SQL Server 2008 RTM!

It’s here it’s here! SQL Server 2008 RTM is now on MSDN. I’m downloading it now. Only downside, to use Visual Studio 2008 with it you need VS2008 SP1, and that hasn’t released yet. So be cautious if you install and desire to use VS2008 with it.


Arcane Review: Expert SQL Server 2005 Integration Services

If you recall my “Good Reads” post from June 25th, you will remember I am a big believer in books as a learning medium. I like to employ a lot of different ways to learn: user groups, blogs, podcasts, videocasts, and magazines to name a few. But for really in depth coverage, it’s hard to beat a nice book in your hands. I got some good feedback from my mention last week of Andy Leonard’s new e-book on Data Dude, so I thought that I would continue by adding book reviews to the blog every so often.

Expert SQL Server 2005 Integration Services For this review I thought I’d cover a book that seems to constantly be on my desk lately: Expert SQL Server 2005 Integration Services, by Brian Knight and Eric Veerman. This book does a really good job and is specifically targeted toward the data warehousing professional. One entire chapter is devoted to ETL for dimension tables; another chapter focuses on the fact tables. It was great to have coverage so focused on these topics.

Another favorite part of the book is the two chapters on deploying and managing SSIS packages. So often these topics are glossed over, especially the managing piece. The book does a great job in covering all the tools and practices around this subject. I’ll mention one more chapter, one that focuses on package reliability. They cover logging, auditing, event handling, checkpoint files, and even suggestions on testing error handling logic.

There are many more chapters in the book, such as migration from DTS (SQL Server 2000) and Scalability, for you to discover. The other thing I love about this book is the brevity. The authors cover an amazing amount of information in just 382 pages. As a busy, busy person I very much appreciate the conciseness they achieved without sacrificing any clarity.

I’ve met both authors, and have heard them speak. They are both very nice, knowledgeable individuals, and I highly encourage you to attend one of their presentations if you get the chance, or if not at least buy their book from your favorite retailer; you will find it a great investment.

Deep Fried Debugging

I was listening to the current episode of Deep Fried Bytes and was reminded of an important lesson. In case you haven’t heard of it, Deep Fried Bytes is a relatively new but very good development podcast. I highly recommend the podcast, it’s become a favorite on my Zune.

The hosts, Keith and Woody were interviewing members of the Microsoft.com support team. Yes, the guys who keep the actual Microsoft.com website up and running. Keith Woody asked them about a really challenging problem they hand, and one of the team recounted the tale of a site that had been in production about a year, when performance suddenly tanked. Naturally they went through the standard debugging questions, including “has anything changed in the code?” Since nothing had, they said “oh, well can’t possibly be the code” and went on to look at other things.

They went on to look at other things before finally, in desperation, coming back to the code. It turned out there was a scalability bug that had been there since day one, buried deep in a stored procedure. The select statement inside the stored proc caused a table scan. Not so bad when there were few records but after being up for a year the number of records was bogging down the stored proc.

I have been on many projects where a developer insisted the bug couldn’t possibly be in the code as it’s been running “perfect” and no recent changes have been made. The lesson to learn is never to rule out anything when looking for bugs. True, you should start with the most likely suspects, if no changes have been made to code then the probabilities of it being code are low as compared to say a hardware issue, but don’t rule it out completely. Get the entire team working in parallel. Let the developers look at the code, the DBAs at the database, admins at the server and network, and so on. Through teamwork, and being open to all possibilities you can achieve some deep fried debugging.

SQL Heroes and Data Dudes

In case you are wondering where I’ve been lately, it’s been a combination of issues at work plus putting the final nails in the schedule for TechMixer University. It’s been a big team effort, and as chair of the education committee I’ve had some great help gathering speakers for the event. We just published the first round of speakers and tracks so be sure to go take a look. And if you haven’t signed up yet, you better hurry registration is rapidly filling up!

On the interesting SQL News front, thanks to Jason over at StatisticsIO I just found out about the SQL Heroes site.  They are having a contest for the best SQL Server 2008 community project submitted to CodePlex. Here’s a listing of the current SQL projects currently there. Looks like some useful utilities, and the contest still has a month left in it so plenty of time to assemble your own project and submit to the contest.

I recently began diving deeper into Visual Studio Team System 2008 Database Edition (aka “Data Dude”) and wanted to learn more about it. Fellow SQL MVP Andy Leonard has come out with a new book, the first in a series on the subject. Volume 1, available from Solid Quality Mentors, takes you from the basics of creating your first database project, into versioning your database and scripts, right into building and deploying. There’s also some interesting and useful material in the appendixes, including installation of data dude and importing a database schema. I was also interested in getting a peak at his development environment. And at a mere 15 dollars I thought it was a bargain.

devLink Almost Sold Out

I mentioned a few weeks ago I was looking forward to attending devLink. If you haven’t heard of it, devLink is a conference being held in Murfreesboro TN, just south of Nashville. It started out small but has turned into a pretty big deal. I went last year, and will be returning again this year.

I just got an e-mail, the conference is almost sold out! Less than 30 spots remain. If you want your chance to see me live and in person (and who wouldn’t?) then rush now to their site and pick up your pass. At only 75 bucks it’s a bargain you can’t afford to pass up.

iPhone or iHype?

This post is a bit off topic from what I normally talk about, but being a fan of various “social networking” platforms including blogs, podcasts and the like I feel a need to speak out about a certain insanity that occurred. Last week Apple released its new model of the iPhone, and the internet went nuts. Podcasts devoted extended coverage, blogs were gushing, internet news sites went wall to wall with coverage. Let me interject a thought here – folks, it’s just a cell phone!

Now, before the Apple fan-boys come out of the wood work to attack me, my beef is not with the iPhone itself. It’s a nice enough phone, has a lot of decent features, and even I will admit it looks very nice. But feature wise it’s not revolutionary; there are other cell phones on the market that have similar sets of features. No, my beef is more with the coverage. Leo Laporte over on http://twitlive.tv did 24 hour coverage. CNet Live did a two hour version of their show; CNet’s news show likewise had multiple episodes centered on the iPhone. What?

I have to really question this. If any of the other cell phone companies released a phone, it might get a segment which would be fine, but not wall to wall coverage. But stick a logo of a half eaten piece of fruit on it and BAM the web goes nuts. I’m not alone in my weariness of the coverage either, on Mondays’ Buzz Out Loud from CNet even Tom Meritt said “I’m so sick of talking about it I throw up a little bit in my mouth every time I say it”. (Then he showed a cool video of someone dropping an iPhone in a blender.) Perhaps it’s just the cranky geek in me, but I just don’t get it. iPhone? Sounds more like iHype to me.

The SQL Server Developer

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about for quite a while; perhaps others are drawing similar conclusions. I may even be late to the game, but if so I haven’t seen it discussed on the blogs or podcasts, and I keep up with these pretty regularly. After a lot of consideration, I’ve decided there is a new type of IT professional, the SQL Server Developer, of which I consider myself one.

Let’s start out with a basic definition. What is a SQL Server Developer? In my mind they fall into two categories. The first is the developer who works with the SQL Server Business Intelligence (SSBI) tools, namely SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), or SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS). The second is the type of developer who works in the server end, developing stored procedures in both T-SQL and CLR, scripts, designing tables and views, and other tasks not centered on the day to day activities around the actual running of the Server itself. In many organizations these two areas are covered by the same person.

So what has caused this new breed of IT professional to emerge? Two reasons as I see it. First is the introduction of SQL Server 2005 itself. It brought along a new flood of tools, many outside the experiences of the typical DBA. The ability to write CLR inside the database is very new to DBAs, most of whom have no experience with .Net coding. Note this is in no way any sort of knock against DBAs, I would not expect one to have any experience with it. Likewise with many of the other tools.

The bigger reason though is Sarbanes Oxley. For a complete background see the Wikipedia article on Sarbanes Oxley, but in brief “SOX” is a US law that makes the leaders of publically held companies accountable for the financial dealings in their company. Auditors are responsible for ensuring compliance. As a result, most corporations have put in place rules in IT that place a wall between production systems and the developers who created those systems. In my own company’s environment, and those of many others I speak with, this means the DBAs are no longer allowed to develop code. No table designs, to stored procedures, etc. They are able to develop scripts if they are used in maintaining the health of the server; those are OK because financial decisions are not being made based on those scripts.

Somebody then, had to step in and fill the gap. In many companies since these were considered development tasks the coding fell to the development group. In other organizations DBAs were divided into production DBAs and development DBAs. In either case these folks are responsible for developing solutions to business issues, and are not responsible (at least not directly) for the day to day running of the server.

Now that you understand what a SQL Server Developer is and why they came into existence, you may be asking what the point of this article is? Well, I suppose it’s a plea of sorts. I see a lot of activities / training for both the DBA and the .Net pro, but little for the SS Dev. Even Tech-Ed this year demonstrated the schizophrenia when it split the event in two. There were just as many events in the Dev week as there were in the IT Pro week that applied to the SS Dev. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen training videos, mostly from Microsoft, that cover the technologies involved. But little that talk about the overall experiences that a SS Dev. In addition, almost every book I read assumes the reader comes from a DBA background. Doing so only covers half of the target audience; keep in mind there’s a lot of us who came from a .Net background.

So what would I like to see? Well to begin with, books that don’t assume everyone has the same background. Next I’d like to see more events targeted at the SQL Server Developer. Here in Birmingham we’re planning on a SQL Saturday next spring, I’d like to see many sessions devoted to the SS Dev. Finally, there seems to be very little software, outside the tools that ship from Microsoft, to assist the SS Dev. RedGate has some nice tools, and I’ve just started investigating the ApexSQL tools, most tools seem to target the DBA primarily though. It’d be nice to see collections and offerings more targeted at development.

What can you do? Well if you recognize yourself as a SQL Server Developer, start referring to yourself as such. Talk to Microsoft and vendors, start bringing the gap to them, ask them to start providing tools and events to cover our needs. Finally, evangelize! Do presentations, blog, whatever it takes to let the world know there’s a new breed of IT Professional out there.