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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.



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 SQLCruise.com 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 (www.sqlsaturday.com), 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 SQLBlog.com, SQLServerPedia.com, SQLServerCentral.com, and SQLMag.com, 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 DBTA.com 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

Microsoft extended support for all editions of SQL Server 7.0 ended on Jan. 11. Considering that this edition was initially replaced 11 years ago by SQL Server 2000 (and there have been three more major releases since), this may not seem to be big news. However, I'm always amazed by the number of DBAs I meet who are still responsible for keeping a few instances of this, or even version 6.5, running in production.

Posted March 09, 2011

Depending on their industry sectors, many database professionals have to deal with audits at some stage, often removing vital years off their lives and inches off their hairlines! Having worked as a DBA in the financial industry, I've experienced both internal and external auditor visits on multiple occasions. In all cases, we pretty much had to drop all other work to ensure they were provided with the relevant information, or to implement the changes they required so we could provide the information in the future. The auditors' levels of experience and understanding varied wildly. This was not their fault, as they are not paid to be database experts, but it could make them frustrating to work with.

Posted February 02, 2011

In line with recent SQL Server releases, Microsoft on Nov. 9 announced at the PASS Summit that the first Community Technology Preview (CTP) version of SQL Server 11 - codenamed Denali (after the Alaska mountain also known as Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America) - is available for download and evaluation. This is our first opportunity to look at some of the features that will form the basis for the next major release of SQL Server, expected to be fully available in the second half of 2011.

Posted January 07, 2011

SQL Azure is Microsoft's cloud-based relational database service hosted in their data centers, and it's got some DBAs worrying about the future. The more I look at the technology, however, the more I see practical applications for it and the less I think people should be concerned.

Posted November 30, 2010

I am attending my first Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) Summit in Seattle this month. A lot of DBAs I meet are very keen to attend these events as the standard of speakers and quality of content is so high. Travel, accommodation and attendance costs are often prohibitive, however, let alone getting the time away from the office. Getting managers' approval to attend and justifying the cost can be difficult, especially for those of us based outside the U.S. PASS also runs a European event in April each year in Germany and, in the U.K., we have the SQL Bits conference. Those who wish to attend can still run into the same objections, however.

Posted November 09, 2010

As a consultant, I get to meet many varied SQL Server professionals on a regular basis. One of the most common conversations we've had over the last few years surrounds the loss of control the DBA has experienced due to a couple of advances in technology.

Posted October 12, 2010

It's almost hard to believe I've been your columnist for Microsoft SQL Server topics for more than 5 years! As an analyst of Microsoft SQL Server, as well as one who's interested in the whole spectrum of database systems, I've tried to provide insight for the questions of "how" and "why" Microsoft has made the choices it has in crafting SQL Server. After all, understanding the context and motivation for a particular set of features-or a particular marketing strategy-can help you fully understand the best choices for your own internal IT strategies and projects.

Posted September 07, 2010

When a new version of one of my favorite products ships, one of the first things I do is open the online help and read "What's New in This Release." I usually look at the new features from two levels. First, I don't install much software that I don't use, so I'm always keen to see what the new features can do to make my life better, my time more productive, my computer faster, my kids behave better, and so forth.

Posted August 10, 2010

Compliance is one of the most interesting elements of any data management plan - it's a microcosm of evolution in action. When many of the laws that impacted data retention were first enacted, business wasn't collecting a lot of information. Now, data collection happens everywhere. And, as citizens have come to realize that more and more of the information about their daily lives is recorded, they demand their governments provide privacy and protection from misuse of that data.

Posted July 12, 2010

If managing your corporate data for the long term isn't currently on your mind, it should be, and in several different ways: cost, performance, business continuity, and compliance. First, let's talk about cost and performance. You want to manage your database infrastructure so it can support your growing data needs within budget, while providing acceptable performance to your users. SANs (storage area networks) have enabled us to meet these contradicting goals over the last decade, and, as I mentioned in a previous column, SAN vendors are offering innovative new technologies to push on-disk storage even further. Some interesting new strategies also are helping organizations achieve a more balanced mix of cost versus performance through the use of "tiered storage."

Posted June 07, 2010

One thing I really enjoy about the SQL Server community is its vibrancy. I'll give you details on the SQL Server community's explosive growth in a moment, but let's start by comparing Microsoft SQL Server's user community with those of other significant database platforms.

Posted May 10, 2010

If you spend any time at all reading IT trade journals and websites, you've no doubt heard about the NoSQL movement. In a nutshell, NoSQL databases (also called post-relational databases) are a variety of loosely grouped means of storing data without requiring the SQL language. Of course, we've had non-relational databases far longer than we've had actual relational databases. Anyone who's used products like IBM's Lotus Notes can point to a popular non-relational database. However, part and parcel of the NoSQL movement is the idea that the data repositories can horizontally scale with ease, since they're used as the underpinnings of a website. For that reason, NoSQL is strongly associated with web applications, since websites have a history of starting small and going "viral," exhibiting explosive growth after word gets out.

Posted April 07, 2010

After the misery that was 2009, most of the SQL Server users I talk to are happy that 2010 started in languid fashion. Not that there isn't a lot of work to do; on the contrary, there's more work than ever. However, the long hours and multiple projects of 2009, compounded by freezes in all levels of spending, raised the general stress level to unhealthy heights. With the new year, stress levels dropped significantly, and many IT leaders see signs of improving prospects. What does that bode for 2010? I have a couple of predictions, though I doubt they'll surprise many people.

Posted March 04, 2010

One fall semester many years ago, I was a university freshman. Actually, I was anything but "fresh." I was dumb enough to think that 8 a.m. was a wonderful time to attend Economics 101. After staying up until the wee hours most every night, the "dismal science" took on more than one meaning as I set my clock just early enough to get to class on time. Along with 30 other very naïve classmates, I staggered into class and did my bleary-eyed best to focus on the lessons at hand. There were lots of Greek compound words and lots of graphs. I learned, for example, that the word economics derives from the Greek "oikonomikos," which means, approximately, "death by slidedecks" and, specifically, "house" (oikos) and "management" (mikos). I barely survived the experience and never took an 8 a.m. class again. Imagine my surprise, then, when a lesson I'd learned (and promptly forgotten) all those years ago jumped back into my consciousness late last year.

Posted February 09, 2010

I was once asked what I thought Microsoft's overall product trajectory for SQL Server was, in light of Oracle's rather obvious trajectory of acquiring multiple application vendors who will, in turn, deploy more and more of their applications to the Oracle database platform. To be honest, I had a little difficulty perceiving a clear and concise strategy statement for the sort of work going on in Redmond. I could see a lot of great features being developed. And I knew the SQL Server development team had developed a lot of new "plumbing" with each new release - features like Service Broker and Extended Events and exponentially more robust capabilities in the Analysis Services product lines. But the strategy itself was veiled and, since Microsoft wasn't explicitly telling us what the grand strategy was, I had difficulty putting my finger on it.

Posted January 11, 2010

Listen to a group of database professionals talk for awhile and someone will eventually bring up the topic of data deduplication. Data deduplication is a means to eliminate redundant data, either through hardware or software technologies. To illustrate, imagine you've drafted a new project plan and sent it to five teammates asking for input. That single file has now been reproduced, in identical bits and bytes, on a total of six computers. If everyone's email inbox is backed up every night, that's another six copies backed up on the email backup server. Through data deduplication technology, only a single instance of your project plan would be backed up, and all other instances of the identical file would simply be tiny on-disk pointers to the original.

Posted December 14, 2009

If you've read the IT press at all these days, you know that SQL Injection (SI) attacks are very common and can be devastatingly effective. In fact, SI attacks-equally easy to execute against Oracle, MySQL, IBM DB2, or Microsoft SQL Server-are among the most common hacks on the Internet today. If a web application runs a relational database on the backend, it can be subject to an SI attack, which ironically, is among the easiest web hacks to prevent.

Posted November 11, 2009

In this season of recession and financial meltdowns, a common question seems to be, "How big is ‘too big to fail'?" Titans of the financial industry made big bets with lots of risk and, when they didn't pan out, American society overall has to pay the price. But, that aside, the very scale of our financial system, by just about every metric, has reached amazing heights, be that number of financial transactions per second, number of traders, number of funds traded, amount of money changing hands—you name it. This might seem like a tangent to the point of databases in general and SQL Server in particular, but there are actually quite a few similarities in my mind.

Posted October 13, 2009

If you haven't paid attention to the new social media, you're doing yourself a disservice. Just as email was a game-changer in the 1980s and the internet revolutionized society in the 1990s, social media is making a huge impact on the way people work and interact today. Personally, I was skeptical about social networking until some good friends persuaded me to give it a trial run. It seemed like a great way to dither away some valuable time, but I didn't see the business value in the whole proposition until I tried it.

Posted September 14, 2009

Microsoft SQL Server's relational engine has offered new instrumentation that improves by light years with each new release. The introduction of Dynamic Management Views (DMVs) in SQL Server 2005 provided a much-needed equivalent to Oracle's long-standing and capable V$ and X$ system views. SQL Server 2008 has provided another dramatic improvement to its instrumentation with Extended Events (also known as XEvents) that promises to offer even greater opportunities to tune, trace and troubleshoot the inner workings of a SQL Server application. All of this stands in stark contrast with the anemic instrumentation offered in SQL Server Analysis Services, Microsoft's wonderful multi-dimensional data repository that is a free feature-set within the SQL Server product.

Posted August 14, 2009

At a rather muted Microsoft TechEd in Los Angeles in May, the crowds were diminished and the educational content was slimmed down. In the past, SQL Server sessions were so abundant that you'd have trouble choosing which of several you might want to attend. This year, the state of the economy was reflected in many ways, including the one, or, in just a few cases, two sessions per time slot allotted SQL Server professionals. Despite the low ebb, the Microsoft SQL Server team made an exciting announcement about the upcoming availability of the SQL Server 2008 R2 CTP (Community Technology Preview).

Posted July 13, 2009

Now that I know I can post, let me state at least some of what I stated broefe.The thinking patterns of a person is something that is learned over time and is driven by success and motivation and curiosity. Success , of course, does not necessairly mean the greatest success to be had, but some success.Outside of people like you and I, most get rather lazy about thinking and once they become somewhat successful are reluctant to improve further.Optimizing SQL require one of two approaches: (a) an intimate knowledge of how the underlying database works basically, how it will parse the SQL, how it will attempt to optimize the SQL, how it will attempt to match it to indexes and the like. The other approach is by trial and error .Alas, SQL, if my may say so myself, sucks as a language. Basically, it works hard at trying to hide all the low-level machinations of the database system; yet you can't write good SQL unless you deal with those low-level machinations!!! The very fact that it hides these details makes it even trickier to optimize, because its optimizer is trying to be a one size fits all , and it has to guess about a lot.Indeed, in optimizing SQL, not only are you dealing with the low-level machinations, but you are also dealing with the default assumptions of its optimizer, as well! It's kinda insane having to work around both.So, that certain data analyist will never be able to deal with all of these complications. He is to be understood, actually, because he is actually trying to use SQL in the way it was intended so as to not have to deal with all the low-level details that he shouldn't have to deal with anyway.Alas, this is really the failing of many, if not most computer languages, ORMs, and other systems designed to simplify and to hide complexity to really effectively use them eventually you have to understand the complexity it's trying to hide you from, and worse how it's trying to hide you from it!!!!!It's amazing how little has changed over the years. I ran into these same issues dealing with Microsoft's infamous MFC framework, and even Java. I had to deal with this in my C and C++ days, and also had to deal with it when I wrote a lot of PHP code.So, for just kicking it around, the SQL language it great! But when you get serious that all the limitations comes to the fore. And this is true of nearl everything in computerdom.My, this came out quite a bit different from what I wote broefe!

Posted June 15, 2009

Third-party applications are a very important part of the IT landscape. Many of us have faced the common dilemma of trying to decide whether to build or buy that next important application our organizations need. (By the way, I'm talking about smaller, specialized applications like an inventory management system for the company warehouse, or a practice management system for a doctor's office. I'm not talking about the huge and incredibly sophisticated ERP systems like SAP and Oracle Financials.)

Posted May 15, 2009

The idea of "SQL Server in the cloud" is all the rage as I write this article. Many SQL Server experts already predict the demise of the IT data center and a complete upending of the current state of our industry, in which large enterprises can spend millions of dollars on SQL Server licenses, hardware and staff. I have to admit, when I first heard about this idea, I was ecstatic. What could be better for an enterprise than to have all the goodness of a SQL Server database with none of the hardware or staffing issues? However, on deeper examination, there is much about which to be cautious.

Posted April 15, 2009

In my last column (published in the February e-edition and the March print edition of DBTA), I reviewed the overall coding landscape for SQL Server with special focus on LINQ to SQL, a new technology introduced by Microsoft in late 2008. LINQ to SQL promised to make developers' lives much easier by allowing them to focus on writing programs in their favorite Visual Studio language and letting LINQ to SQL write all the Transact-SQL code. The problem is that LINQ to SQL writes very bad Transact-SQL code.

Posted March 15, 2009

SQL Server has supported VLDBs (very large databases) for some time now. Back in the SQL Server 2000 days, I recall hearing multi-terabyte databases were unusual but doable. Now, they are commonplace, while databases in the hundreds of terabytes inhabit the part of the map that says "there be dragons." While VLDBs are quite common on SQL Server today, highly scalable systems that can be flexibly extended in the same fashion as Oracle/RAC are less so. So, how do you design a highly available architecture for SQL Server if it's not like Oracle/RAC.

Posted January 15, 2009

Implementing PBM in your environment will probably require more than just a few superficial changes.

Posted December 15, 2008

Posted September 15, 2008

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