Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The SQL Server Stack - too tall to see the top?

I was chatting with my old boss the other day and the conversation moved on to what versions of software they were running and I asked if they were test driving the next version of SQL Server, Denali.

Now, the company in question are definitely a forward looking firm who look to stay as current as possible - I remember when I was there we were one of the very early adopters of SQL Server 2005. Back then, the move from 2000 -> 2005 was a huge leap and the first major release in some time from MS and was a serious upgrade with many changes. We benefited from major performance and reliability improvements yet we didn't change our codebase significantly. And as it turns out, even to this day the codebase is very similar. When i asked, "do you think (a scaled down) version of your app would run on SQL2000?" the answer was "probably". Indeed, when pushed the only features that seemed to have been embraced were CTEs and a prototype using the spatial data types. Not much in 10 years!

Now we have the first CTP of Denali and yet more features are being bundled into the SQL Server Stack - SSIS improvements, T-SQL enhancements etc. I'm not saying these aren't necessary or what the market demands and its evidence that MS are not resting their laurels, but I do wonder how many of these features are ever used in production environments. SSIS has been a huge success but that was (takes deep breath) essentially just an overhaul of DTS. Not a new feature, just an upgrade of existing technology. We've seen Extended Events, Resource Governor, Change Data Capture and Policy Management which are undoubtedly impressive features but how many people take the transition from Demo/Prototype to adding it in a production environment. It seems to me that its the softer, less revolutionary features that have been the most successful. T-SQL enhancements such as the CTE
and TRY/CATCH that have had the most impact.

Perhaps all this is just a reflection on my recent roles which have tended to be much more focused on Developer activites rather than DBA work? The SQL Server product is now so impressive and vast being much more than just a database engine with SSRS/SSIS/SSAS all justifying specialist skills and challenging the database professional ever more. I find that i'm able to learn and understand a feature if i get to use it in anger and this means more than just running through a set of tutorials.

An example is Extended Events. Jonathan Kehayias has put together a brilliant set of blog posts on them which i've been working my way through them and i've been impressed. But I'm in need of some real life scenarios where I can apply this knowledge otherwise it'll just be consigned to the "stuff i know, but don't know" bin.

With the new year, i'm really keen to get my head round many of the new features of Denali. The difficulty is getting the balancing act between being spread too thinly. In an effort to cover the entire SQL Server Stack you risk diluting your knowledge by not knowing enough. In focussing too much on one area, the risk is that you miss out on exciting (and more importantly) valuable features.

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