Online peer support communities such as the Microsoft newsgroups and SQL Server Magazine forums are invaluable resources. Like many of you, I contribute to and learn from these communities every day. Peer support is a great option and can meet your support needs much of the time, especially when your problem isn't a down mission-critical server.

But peer support isn't always the best option. You can't expect your peers online to solve all your problems, especially in emergency situations that require an immediate response. You also shouldn't rely on peer support to solve your problems when a misstep might cause irretrievable loss of your data. Nevertheless, I see a surprising number of messages posted to the SQL Server newsgroups that look like this:

Subject:   Help!!!!
Message:   I've done a terrible thing to
my production database, and I'm not sure
how to fix the problem. The database is
completely inaccessible, and I'm afraid
that the data may be lost. My boss is furious.
Please respond ASAP with a fix for my problem.

Of course, I've exaggerated the situation a bit to demonstrate my point. But such messages often come from SQL Server newcomers—the folks least likely to be able to solve the problem on their own.

Although peer support can provide great information, the answers you get don't always appear right away. After all, the people on the other end are simply volunteering their time—they have jobs and other responsibilities just like you do. Sometimes, you get what you pay for. Personally, I wouldn't rely on a newsgroup posting if crucial corporate data was at risk, time was of the essence, or my job might depend on solving the problem. Instead, I might use one of Microsoft's paid product-support options. Some people who are new to SQL Server might not know that these mechanisms exist, and often these newcomers are most in need of a fee-based helping hand when their data is at risk. Sometimes, paying a small fee can save the day—and your database.

I can't possibly cover the myriad ways to get paid support from Microsoft. The company provides different kinds of support depending on your licensing agreement and other relationships you might have with our friends in Redmond. Microsoft has posted a list of support options at http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=fh;EN-US;offerprophone&sd=msdn . And you can always buy a single, per-incident phone call for $245 by using one of the following numbers:

Developers 800-936-5800
IT Professionals 800-936-4900
Partners (resellers/consultants) 888-456-5570
Microsoft Certified Partners 888-677-9444
Original Equipment Manufacturers 800-936-2197
System Builders 888-456-5570

If you're outside the United States or prefer not to phone, you can submit your request online for $99 by using the Web site above.

Is your SQL Server recovery problem a genuine emergency? Is your data worth $245? Free peer support can be a great resource—but sometimes it makes sense to shell out a few bucks.