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.

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

Recently, I was speaking at a SQL Saturday event (, when I encountered a question that I've been getting more and more often. It went something like this: "I know that I can look up a lot of SQL Server blogs thru the various aggregators, such as,,, and, but what are the very best high-end blogs that you read?" Since this is an evergreen question, I figured I'd provide a more permanent answer and anchor it here at and on my own blog.

Posted March 07, 2012

Looking back on 2011, I'm struck by two larger trends in the overall database marketplace. First, most energy and excitement (but not much forward motion) seems to be coming from the NoSQL space. And second, the major relational database platforms are generating what little energy they can outside of their core RDBMS technologies. If you kept up on one or more of the better general IT-industry news sources, you probably saw dozens of stories about various NoSQL vendors, spin-offs, and technologies in a single month, compared with perhaps one or two stories in the same period of time covering a traditional RDBMS platform such as Oracle, Microsoft's SQL Server, or MySQL.

Posted February 09, 2012

Let's tie together the last several columns on "2012 Might Really be The End of the World." In this series, I discussed several megatrends in the general IT industry that will have a tremendous impact on the database administration (DBA) profession. The megatrends include both software-related (virtualization and cheap cloud database services) and hardware-related (SSDs and massively multi-core CPUs). These technologies have the potential to obviate many of the core competencies of the DBA, with the first two eliminating or lessening the need for server and hardware configuration and provisioning, and the last two diminishing the need for IO tuning and query tuning, respectively. But those are trends that will take years to reach fruition. What about the near future?

Posted January 11, 2012

Three columns ago, I started a series of articles pointing out that tough times are a-comin' for the DBA profession due to major disruptive changes in the wider IT world (see "2012 Might Really Be the End of the World as We Know It"). In previous columns, I have told you about how our lives will change due to major technological changes caused by things such as Solid State Disks (SSD) and massively multicore CPUs.

Posted December 01, 2011

I started a column series a couple of months ago about emerging but significantly disruptive technologies, with a post entitled, "2012 Might Really Be the End of the World as We Know It." I called out four disruptive technologies that will significantly change, if not outright overturn, the day-to-day work of database professionals. Those technologies are virtualization, cloud computing, solid state drives (SSD), and advanced multi-core CPUs.

Posted October 15, 2011

Two columns ago, I started a series of articles pointing out that tough times might be in the future for the DBA profession because of major disruptive changes happening in the wider IT world (see "2012 Might Really Be the End of the World as We Know It"). Last issue, I spoke about the Solid State Disk and how it's changing the way we have to deal with and troubleshoot IO performance (see "The Changing State of Hardware" in the August E-Edition of DBTA). This time, I want to talk about computing power and multicore CPUs. Moore's Law famously states that the numbers of transistors in an integrated circuit will double every 18-24 months.

Posted September 14, 2011

In last month's column, "2012 Might Really Be the End of the World as We Know It," I described a number of major developments in the IT industry that are likely to disrupt the life of database professionals everywhere. I categorize those four disrupters - virtualization, cloud computing, solid state drives (SSD), and advanced multi-core CPUs - into two broad groups. I'm going to continue an analysis of these disruptive technologies in inverse order. Today, let's discuss SSDs.

Posted August 11, 2011

Like most people, I chuckled under my breath when doomsayers started publishing books about the apocalypse predicted by their interpretation of the Mayan calendar. In their view, the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 and thus spells doom for us all - despite the fact that the classical Mayan calendar, like ours today, was cyclical. But as I was considering some of the momentous and disruptive changes we're facing lately, it suddenly hit me. The year 2012 might be the year when life as we've known it as IT and data professionals changes, completely and irrevocably

Posted July 07, 2011

One of the things I repeatedly encounter when speaking to database professionals working with Microsoft SQL Server is that many of them simply don't know about some of the most elementary and fundamental means of investigating SQL Server performance. For example, I recently created a popular poster for Quest Software that shows all of the most meaningful and useful Windows Performance Monitor (PerfMon) counters. Now friends, PerfMon has been with us since Windows NT Server, and yet, PerfMon counters are a mystery to at least half of the DBAs I meet. Half!

Posted June 08, 2011

I have been working with SQL Server for more than 10 years now, and my time with Quest has been spent as a consultant visiting hundreds of customer sites, and discussing their environments and matching products to their issues. This has given me a fairly unique insight into how SQL Server is changing. It has also been intriguing to work closely with colleagues from the Oracle world, and seeing how their opinion of SQL Server has changed. They now take it very seriously, something I like to think I have played a positive part in! The most striking trend I have noticed is the lack of expertise in some environments when using SQL Server. I can confidently say you are extremely unlikely to run an Oracle database without an Oracle DBA. However, in the SQL Server world this practice seems to be commonplace.

Posted May 12, 2011

When I meet SQL Server professionals, I am always interested to find out if they have deployed the latest version of SQL Server into production yet, if they are using Enterprise Edition, and, if so, which new features they are using and why. Nothing beats real world implementation scenarios to help get a better understanding of a feature in SQL Server. The most common Enterprise Edition SQL Server Engine features deployed (and this is not a scientific survey, by any means) appear to be Table Partitioning, Backup Compression (now in Standard Edition) and Resource Governor. The Resource Governor was the feature DBAs working with large-scale SQL Server environments seemed most excited about when SQL 2008 was first announced.

Posted April 05, 2011