Some of you might have noticed that I didn't write the commentary for SQL Server Magazine UPDATE last week. Don't get too excited; I'm not gone for good. I've had the pleasure and honor of writing the weekly SQL Server Magazine Update commentary since the inaugural edition almost nine years ago. That's a long time. SQL Server Magazine UPDATE has been a big part of my professional life. I've learned a lot from writing the commentary for it and have had a lot of fun along the way. I hope you've found my musings to be both educational and entertaining. But as my career—and the company I helped start a few years ago—has continued to grow, the stress of having a weekly deadline began to wear me out a bit. I'm grateful that my good friends at SQL Server Magazine have let me stay involved with SQL Server Magazine UPDATE while easing the burden of a weekly deadline. Moving forward I'll share my SQL Server thoughts with you the fourth Thursday of each month. Kalen Delaney, a SQL Server legend, will share her musings the other weeks of each month. Having two voices in SQL Server Magazine UPDATE should shake things up a bit after nine years of nothing but my rants. I hope you enjoy the new format. Now on to this week's meat!

I was browsing the Professional Association of SQL Server (PASS) Web site recently and noticed a link for SQLServerBeta.com, which is a joint offering from PASS, MaximumASP, and Dell. Check it out at http://www.sqlserverbeta.com. SQLServerBeta.com offers free Remote Desktop-based access to a SQL Server 2008 instance of your own. You'll have what's essentially a full version of SQL Server 2008 at your fingertips, and the work you do in your SQL Server 2008 instance will be persisted between your sessions, granting you a SQL sandbox without having to worry about interfering with your existing test or development machines.

Don't expect to be able to run your production systems on this free account, but it's a great way to dip your toes into the world of SQL Server 2008 without a lot of fuss, muss, or risk. At first blush, you might think "What's the big deal? I can download a free version of SQL Server 2008 CTP6 and run it to my heart's content, right?" Well, sure. Sort of. The fact is that a large percentage of the SQL Server community simply doesn't have the time to begin experimenting with SQL Server 2008. Downloading and installing a SQL Server 2008 CTP isn't exactly rocket science, but it's still a big time commitment for IT professionals who might already be stretched thin doing their "real work," which might not involve getting paid to spend a lot of time learning about the new version of SQL Server.

In my opinion, providing a quick and simple SQL Server 2008 playground is a great public service to the SQL Server community and will let many folks get ready for SQL Server 2008 that otherwise wouldn't have the time. I spoke with Bill Graziano, the vice president of marketing for PASS, about the program. Bill told me that MaximumASP can be thanked for coming up with the idea for the Web site and presenting it to PASS as a community initiative, and Dell is graciously providing the necessary hardware. Thanks to MaximumASP, Dell, and PASS for providing this useful community service.

Signing up for the service is free, and you'll also get free access to all the SQL Server 2008 video sessions from the 2007 PASS Community Summit. Bill told me that there are no definite plans to continue the service past the general availability of SQL Server 2008 but that the program might be continued based on community feedback and response. When you sign up, you might notice the disclaimer that says your account could be deactivated if it remains inactive for a week. We all know that DBA's can't take vacations, so that's not a problem, right? However, I did ask Bill about this disclaimer, just to cover the hypothetical scenario of "What if a DBA was ever allowed to actually take time off," or heck, just got busy with their real job and couldn't play in their SQL Server 2008 sandbox one week. Bill told me that the program does have a finite amount of hardware resources and that it might become necessary to deactivate an account that hasn't been used recently. However, Bill told me that so far it hasn't been necessary to deactivate unused accounts and might not ever become necessary. Users would be notified in advance before their account was deactivated. Seems like a reasonable compromise for free accounts being offered in the context of limited hardware resources.

SQLServerBeta.com won't be the magic bullet that lets you do complex SQL Server 2008 deployment or readiness planning for complex enterprise needs. But it's still a great way for novice and intermediate SQL Server users to get their hands dirty. Thanks again to MaximumASP, Dell, and PASS.

See you next month!