

Delayed durability offers something that many SQL Server professionals have wanted for years—the ability to disable transaction logging. Why turn off the transaction log? You can accelerate performance in a lot of situations where you do NOT need transactional consistency.

Posted December 03, 2014

The holiday season is right around the corner, a time for cheer and goodwill towards men. That got me thinking about the whole "most wonderful time of the year" tune playing in the background and how that has some special implications for the SQL Server world. Here's a bit of context: I'm writing this article for you in the midst of the biggest gathering of SQL Server professions in any given year, the PASS Summit. One of the most visible activities when attendees get together for the very first time at the registration desk or the assembly hall for the first keynote address is the huge number of hugs, backslapping, fist bumps, high fives, and a variety of other happy and genuine reunions.

Posted November 12, 2014

The PASS Summit, put on each fall by the Professional Association for SQL Server is the biggest SQL Server specific event in the world and it brings in many thousands of people from around the world. Its secret ingredient is the remarkable sense of comradery and overall friendliness of this professional association.

Posted October 08, 2014

Skimming the newspaper on a recent summer morning, Kevin Kline was astounded to read about Russian hackers' success in grabbing 4.5 million records by way of good, ol' fashioned SQL injection attacks. "This is like saying a bunch of robbers rummaged through 450,000 houses because none of the home owners knew about locking doors and windows. It is that serious and that elementary of a mistake," writes Kline, who outlines security steps that all developers should implement.

Posted September 10, 2014

If you've ever worked with a packaged product, such as a CRM system, that includes reporting and querying features, then you know how inflexible they are. It can be infuriatingly difficult to get data out of these systems, systems for which you paid big money, without losing sleep, hair, and peace of mind. Enter PowerBI.

Posted August 05, 2014

As the manager for enterprise architecture in a very large IT organization, the C-suite executives frequently posed the question, "What database platform is best for this application today and for the future?" There are now some very powerful tools available to you to assess and track the viability of the various database platforms you might be considering.

Posted July 03, 2014

The "Accelerate your insights" webcast presented by a boatload of Microsoft's top executives, including CEO Satya Nadella, COO Kevin Turner, and CVP Quentin Clark included lots of useful information and demos, but a few other items of note about Azure SQL Databases may have dropped under your radar because they came to light a few days after the big dog-and-pony show/webcast. The first thing to note is ...

Posted June 11, 2014

Microsoft SQL Server 2014 finally went RTM (Released to Manufacturing) at the beginning of this month. Here's a look at the key new features within three major areas of enhancement: Mission-Critical Performance, Business Intelligence, and Hybrid Cloud.

Posted May 08, 2014

HDInsight is a 100% Apache Hadoop service, currently at v2.2, available through Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud offerings. HDInsight makes all of the standard features you'd expect from a Hadoop implementation available in a simple, scalable, and fairly cheap cloud environment.

Posted April 04, 2014

When it comes to implementing a big data strategy in a Microsoft SQL Server shop, you're generally going to consider three approaches, one of which is a cloud implementation. SQL Server 2012, and even more so in the upcoming SQL Server 2014 release, has built out a very strong Apache Hadoop infrastructure on Windows Azure called HDInsight. Despite all its goodness, it is in the cloud—and a lot of people aren't ready to go there yet.

Posted February 10, 2014

You'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the growth and uptake of cloud computing. Most enterprises are still exploring cloud computing for their relational databases, but there is no doubt that cloud computing is growing due its many benefits. Here's a look at what SQL Server 2014 will do for you with regard to business cloud computing.

Posted January 07, 2014

Microsoft has been pouring resources into building out its business intelligence (BI) feature set since at least the SQL Server 2000 release. The upcoming SQL Server 2014 (SQL2014) release will continue that trend. Here's what SQL2014 will do for you with regard to business intelligence.

Posted December 04, 2013

There was an interesting new vibe at Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) Summit 2013. There was a very strong positive energy permeating the place and a noticeable uptick in positive interactions among attendees. In broader technical news, Microsoft unveiled a couple of powerful new features that had been hidden even in the closed previews and also announced the availability of SQL Server 2014 Community Technology Preview (CTP) 2.

Posted November 13, 2013

With the upcoming release of SQL Server 2014 (SQL2014), Microsoft is making advancements in the area of mission-critical performance. Microsoft wants to stake out this ground not only as performance enhancements in the relational engine, but also in terms of features which support better data availability, performance, security, and data integration. Here's what SQL2014 will do for you in those key areas.

Posted October 09, 2013

Many of the new features coming in SQL Server 2014, now available in Community Technology Preview, are encapsulated within broader and rather intuitive categories. The major categories for new features in SQL Server 2014 are Mission-Critical Performance Enhancements, Business Intelligence Insights, and Hybrid Cloud Enhancements. In addition, one of the interesting knock-on effects of retooling SQL Server to run in the cloud is that the code has tightened up a lot.

Posted September 11, 2013

I was recently chatting with a good friend of mine who's very highly placed in the Microsoft SQL Server team. Our conversation was wide ranging and covered a lot of topics, such as internal features and upcoming announcements. (I'm under at least three different NDA's. So don't expect me to give up anything too juicy or gossipy.) For example, we spent quite a while discussing the ton of great new features and improvements just over the horizon with the recent release of SQL Server 2014 CTP1.

Posted August 07, 2013

In the last several articles, I've been describing the benefits of reading and analyzing the benchmarking case studies released by the Transaction Processing Council. I've given you from a broad overview of the TPC benchmarks and shown ways that the vendor-published TPC benchmarks can help you save money and how the vendor-published TPC benchmarks must explain in disclaimers how they tweak their workloads. I have described how to run your own benchmarks and explained how to properly prepare your environment for a benchmark test. Now, it is time to show you where the rubber really hits the road, testing and benchmarking tools that can run highly scalable benchmarking workloads against your database servers.

Posted July 09, 2013

When you decide to undertake your own benchmarking project, it's a strongly recommended best practice to write up a benchmarking plan. A benchmark must produce results that are both reliable and repeatable so that we can foster conclusions that are predictable and actionable. Keeping the "reliable and repeatable" mantra in mind necessitates a few extra steps.

Posted May 09, 2013

The best database benchmarks are those that accurately and reliably reflect the applications and configuration of your own database infrastructure. On the other hand, the amount of work that goes into extracting your own transactional workload can be immense. An easier route is to learn and run your own TPC benchmarks, use one of the free tools to run the benchmark, and then extrapolate the TPC test results for your environments. In light of the past several articles in this column about the TPC benchmarks, you're probably wondering how you can do your own TPC benchmark test. First, is this caveat: A "true" TPC benchmark must go through a rigorous and expensive auditing process. So when I say "run your own TPC benchmark," what I really mean is running a "TPC-like" benchmark which contains all of the activities of a regular TPC benchmark, but without the auditing.

Posted April 10, 2013

Two columns ago, I described how the TPC benchmarks are useful for getting a general idea of the performance characteristics of your preferred database vendor and hardware platform. And in last month's column, I described how the published TPC benchmarks can even help with pricing, especially when you don't have your own quantity discounts in place.

Posted March 14, 2013

Today, I would like to give you a primer on how to read the benchmark reports that are published by the major database and hardware vendors. You never know when a vendor will publish a new benchmark. There's no set schedule for them to publish their test findings. Of course, you can always look for new advertisements from many of the vendors. But that's very imprecise.

Posted February 13, 2013

Let's talk about database application benchmarking. This is a skill set which, in my opinion, is one of the major differentiators between a journeyman-level DBA and a true master of the trade. In this article, I'll be giving you a brief introduction to TPC benchmarks and, in future articles, I'll be telling you how to extract specific tidbits of very valuable information from the published benchmark results. But let's get started with an overview.

Posted January 03, 2013

Not long in the past, SQL Server licensing was an easy and straightforward process. You used to take one of a few paths to get your SQL Server licenses. The first and easiest path was to buy your SQL Server license with your hardware. Want to buy a HP Proliant DL380 for a SQL Server application? Why not get your SQL Server Enterprise Edition license with it at the same time? Just pay the hardware vendor for the whole stack, from the bare metal all the way through to the Microsoft OS and SQL Server.

Posted December 06, 2012

I was privileged to deliver a session entitled Managing SQL Server in a Virtual World at the PASS Summit 2012, the largest annual conference for Microsoft SQL Server. It was a packed house, literally at standing-room-only capacity. I delivered the session with my friend David Klee and we were swarmed by attendees after the session wrapped up. With almost 600 people in the room, we conducted one of those informal polls that speakers like to do along the lines of "Raise your hands if …" and the informal findings were very telling. Probably around 90% of the attendees used VMware and SQL Server in some capacity and at least 60% used it in production environments. Another important fact was that only 10% of the attendees were actually able to get information on the performance of the actual VMs themselves. Most had to get all of their information and support from the VM / System administration staff.

Posted November 13, 2012

Fall is my favorite time of the year for a lot of reasons. I love the cooling temperatures and the falling leaves. I enjoy the fall sports and school activities of my kids. And, perhaps best of all, I get to enjoy the yearly high-point for SQL Server professionals, the annual Community Summit put on by the Professional Association for SQL Server ( a technologist, the reasons to attend the annual conference of your profession should be self-evident. At the PASS 2012 Summit, there are nearly 200 technical sessions from beginner to advanced level over the duration of the week of November 5.

Posted October 10, 2012

SQL Server 2012 introduces a lot of new features which, like the columnstore indexes I discussed last month, are inspiring a lot of excitement in the user community. However, there's been a bit of confusion around the set of features commonly known as AlwaysOn.

Posted September 11, 2012

SQL Server 2012 includes a lot of new and exciting features. One feature that has caught the imagination of many in the user community is the high-performance feature called Columnstore Indexes. (Incidentally, it was also known as Apollo during its beta cycles). Columnstore indexes, as their name implies, store indexed (and always compressed) data contiguously in columns, rather than in standard format where the data is stored contiguously on 8Kb data pages according to the rows in which the data resides. Because of their structures, columnstore indexes speed up read-heavy operations like data warehouse queries from factors of 10x to 100x.

Posted August 09, 2012

After chatting with my friend and fellow Microsoft MVP Allen White about Windows Server Core on a recent excursion, I realized that this is a technology I should be evangelizing more. I hope you've heard about Windows Server Core and are considering using it for your SQL Server, and, indeed, any relational database platform you're currently running on Windows Server. Why?

Posted July 11, 2012

By now, you've heard that Microsoft has publicly released SQL Server 2012. I have to be honest in telling you that it came sooner than I expected, despite my many inside connections at Microsoft. I was fully expecting the RTM to occur a bit before summer, just in time for a spectacular launch at Microsoft TechEd.

Posted June 13, 2012

Last month, I told you about my favorite master-level blogs for the SQL Server professional. This month, I'm reviewing my favorite blogs for working SQL Server professionals who seriously want to grow their skills. What's the difference between a master-level blog and a practitioner-level blog, you ask?

Posted April 11, 2012