Categories
SQL Server

This Week in SQL Server

Actually not a lot. The world is on a stop but I’m still working, running, playing.

So far I’ve done a heck of a lotta jobs around the house because it’s not like we can go many places in the UK at the moment. I have completed an introductory course on Infor OS and I’ve also started one on PowerShell which is going to be useful for all the setup tasks we have to undertake.

Hopefully back soon. Looking forward to open water swimming.

Stay safe.

Categories
SQL Server

This Week in SQL Server

The big news this week in SQL Server is the seemingly un-notable release of SQL Server Management Studio 18.5. Scanning the release notes there’s a few new features added but no black theme to the chagrin of many in the SQL Server community it seems. There’s also quite a lot of fixes in this release which is always welcomed however I don’t think that the annoying multi-monitor bug that leaves the query window blank has been fixed as of yet.

If you’re running SQL Server 2017 anywhere there’s also Cumulative Update 20 to test in UAT.

For me this week I got the opportunity to have a self-training day for the company I work for and experiment with (the bizarrely named I must say) Infor OS. I’m not quite there yet with the install but I did decide on creating a Windows Server Core based domain controller and SQL Server to test these on my company issued laptop. I have never really tried server core and I’ve never been asked about it in nearly 4 years of consulting either. It wasn’t as difficult to work with as I first thought and it makes a whole lot of sense to have many cut down Operating System Environments (OSE in Microsoft speak) supporting a single application or role each as opposed to a fully loaded OSE running absolutely everything. It also surely must have been easier on my 4 core, 16GB Laptop as well given that I ended up with 4 Virtual Machines to work on.

Categories
Uncategorized

The Current Situation

This week marks the end of the third week of isolation at home for me. As our technical work is primarily remote anyway we began this practice 1 week before the UK was put into lockdown. Now that situation is government mandated that means both myself and my colleagues are at home until UK.gov say so.

Not all people have the luxury of staying at home, getting paid and keeping out of harm’s way. I’d like to thank people in my local community for keeping me running during the lockdown: Haigh’s Farm Shop, the three local Co-Op stores in Mirfield, the local Hermes delivery driver and I’m sure many more to come. It’s far too easy to take people for granted and I hope that at least one positive outcome of this lockdown is that we learn to appreciate what these people do for the community.

In terms of work nothing’s really slowed down for me as of yet. I still have upcoming projects to plan, projects going live, live-running systems that need some technical assistance. Should that dry up the plan will be to do some level of self-training to top up our skills. I haven’t had the time to even think this through yet but I suppose brushing up on SQL Server, T-SQL and maybe even learn some Python for fun in my spare time.

It has certainly been interesting watching the sudden adoption of “WFH” (Working From Home) practices. There will of course be long-term ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic and not every change inflicted will be positive. I’ve certainly not missed the mass-migration that is the 9-5 rush hour and hopefully new working practices can begin the long and arduous process of finally killing that off. Surely there will be many environmental, social, health and economic reasons for that.

Stay safe and keep observing lockdown.

Categories
SQL Server

This Week In SQL Server

Oddly enough nothing much to report on this week. It’s been mostly about planning, fixing and patching. Nothing wrong with that every so often.

Of note Cumulative Update 2 for SQL Server 2019 was posted this week with a notably long list of fixes. Not had any deployments of SQL Server 2019 so far but looking forward to doing so. The memory optimised TempDB feature will likely be extremely beneficial for the applications that I deploy and my clients will surely benefit greatly for it.

Categories
SQL Server Uncategorized

Where Did 2019 Go?!

It’s been a busy few (many) months at my consultancy job handling the influx of work that has come in. This is thanks to the retirement of Windows Server 2008 & 2008 R2 and also Windows 7. All of those releases were really solid ones (for Windows 7 perhaps the last great Microsoft desktop OS?) and even though they have been surpassed they were very capable OSes for their time.

In saying that it’s most definitely time to move away from them now that extended support has run out. A lot of my time recently has been an effort to get clients from the legacy OS based builds onto something newer. For some clients that means upgrades of the business applications as well as new server builds, for others patching their current applications before moving it to a new server and for the fortunate few just a patch to install. Things like this exemplify the reasons why it’s important in IT to maintain systems and plan for end of support. There is arguably more cost incurred by doing nothing then having to do essentially a project in order to end up with a supported set of OS and applications versus constant planned maintenance.

For the next few months we are concentrating on implementing a new version of the business intelligence tool we resell. It has moved from a direct database connected Excel add-in to one that communicates to a server over HTTP/S. There are many pros and cons to this change and we continue to explore these as we implement with our clients. This will surely keep us busy for a while.

This week in SQL Server largely was the release of Cumulative Update 19 for SQL Server 2017 which I am sure will find its way to a UAT or support server near me soon.

Categories
SQL Server

SQL Server Updates

Updating SQL Server is a topic that infrequently gets sent to the support desk which is surprising given the importance of the applications that depend on a SQL database.

The questions usually being:

  • Is it safe to apply a SQL Server update?
  • Are you responsible for the update or are we?
  • What SQL Server updates are certified/supported with our software?

As of SQL Server 2017 the service pack is no more and the cumulative update now has the same level of validation as what the service packs used to have. This simplifies the update process somewhat. Generally it is safe to install these CUs and Microsoft even encourages you to do so on a “proactive” basis.

Installing an update to SQL Server should always be done with a get-out plan in case something goes wrong during the install. That means a properly tested backup and recovery plan.

I have a default rule that when I approach a job and the client asks me to install SQL Server for them I always apply the latest available cumulative update for testing. After that point the client is handed the responsibility for maintenance of SQL Server including the updates.

Most clients I’ve worked on do not patch SQL Server however most have unknowingly applied a SQL update through some form of Windows update mechanism. It’s not always clear if this is WSUS managed or not.

In an ideal world there would be user-acceptance testing done prior to applying SQL Server updates but many businesses do not have the time or facilities to do so. Regardless of the testing done a cumulative update should not break an application and I would always expect the author to be working with the latest service pack or cumulative update during development and support.

In conclusion patching SQL server is something that should be done on a regular basis and an activity that IT administrators need to be confident about handling.

Categories
SQL Server

SQL Server 2019 Released

This week Microsoft released SQL Server 2019 RTM.

I’ve not had much time to play with it so far. The headline new feature of SQL Server 2019 appears to be support for Big Data clusters which is not something any of my clients have asked about. However I still think they’d benefit from the in-memory tempdb and some new performance tweaks so I’m keen to check these new features out and see for myself.

I did have issues upgrading from SQL Server 2017 on my desktop PC. I had a Developer edition instance that was previously upgraded from SQL Server 2016. The 2019 installer was failing on the Client Connectivity SDK. I ended up removing as much as I could but was unable to clear away the SQL Server 2016 Setup files. To resolve this I did an install of SQL Server 2016 again and uninstalled everything. This then cleared away the troublesome setup files and I was able to install SQL Server 2017 and SQL Server Management Studio 18.4. If anything this reinforces the best practice of not upgrading SQL Server instances but installing as new.

Categories
SQL Server

Some Things I Never Knew In SQL Server

Over the course of the last couple of months I’ve come across some things in SQL Server that I’ve never really thought about.

“..” implies the default schema for A user.

If you have a user in a database with say a default schema of “Production” writing this:

SELECT ProductCode, ProductName, ProductColour
FROM CompanyDB..Products

Actually implies the Production schema.

The TempDB can really cause problems if it’s not configured correctly.

More of a reminder this one. I’ve recently worked on a client who was having some performance issues with a reporting tool. When they ran extracts from a SQL database it wasn’t very fast. I tried it myself and agreed it wasn’t performing as well as it should.

The reporting tool is heavily driven by cursors but let’s not get started on those. I looked in Activity Monitor and noticed quite a lot of contention on the TempDB. A further investigation revealed that there was a total of 1 TempDB for a Octa-core server.

After adding a further 7 TempDB row and log files we found that the reporting tool ran much much quicker and the contention was gone.

You can alias without using “As”

This one probably isn’t “best practice” but you can write:

SELECT C.CustomerID, C.Name, C.Address1, C.City
FROM Customers AS C

As:

SELECT C.CustomerID, C.Name, C.Address1, C.City
FROM Customers C

I don’t like doing this because to me that’s breaking a general principle of keeping script readable plus the reason I’ve never known about this is because all the T-SQL books and resources I’ve read have NEVER mentioned this is correct syntax so they must also consider it a no-no.

You stand a good chance of recovery if your server doesn’t boot but you’ve still got the SQL data.

I recently helped a client that lost a SQL data warehouse server to a Windows update that somehow caused it to not boot. They managed to pull all the files off the volumes so we had all the user databases as well as master and msdb databases.

The client was on a tight budget so we raced against time to get the server going as quick as possible. I was surprised to see that simply dropping in the master and msdb databases over the ones installed on the new server (shut the SQL Server instance down first) and putting the user databases at the original location restored pretty much all settings and data.

Of course you’ll run into problems if there was some encryption in use and you’ll need to use the same SQL Server release but other than that it proved a seemingly OKish way to restore the client’s data warehouse quickly.

Categories
IT

What Do SQL Server Consultants Use (Aside from SSMS)?

We’ve been really busy in the office recently doing many installations and upgrades for a whole host of cool customers. Not so much to post on SQL recently (learning Data Warehousing) so instead here’s the software championships…

LastPass Like all peeps in the consultancy game I’ve got a zillion passwords to remember. Keeping them all in a secure vault I can get anywhere saves a massive amount of time and frustration. Give it a try on me.
Notepad++. Venerable text editor fluent in a million languages and talented in many life skills. Can confirm the Compare plugin is a must.
SumatraPDF You wouldn’t read documentation with Adobe Reader now would you? This one is lightweight so it launches fast.
Microsoft OneNote – Searching emails for crucial information is so 00s. It’s also the leading cause of bleeding eyes and crushed souls. Be a hero: put your notes in a modern notebook (and search later!)
7-zip Zip it. Ship it. Some bugs were fixed.

Other brands are available of course.

Categories
Microsoft Exams

Failing 70-411: Administering Windows Server 2012/R2

On Friday 3rd November I failed Microsoft Exam 70-411: Administering Windows Server 2012 R2. First attempt: 580. 2nd attempt: 540. Absolutely gutted to have failed it a second time as I was a lot more confident this time around having revisited everything I struggled with on the first exam. Seems like there’s some wide gaps in my knowledge that I haven’t plugged.

Make no mistake: 70-411 is a difficult exam. It is a very broad test covering a variety of scenarios and tools.

It’s also come to my attention that Microsoft no longer allow you to substitute 70-463 (Implementing a Data Warehouse) with other exams such as 70-411 to contribute towards the SQL MCSA which means a pass would have been a hollow victory.

What’s Worked?

Course 20411D – Delivered by QA Ltd in Leeds. The instructor was very knowledgeable having real-world knowledge and exam experience. Notes taken around this proved useful.

Previous Job – lots of experience in managing Windows Server 2008. IT strategy would have seen the business go to Windows Server 2012 R2 and implement some of the new technologies introduced in the newer OS. The interest alone was inspiration to boot up some test VMs and make an effort to learn it.

Exam Ref 70-411 Administering Windows Server 2012 R2 Book – Compared to the SQL training kit books it’s a bit thin but it’s still covers enough of the key topics to be useful.

But What’s Not Worked?

MeasureUp practice exam – although this has been useful for 70-461 (Querying SQL Server 202/2014) and even more so for 70-462 (Administering SQL Server 2012/2014) this has not helped much for 70-411. I was getting 80% and above in the practice exam. In 70-461 and 70-462 once I started hitting 80% (which in MeasureUp terms is a pass) I felt confident I’d hit “the barrier”. The exam difficulty result wasn’t hugely off the experience in the practice exam.

With 70-411 I think that the MeasureUp exam is very far off. Some questions came through on the actual exam that covered topics I’d just not hit in the MeasureUp exam. I also noticed some terminology differences and obvious typos which given how much these exams cost is a bit disappointing.

Job Change – whilst I love my new job it did have an unfortunate side effect: I use Windows Server much less regularly. I therefore don’t have to continuing real-world experience building up. Whilst I do interact with Windows Server every day as a SQL technical consultant it doesn’t cover things like managing Active Directory or setting up Windows Server Update Services. I felt I was getting caught out by the more in-depth questions particularly where PowerShell administration is involved.

To summarise I think my approach had gaps due to real-world experience, dependency on practice exams and the choice of subbing exams out. My next steps towards netting that most coveted MCSA will be to examine Data Warehouse exam 70-463 and (most likely) make an attempt on that.