Monthly Archives: February 2015

Speaking at SQLSaturday Pordenone


Next week, on Saturday 28, make sure you don’t miss SQLSaturday Pordenone!

Pordenone is the place where the Italian adventure with SQLSaturday started, more than two years ago. It was the beginning of a journey that brought many SQLSaturdays to Italy, with our most successful one in Parma last November.

Now we’re back in Pordenone to top that result!

We have a fantastic schedule for this event, with a great speaker lineup and great topics for the sessions. Everything is set in the right direction to be a great day of free learning and fun.

I will have two sessions this time:

SQL Server Security in an Insecure World

In this session I will talk about security, with a general introduction to the topic and then I’ll go straight to demonstrate some of the vulnerabilities that attackers could use to take over your server. Yes, I’ll be demonstrating SQL-Injection attacks: SQL-I is still a top security issue, even if we’re in 2015. Everyone must be aware of the risks and take action immediately.
I will also describe the security features available in SQL Server to lock down the server as much as possible, but the key concept I will try to drive is that security is a process, not a feature.
If you want to find out more, join me at 12:00 PM in room S7.

Extending the Data Collector to Monitor SQL Server effortlessly

In this session I will try to promote one of the least used features in SQL Server: the Data Collector. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the expensive monitoring suites, but it does the job pretty well. Things start to be painfully difficult when you try to extend it with additional collection sets, but the good news is that there’s an open-source project that provides a GUI to manage and customize the collection sets. The project is called ExtendedTSQLCollector and it does much more than just adding a GUI to the Data Collector: it also provides two additional collector types to collect data from LOB columns (in case you’re wondering, no – the vanilla Data Collector doesn’t support LOB columns) and Extended Events sessions.
I will also demonstrate a convenient way to centralize and extend the Data Collector reports to create a reporting and alerting solution for free.
Sounds interesting? Join me at 4:30 PM in room S7.

So, what are you waiting for? Register now and join us in Pordenone!

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Please Throw this Hardware at the Problem


ram

We’re being told over and over that “throwing hardware at the problem” is not the correct solution for performance problems and a 2x faster server will not make our application twice as fast. Quite true, but there’s one thing that we can do very easily without emptying the piggy bank and won’t hurt for sure: buying more RAM.

The price for server-class RAM has dropped so dramatically that today you can buy a 16 GB module for around € 200. Depending on the architecture of your server, you could max out the memory supported by a standard edition (128 GB) with just € 1,600.

Isn’t it a reasonable price for better performance?

Let’s put it in perspective: you decide that throwing hardware at the problem is not right, so you hire a consultant to tune performance. How many days of his work can you buy with € 1,600? Two? One? How much tuning work will he do in one or two days? Do you want him to work on the core issues or fight with memory pressure? RAM is cheap, consultants are not: make them work on what really matters for you.

Does adding RAM always make sense? No: if your server has 4 GB of data and 16 GB of RAM, there’s no need to add more RAM and if you do you won’t see any improvement. On the other hand, if you have 100 GB of data and 32 GB of RAM, you should be upgrading right away. Isn’t your business worth € 1.600? You’re probably paying much more for SQL Server licensing, so why waste your money on a license that has to run on an underpowered machine? RAM is cheap, SQL Server licenses are not: let your license work on a good machine.

Will it make a huge difference? It depends: if the server is already under heavy memory pressure, you will see a big improvement. Even if memory pressure is not the worst issue on your server, you will see a big difference for those queries that access data not used frequently: if you don’t have enough RAM, that data will probably live outside the buffer cache and will have to be read from disk. RAM is cheap, faster disks are incredibly expensive: let the RAM work and the disks sit idle.

That said, what I see in the wild is lots and lots of production servers with 8 GB of RAM or less. Many of those servers have been installed a few years ago, when RAM was pricier than today, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t upgrade them now. Upgrading the CPU has an impact on the SQL Server licensing, while adding more RAM doesn’t require additional licensing fees. See? RAM is cheap.

On the other hand, we have many servers running on virtual machines at hosting/cloud facilities, where you pay for machine specs. Something has to change here as well: hosting companies are offering too few RAM in their machines and the configurations with more memory are crazily expensive. Dear hosting/cloud companies, open your eyes: RAM is ridiculously cheap!

Call to action:

Did I mention that RAM is cheap? Check your servers: are they running on less than € 200 of RAM? It’s time to upgrade NOW!

Blame it on Connect


Connect-logo-NewSome weeks ago I blogged about the discouraging signals coming from Connect and my post started a discussion that didn’t go very far. Instead it died quite soon: somebody commented the post and ranted about his Connect experience. I’m blogging again about Connect, but I don’t want to start a personal war against Microsoft: today I want to look at what happened from a new perspective.

What I find disappointing is a different aspect of the reactions from the SQL Server community, which made me think that maybe it’s not only Connect’s fault.

My post was in the headlines of SQL Server Central and was also included in the weekly links that Brent Ozar sends out with the Brent Ozar Unlimited newsletter, so it got a lot of views that day. Looking at my wordpress stats, I see that thousands of people read my post (to be fair, I can only say that they opened the page, I cannot tell whether they read the post or not) and some hundreds of people clicked the link to the original Connect item that started my rant.

Nobody upvoted the item. Yup, nobody.

Ok, very few people love the Data Collector and I rarely see it used in the wild, so, yes: I can understand how nobody cares about a bug in it. But, hey, it’s not my only Connect item that got no love from the community. Here’s another one, involving data corruption when using linked servers. See? Only 9 upvotes.

Here’s another one yet, that involves the setup program. No upvotes except mine.

What’s the point I want to drive? The voting system and the comments are the only way we have to improve the content on Connect. If we disregard the tools we have in our hands, there’s no use in complaining about the feedback system at all.

We need more community engagement

Filing our own items on Connect is not enough: we have to get involved in the platform to make our voice heard in more ways. When we find an item that we’d like to get fixed, we should definitely upvote it. At the same time, when we find items that are poorly described or are related to an issue that can be solved without bothering the support team, we should interact with the OP and ask for clarification or provide an alternative answer. When appropriate, we should also downvote poor questions.

Some popular Q&A sites like StackOverflow have built successful models based on this paradigm, like it or not. Moreover, the “points” system has proved successful at driving user engagement, which is something totally missing from Connect: you file your complaint and never come back.

Some online communities have moderators, who can play a fundamental role in the community. They can flag inappropriate items, edit and format questions and comments. The can also close questions or put them on hold. If part of the problem with Connect is the signal/noise ratio, more power to moderators is a possible answer.

Can PASS help?

In this post, Kevin Kline says that one of the ways that PASS should improve itself could be playing a better role in advocacy, telling Microsoft what are the features we really would like to see in SQL Server vNext and what are the bugs we really need to get fixed in the product. The idea is that Microsoft would (or at least should) listen more attentively to a whole community of users rather than to single individuals.

It’s a great idea and I think that PASS should really go for it. Unfortunately, something like that will never substitute Connect, because it’s a platform to collect feedback for all Microsoft products and not only for SQL Server. Moreover, how PASS is planning to gather the user feedback is still unclear: would it be using a voting system like Connect’s? How would that be different from Connect itself then?

Speed matters

Another thing that I think drives people away from Connect is its dreadful slowness. Connect is slow and nobody uses slow sites. It seems to be getting better lately, but we’re still not there. StackOverflow is probably using a fraction of Microsoft’s hardware and money to run all the StackExchange network at the speed of light. Part of its success is the responsiveness and Connect has a long way to go to catch up.

Bottom line

Connect has its issues, we all know it, but it’s not all Microsoft’s fault. The individual users can do something to improve the quality of the feedback and they definitely should. Everybody can start now! More votes means more attention, less votes means less love. Simple and straightforward.

On the other hand, the communities can contribute too. How they can contribute is not clear yet, but some communities (like PASS) have lots of people that volunteer and make their voice heard. It would really be a shame if that voice got lost.

Microsoft, please do your part. Users and communities want to contribute: help yourself by helping them and you won’t regret it. Responsiveness is the keyword here: we need a more responsive site and more responsive support engineers.

Who’s up to the challenge?