For several years, I've bemoaned the lack of best practices available from Microsoft and other vendors. Whether or not vendors believe they have a responsibility to provide such information to their customers, helping make customers successful is unquestionably in a vendor's best interest. Best practices achieve that goal. I've used this space to tell you about the Microsoft Patterns and Practices Web site more than once, but the small number of customers who seem to be aware of it constantly disappoints me. So I'm getting back on my soapbox this week. The Patterns and Practices Web site is a valiant attempt by Microsoft to share best practices with its customers.

In SQL Server Magazine's February issue, Michael Otey describes his five favorite database-centric guidebooks from the Patterns and Practices Library. You can read about his top picks in "Patterns and Practices". Sandy Kahund, group product manager with the Microsoft Platform Application Guidance group, told me more about Patterns and Practices. "At Microsoft, we've built some powerful products, but understanding how to use them correctly often makes the difference between a successful deployment and a troublesome project," he noted. "Patterns and Practices is Microsoft's way of providing guidance and reusable assets that help customers not only go faster, but do it smarter."

Microsoft's Patterns and Practices Web site will need to continually change and grow as best practices evolve, but I think the Web site has made tremendous progress since I started using it more than 2 years ago. Microsoft has provided more and more content over time and is delivering the information through different media, creating a critical mass of useful best practices. You'll still find gaps in the content, but Microsoft is constantly adding new information. As I noted, Microsoft presents the material in a variety of ways—online books, bound books from Microsoft Press, and Webcasts—that make the information accessible to matter what your learning style. The Patterns and Practices Web site is an important resource for SQL Server professionals to integrate into their educational and research and development time.

Patterns and Practices is also launching a conference series. The international Patterns and Practices Summit showcases Microsoft's official patterns and practices for developers, designers, and solutions architects who need to learn how to integrate architectural design patterns and procedures with .NET technology. This model breaks from that of traditional conferences in which each session has little, if any, relation to other sessions and too many sessions focus on explaining how to use features rather than how to build solutions across multiple product sets. Besides the conference and print materials, Microsoft also presents a weekly series of Webcasts called Patterns & Practices Live, conducted by professionals from the Patterns and Practices team. "These 1-hour interactive sessions create a great opportunity to establish a dialogue with our customers to continually improve our guidance," Kahund said. I like the multimedium format for distributing these best practices, and I encourage you to find the delivery vehicle that best meets your needs.

I shouldn't have to tell you why best practices are important. Building IT solutions today is hard, and each product generation makes mastering even a single product harder. Can you maintain world-class expertise in all the products necessary to build a comprehensive solution? Probably not. Most product education and documentation from vendors tend to be feature-centric—you can find out how to twist the knobs, but not in the best order and not how to put the whole IT solution together in the best way. Theoretically, that's exactly what a best practices-centric approach to sharing technology information should do—tell you how to put the puzzle together so everything fits. Perhaps the most important best practice of all is taking the time to learn best practices and incorporate them into your daily routines.