In the good old days, SQL Server 4.2 manuals were small enough to ship in the box. Back then, you could read all the manuals cover to cover and be reasonably well versed in SQL Server's functionality.

Times have changed. Today, a full printed set of SQL Server Books Online (BOL) would probably fill most of the space in my car's trunk. Reading all that material and becoming an expert in all of SQL Server's nooks and crannies is difficult, if not impossible. If you're anything like me, you're strong in some areas of SQL Server but weak in others.

In fact, you might have absolutely no practical experience or knowledge in certain specialized SQL Server areas, such as replication, clustering, or Analysis Services. But being an expert doesn't always mean you know the answer; it means you know where to find the answer. That way when someone asks you a question, you're at least prepared with "I remember reading about that and know where I can go to find the answer."

Microsoft offers several excellent self-paced tutorials for SQL Server engineers who want to jump-start their understanding of certain SQL Server capabilities. On Microsoft's Web site you'll find hands-on tutorials with sample data and prebuilt configurations for the following topics:

Replication

  • Transactional Replication
  • Merge Replication

Data Transformation Services

  • Data Transformation Services (DTS) Import/Export Wizard
  • The Package Designer

Graphical Administration

  • Query Analyzer
  • Database Maintenance

English Query

  • The SQL Project Wizard
  • Testing Your English Query Application

Data Analysis

  • Financial Modeling Made Easy with SQL Server 2000
  • Managing Advanced Dimension Settings
  • Advanced Analysis
  • Administering Security

Data Mining

  • Using Data Mining to Discover Data Patterns
  • Using Data Mining to Segment Your Data

Screen captures, explicit instructions, sample data, and configurations make these tutorials a practical learning experience that doesn't need to take much time out of your busy schedule. You'll find download links for the tutorials on Microsoft's Web site.

The above link also lets you order or download the SQL Server 2000 Evaluation Software free of charge. Are you a database professional who wants to improve your knowledge of SQL Server? The evaluation software is a great way to acquire SQL Server 2000 for evaluation purposes and gain some hands-on experience at the same time.

The Microsoft Web site also includes ordering information for the SQL Server 2000 Evaluation Kit. The kit is designed to help business decision makers and IT professionals evaluate SQL Server 2000.

The kit includes:

  • Trial Software—the 120-day, full version of SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition trial software.
  • AutoRun Demos—a SQL Server 2000 technical showcase with the business-level information guaranteed to help your entire team make the right decision.
  • Getting Results—the Microsoft Business Intelligence Advantage. This series of six new shows will take the mystery out of business intelligence (BI) and help you discover how to get results with the Microsoft Business Intelligence platform (SQL Server 2000, Microsoft Commerce Server 2000, and Microsoft Office 2000).

The AutoRun demos included in the Evaluation Kit demonstrate key SQL Server features without having to set and walk through the hands-on tutorials. These AutoRun demos are a great way for technical managers and decision makers to gain some understanding of how SQL Server works. The "Getting Results" videos are a wonderful way to understand how Microsoft BI tools can help your business. In my experience, many businesses haven't experimented with BI because they simply don't know what BI solutions can do for them. The Getting Results videos demonstrate concrete business scenarios in which BI makes sense.