Essential Resources for DBAs

Earlier this week I presented a three part eLearning seminar: Essential Skills for SQL Server DBAs. Attendance was great and I got some great feedback including the following:

I have been involved with SQL Server over the last eight years, and have never seen such a highly information-dense yet enjoyable presentation about SQL. I thought it was very well done!

And as information-dense as my presentations were, I was still hoping to include a ‘round-up’ of additional resources that SQL Server DBAs could use to further their understanding and skill sets.

Since that didn’t fit in my presentation, I thought it would make a logical fit here.

Testing / Hands-On Experience

One of the key things I tried to get across in my eLearning event was that there’s no amount of passive learning that can compensate for hands-on experience, testing, and interaction. That’s especially true of backups and other disaster-recovery concerns, but it’s true with every single aspect of SQL Server. To that end, if you’re a new, beginning, junior, or aspiring DBA, I can’t recommend enough that if you don’t have as much access to SQL Server as you need to get this hands-on experience, that you INSTALL your own SQL Server and get  busy testing it out and using it.

To that end you can either grab a 180 trial version of SQL Server Enterprise Edition, or you can also spend $50 and a full-featured version of SQL Server for yourself. In that regard, I actually recommend purchasing SQL Server Developer Edition ($50). It’s got the EXACT same functionality as Enterprise Edition (it’s just not licensed for production workloads), doesn’t time-bomb in 180 days, and since you’re paying for it you’re more likely to take it seriously and use it more frequently. (And I recommend that you stay away from SQL Server Express. It’s great and has it’s definite benefits – but it’s not going to give you enough hands-on DBA experience because it’s basically designed to be DBA-less.)

Books

I love books. As a self-taught DBA, they’re one of the resources that I relied upon most to get me to where I am. To that end, I’m constantly always reading new books about SQL Server. Here’s a list of my current favorites – along with a brief blurb on why:

SQL Server 2008 Administration in Action 
If you’re looking for good resources on how to be a DBA, this book is a goldmine. Well written and organized. Provides a great overview of basic concepts and DBA responsibilities. Yet, it’s also peppered throughout with gobs of practical advice that comes from the trenches.

Securing SQL Server
As I pointed out in my eLearning event, Security and Disaster Recovery are the two biggest concerns for DBAs. Yet, sadly, I see an increasing trend where more and more DBAs aren’t taking security seriously. Which is a shame. So, if you’re looking for a good resource on security, then this is it. Each chapter in this book is largely self-contained because the book is very task-oriented. As such, it provides a perfect marriage of theory and practical value.

SQL Server 2008 Internals
If you want to know how SQL Server works, (and you do, if you want to be a good DBA), then this book is for you. It’s not the ‘deepest’ technical dive into SQL Server I’ve come across (that honor goes to Ken Henderson’s: Guru’s Guide to SQL Server Architecture and Internals), but it’s a fantastic resource because it manages to provide hard-core detail and understanding in plain English. Simply put, I can’t recommend this book enough if you want to become a great DBA. It will provide you with a solid framework of understanding from which you’ll be able to pull when dealing with all sorts of practical SQL Server operations, concerns, and functionality.

Professional SQL Server 2008 Internals and Troubleshooting
Wow. I’m in love with this book. It’s not for beginners. It assumes you have a decent understanding of computing and SQL Server under your belt. Yet, despite that, it also does a fantastic job of tersely describing core aspects of how SQL Server works – better than any book I’ve come across. More importantly though, it’s just chock-full of practical advice and guidance on how to well.. troubleshoot SQL Server. Top Notch.

Books Online

After you’ve been a DBA for a while, you’ll ‘feel’ that Books Online is too sparse and just doesn’t include enough information. But, if you’re a beginner to intermediate DBA, then Books Online is still a ‘go to’ resource for learning about the basics. Furthermore, even SQL Server Gurus know that there’s a LOT more detail in Books Online than readily meets the eye, and it is STILL one of the best bits of official documentation and guidance out there overall.

Online Forums

There are a number of great online forums out there for SQL Server. However, if you’re a RELUCTANT DBA, it’s very possible for you to run afoul in some of these forums either by virtue of the fact that your understanding of core concepts many not be up to snuff enough for you to be able to discern between bad advice and good advice in some cases, or it may get you into trouble when you mistakenly confuse potential causes for problems you’re experiencing with solutions listed for other, similar, problems. Translation: use a bit of caution with anything you’ve found online; SQL Server is complex and while most forum members are conscientious, a handful have no business posting anything – anywhere.

Accordingly, I’m actually a big fan of Server Fault. It’s reputation system and ‘ranking’ of responses are a clear cut above traditional ‘threaded’ forums where good advice and bad advice can be intertwined without much oversight.

User Groups

User Groups represent a great way to interact with other DBAs, swap war stories, and increase skills. If you don’t have a local SQL Server users group, I’d recommend looking into PASS. Likewise, a fun new trend that’s emerging within the DBA world is SQL Saturday – also worth looking into.

Twitter

And, speaking of fun, new, trends Twitter is all the rage in social media circles. And while it’s easy to assume that twitter is just a bunch of people talking about what they had for breakfast or complaining like teen-aged girls in a chat room, there’s actually MUCH more to twitter than you might think. That, and if you’re already on twitter (or once you get on twitter and get a decent twitter client), make sure to check into the #sqlhelp tag – there’s GOBS of real-time SQL Server action going ‘there’ all the time.

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What's Practical SQL Server?

Practical advice, insight, and help for core SQL Server considerations.

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Michael K. Campbell

Michael K. Campbell is a contributing editor for SQL Server Pro and Dev Pro and is an ASPInsider. Michael is the president of OverAchiever Productions, a consultancy dedicated to technical evangelism...
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