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I Blame Brent Ozar | Mike Hillwig
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I Blame Brent Ozar


August 11, 2011 by Mike Hillwig

Yes, I blame Brent Ozar.

A little more than two years ago, I started following a few people on Twitter who knew about SQL Server. I must have been looking for answers to some particular problem. One of those people was Brent Ozar (twitter | blog). The other was Tom LaRock (twitter | blog). And I started reading their blogs religiously. And I learned a ton. One of the things I learned from both of them was that there is an entire community of SQL Server people out there who are willing to help younger DBAs develop their skills. And they don’t ask for much in return. I’ve tried to contribute what I can to that community.

In most major cities, there is a local user’s group of SQL Server users and they get together regularly to discuss particular topics (Free training!) In metro Boston, we have a great group run by Adam Machanic (twitter | blog). And that’s where I got to meet both Brent and Tom, who have spoken at our local group. And along the way over the past two years, everywhere I go, I have met people I learn from. It’s not because they’re getting paid for it. It’s because they’re just as passionate about SQL Server as I am. And they love to talk about it just as much as I do.

There is so much to learn, and every time I hear someone speak at an event, I learn tons. That’s when I started asking myself a question: What can other people learn from me?  I’ve not been a DBA my entire career, and I haven’t been focused solely on SQL Server until very recently in my career. I’ve had the title of DBA for over five years, but I’ve continued to manage applications and servers, not just databases. A few months ago, I spoke at SQL Saturday Boston about my experience virtualizing SQL Server at my previous employer. I had a good story to tell, but I’m not the most knowledgable person on the subject, and there are certainly people who know more than me. But my audience gave me some great feedback.

Three weeks ago, I started a new contract position and it hit me. I’m working with and for two really good DBAs. My boss’ boss knows a ton about SQL Server, and she’s a brilliant woman. I was sitting in her office last week and we were talking about the environment. She was telling me about performance problems due to transaction logs having too many virtual log files. I have to admit that I had never heard of a VLF until then. She asked what I thought of the environment so far. That’s when I have an epiphany. I was telling her that the current process of creating a new maintenance plan on each new server for backups, transaction log backups, index maintenance, updating statistics, and the like weren’t going to scale. Sure, it works today with three production servers. But at ten, fifteen, or even twenty servers, that’s going to be incredibly difficult. You see, I do have something to bring to the table. Somehow, she trusted that I knew what I was talking about and said “Make it scale.” They’re planning on adding countless SQL Servers in the coming months and need every process to be repeatable and scalable. I’m working on replacing every maintenance plan with a SQL Agent job that has a script that can be repeated on every server.

I’ve worked in IT operations most of my career. I’m a nut for automating manual processes. If I have to do something more than twice, you’d better believe that I’m going to look for a way to automate that process so that it can either be done in less time or be done by a junior staff member, such as a help desk technician. And that’s the stuff I’m good at. Oh, and I’m a complete nut for consistency in my servers. I believe that’s the key to stability in an environment. We manage by rules and not exceptions.

For the past week, I’ve been reading up on master/target relationships with the SQL Server Agent. There isn’t a whole lot out there, and it seems perfect for the environment I’m managing. And this environment is just screaming for policy-based management. That’s something I have to learn.

Saturday, I’m speaking at SQL Saturday 79 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I’m not a bad speaker and I want to get a lot better. That’s my opportunity to give back to the community, and this is what I have to teach other people.

Over the past two years, Brent has become a friend and mentor, and I take every opportunity I can to hear him speak or just to hang out with him. As I was looking for a new position, I had someone in the SQL Server community who could help me once again with some pretty good advice.

What’s next for me? From Three to Three Hundred  Servers: Making Your SQL Server Environment Scale. Look for that at the next SQL Saturday in Boston.

  • Hey!

    Glad to see you working hard on the automation front. I’d love to chat with you sometime about your strategies on scaling. I’ve got a little experience in that department. At Dell we have around 5k sql server installs and I’d be happy to share my experiences with you.

  • Nice! Keep automating. It’s one of the characteristics that separates an average DBA from a great DBA.

  • Good job, Mike! Moving into the speaker ranks is a great move. It forces you to learn more about the subject, and helps build the SQL Server community. Good luck on Saturday!

  • We maintained 100’s of servers using maintenance plans. And it was a major PITA. They don’t handle exceptions well (all databases except for this one and that one) And the biggest problem of all IMHO is the fact that they don’t have a query-able interface so you can’t collect info for a repository or report on standardised settings etc. And since you have to create them manually every time, maintaining consistency which you like so much (And I couldn’t agree more) is just not possible. We switched to Ola Hallengren’s solution btw.

  • @andre I’m in an environment where we host software for customers. It’s an already-established Oracle shop, and they plan on growing a SQL Server practice very quickly. EVERYTHING has to be able to scale. And EVERYTHING needs to be consistent if it’s going to scale well.

    @robert I have a story about a former coworker who hated to go on vacation because every time he’d go away, he’d come back to find that I’d automated yet one more of his processes.

    @glenn I’m not ready to be a full time speaker, but I want to be able to have that club in my bag. It’s one of those skills that’s pretty marketable.

  • We all go through that process. I am glad to see you have come to realize that we all want to hear what you have to say. Keep it up. If you ever get down to Houston and want to speak to our group here, I will make it happen. Keep automating and thinking about scale!

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