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Can You Recover a Dead Server in 15 Minutes?
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(below COMMENTARY)

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(below NEWS AND VIEWS)


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August 21, 2003—In this issue:

1. COMMENTARY

  • Is the MCDBA Worth It?

2. SQL SERVER NEWS AND VIEWS

  • Worm Targets Blank sa Passwords
  • Results of Previous Instant Poll: SQL Server Releases
  • New Instant Poll: MCDBA Certification

3. ANNOUNCEMENTS

  • Special Offer from SQL Server Magazine
  • Win a Harley at SQL Server Magazine Connections

4. RESOURCES

  • What's New in SQL Server Magazine: Reporting Services
  • Hot Thread: Evaluating the MCDBA Certification
  • Tip: Why Do Similar Queries Have Different Execution Plans?

5. HOT RELEASES (ADVERTISEMENTS)

  • SSMU Announces Performance Tuning Mini-Series
  • Get High-Speed Access to Article Archives

6. NEW AND IMPROVED

  • Eliminate Database-Locking Conflicts

7. CONTACT US

  • See this section for a list of ways to contact us.

1. COMMENTARY

  • IS THE MCDBA WORTH IT?

  • (contributed by Brian Moran, news editor, brianm@sqlmag.com)

    When the Microsoft Certified DBA (MCDBA) program began a few years ago, I cut the program some slack. It provided a reasonable method of evaluating basic SQL Server competence and gave IT professionals a way to show that they knew at least a little bit about SQL Server. I thought back then that some level of certification was better than nothing. Now, I'm not so sure.

    Microsoft recently updated the MCDBA certification to let participants use the Windows 2003 Server exams to satisfy certain core OS-level requirements. (You can visit http://www.microsoft.com/traincert/mcp/mcdba/default.asp for a current list of MCDBA requirements.) But from what I've seen, an MCDBA certification still doesn't prove much—and that's a shame.

    Microsoft's MCDBA program would best serve customers by providing a certification that helps SQL Server professionals expand and hone their database skills, that gives certification holders a strong boost in the job market, and that employers can use to help find competent SQL Server talent. I'd like to see a certification that experienced SQL Server professionals would boast about passing—a certification that they would be proud of having.

    Since launching the MCDBA program, Microsoft has had plenty of time to improve the program by, for example, offering a second-tier certification that goes beyond the simple requirements necessary for an MCDBA. The failure of Microsoft to find a way to certify business intelligence (BI) and OLAP-trained SQL Server professionals is especially disappointing. Microsoft knows that SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services is a driving force in SQL Server's growth, yet the company has no advanced certification for this space. When you look at how few significant changes Microsoft has made to the MCDBA program, you have to assume that, for marketing purposes, Microsoft prefers a certification program that boasts a large number of minimally trained, certified individuals rather than a lower number of highly skilled professionals. Although my criticisms focus on the MCDBA program, which I'm most familiar with, the same general criticisms apply to most premier Microsoft certification programs.

    Granted, creating a certification process that truly demonstrates SQL Server mastery is difficult. Microsoft would have to overcome, for example, the inherent difficulties in standardized-testing techniques and other problems. But if the company decided that a meaningful certification was a worthwhile goal, it could find the resources and solutions to build a quality program.

    I'm interested in what you think about the MCDBA certification in particular and Microsoft certifications in general. Which, if any, certifications do you hold? Do you think a masters-level certification program for SQL Server would be valuable? Do you have any ideas about how to solve the certification problems? Let me know, and I'll share the best of your ideas here and pass them along to Microsoft.


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    2. SQL SERVER NEWS AND VIEWS

  • WORM TARGETS BLANK SA PASSWORDS

  • A warning to shops that still, despite numerous warnings, have a blank SQL Server system administrator (sa) password: Microsoft says that a worm code-named Voyager Alpha Force, which takes advantage of blank sa passwords, is making its way around the Internet. According to the Microsoft article "PRB: Unsecured SQL Server with Blank (NULL) SA Password Leaves Vulnerability to a Worm," the worm looks for a server that's running SQL Server by scanning for port 1433, the SQL Server default port. If the worm finds a server, it tries to log in to the default instance of that SQL Server with a blank (NULL) sa password. If the login is successful, the worm broadcasts the address of the unprotected SQL Server on an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, then tries to load and run an executable file from an FTP site in the Philippines. Logging in to SQL Server as sa gives the user administrative access to the computer and, depending on your environment, possibly access to other computers. For details about how to safeguard your SQL Server systems from the worm (hint: secure your sa login account with a strong, non-NULL password), see the following URL:
    http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;313418

  • RESULTS OF PREVIOUS INSTANT POLL: SQL SERVER RELEASES

  • The voting has closed in SQL Server Magazine's Instant Poll for the question, "What SQL Server releases is your organization running?" Here are the results (+/- 1 percent) from the 767 votes:
    • 2% SQL Server 6.5 and 7.0
    • 7% SQL Server 7.0
    • 33% SQL Server 7.0 and 2000
    • 56% SQL Server 2000
    • 2% Other

  • NEW INSTANT POLL: MCDBA CERTIFICATION

  • The next Instant Poll question is "Do you have your MCDBA certification?" Go to the SQL Server Magazine Web site and vote for 1) Yes, and I find it valuable, 2) Yes, and I haven't found it valuable, 3) No, but I'm planning to get it, 4) No, I don't have the time or money to pursue it, or 5) No, I don't see the value of it.
    http://www.sqlmag.com

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    3. ANNOUNCEMENTS


    (brought to you by SQL Server Magazine and its partners)

  • SPECIAL OFFER FROM SQL SERVER MAGAZINE

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    4. RESOURCES

  • WHAT'S NEW IN SQL SERVER MAGAZINE: REPORTING SERVICES

  • SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services promises to fill the only hole in the SQL Server product--the lack of a built-in reporting component. In his SQL Seven column "Reporting Services," Michael Otey highlights the seven most important features of the new reporting functionality, which Microsoft expects to make available for download by the end of the year. Read this August SQL Server Magazine article at
    http://www.sqlmag.com/articles/index.cfm?articleid=39333

  • HOT THREAD: EVALUATING THE MCDBA CERTIFICATION

  • FMR recently took the Microsoft 70-229 exam, "Designing and Implementing Databases with Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition," and was disturbed at how many questions were identical to a practice exam he had taken. After seeing about half of the 44 questions for the second time, he started wondering about the value of the MCDBA certification if "anyone who memorizes a few dozen questions can pass the exam." See what other DBAs have said in this active thread, and offer your opinion, on SQL Server Magazine's Career Development forum.
    http://www.sqlmag.com/forums/messageview.cfm?catid=20&threadid=17379

  • TIP: WHY DO SIMILAR QUERIES HAVE DIFFERENT EXECUTION PLANS?

  • (contributed by Brian Moran, savvy@sqlmag.com)

    Q. I'm having a performance problem when I try to use datetime values in a query's WHERE clause. Performance is fine when I use a literal string that represents the datetime value:

       
       SELECT * FROM BigTable
       WHERE TargetDate > '2003-03-01'

    But the query slows down when I reference a variable:

       SELECT * FROM BigTable
       WHERE TargetDate > @TestDate

    Why is the second query much slower than the first?

    A. When seemingly similar or identical queries perform differently, you need to compare the queries' execution plans to solve the mystery. For example, you might start by investigating the use of a local variable in the date range that the search argument (SARG) specifies. Consider the following three queries:

    -- Query 1: Return 5 rows, using a local
    variable in the search argument (SARG)
       
         DECLARE @odate AS DATETIME
         SET @odate = '19980506'
         SELECT * FROM Orders
         WHERE OrderDate >= @odate
         GO
       -- Query 2: Return all rows, using a local
    variable in the search argument (SARG)

        DECLARE @odate AS DATETIME
        SET @odate = '19960101'
        SELECT * FROM Orders
        WHERE OrderDate >= @odate
        GO
       -- Query 3: Return 5 rows, using a literal
    value in the search argument (SARG)
        SELECT * FROM Orders
        WHERE OrderDate >= '19980506'
        GO

    Queries 1 and 2 use a local variable in the SARG. Query 3 uses a hard-coded reference to the same value that Query 1's variable contains. Queries 1 and 3 return the same result set, but as you'll see, each query has a different execution plan.

    Execute the three preceding queries once to ensure you know what results these queries return and how each query is different. Now, execute the queries again, but turn on STATISTICS IO at the beginning of the batch:

       SET STATISTICS IO ON

    Although Query 1 and Query 3 return the same result set, Query 1 (which uses a local variable) requires 21 logical reads, while Query 3 (which uses a hard-coded literal value) requires only 10 logical reads. Query 1 requires the same number of reads as Query 2, even though Query 2 returns more rows.

    Run the queries one more time and look at SHOWPLAN to see how SQL Server executes each query. You can view the query plan from Query Analyzer or by using the "SET showplan_text ON" command at the beginning of each batch and issuing the "SET showplan_text OFF" command at the end of each batch. You'll see that Query 1 and Query 2 have identical plans: To execute the queries, SQL Server scans the primary key, which is on the OrderId column that the WHERE clause doesn't reference. To execute Query 3, SQL Server uses the OrderDate index (defined on the OrderDate column) to do an index seek, which explains the difference in the number of logical reads between Query 1 and Query 3.

    Why does SQL Server choose such different plans for queries that seem identical? SQL Server doesn't know the value of Query 1's local variable when it optimizes the query, so it has to guess what the value might be. Nonclustered indexes typically aren't useful if you need to return a large percentage of a table's rows. And although Query 1 returns only five rows, SQL Server doesn't know that, so it assumes that the query will return roughly a third of the table because you're using a greater than (>) operator. The OrderDate index wouldn't be effective if the query returned that many rows, so SQL Server doesn't use it. In Query 3, however, SQL Server knows precisely how many rows the query will return because the SARG is literal. And knowing that the query will return only five rows, SQL Server uses the nonclustered index.

    One way to make sure SQL Server's optimizer knows the value of a variable at compile time--and can then use the appropriate index—is to encapsulate the SQL query in a stored procedure. You need to use the RECOMPILE option to create the stored procedure if the optimal query plan varies based on input values:

       
    CREATE PROC DateRangeTest
      @odate AS DATETIME
      WITH RECOMPILE
      AS
      SELECT * FROM Orders
      WHERE OrderDate >= @odate
      GO

    Now run the following commands and compare the number of reads and the execution plan for each:

       
    EXEC DateRangeTest  '19980506'
    -- returns 5 rows
    EXEC DateRangeTest  '19960101'
    -- returns 830 rows

    You'll see that the first invocation of the procedure, which returns five rows, can effectively use the index on OrderDate, while the second invocation continues to scan the clustered index because the query is returning so many rows.

    Send your technical questions to savvy@sqlmag.com

    5. HOT RELEASES (ADVERTISEMENTS)

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    6. NEW AND IMPROVED


    (contributed by Carolyn Mader, products@sqlmag.com)

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    7. CONTACT US


    Here's how to reach us with your comments and questions:

    • ABOUT THE COMMENTARY — brianm@sqlmag.com
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    (please mention the newsletter name in the subject line)

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      Customer Support — sqlupdate@sqlmag.com
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