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Heard on .NET Rocks!: Kimberly Tripp on SQL Server

Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell interview Kimberly Tripp to discuss SQL Server 2005 SP1 and more.

am the host of ".NET Rocks!", an Internet audio talk show for .NET developers online at www.dotnetrocks.com and msdn.microsoft.com/dotnetrocks. My co-host Richard Campbell and I interview the movers and shakers in the .NET community. We now have over 180 shows archived online, and we publish a new show every Monday morning. For more history of the show check out the May/June 2004 issue of CoDe Magazine, in which the first column appeared.

In show #181 Richard and I talked with the always mind-bending Kimberly Tripp about improvements in SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 1 (SP1), converting Oracle users to SQL server, Virtual Server, and more.

Carl Franklin: So Kim, what you have been thinking about and talking about and working on lately?

Kimberly Tripp: A variety of different things actually, mostly related to content and new resources around the release of SP1 for SQL Server 2005 and a lot of the new products, some of which haven't been fully announced yet. I know Richard knows a little bit about some of these, but there are just some really exciting things going on in terms of SQL Server and database development and even testing and QA (Quality Assurance).

Richard Campbell: Absolutely.

Kimberly Tripp: There are some exciting things that I think if people stay tuned and look at some of the announcements that may be come out around TechEd, I think you will start seeing some exciting future developments for database developers, and testing, and quality assurance, and just all sorts of cool stuff coming down the pipeline. So, I started to get a little bit involved with that and I just finished a 54-page lab on database mirroring and SP1. So, people that go to TechEd can do a hands-on lab that is very extensive and we actually are going through quality assurance on a DVD that you will be able to walk away with to...

Carl Franklin: Wow!

Kimberly Tripp: …to basically reproduce the database mirroring lab and use the VPC environment for learning. So, I just finished that and I have got three sessions, a couple of chalk talks, and a pre-con at TechEd so I am kind of...

Richard Campbell: Ouch!

Kimberly Tripp: …rounding out that stuff, and so it's just—I'm in kind of, major resource mode right now.

Carl Franklin: Right.

Kimberly Tripp: And then of course, I am teaching in my spare time. I just taught—this was really cool, you guys would kind of like this—I did an event last week that was for what we jokingly called "SQL skeptics." And it was just a fun name but it was really for people that were skeptical of whether or not SQL Server was a viable platform.

Carl Franklin: Huh...?

Kimberly Tripp: …for large VLDB production cases.

Richard Campbell: (Laughing)

Kimberly Tripp: No seriously, it was mostly targeted towards Oracle experts that were architects in the Oracle space.

Richard Campbell: So this wasn't about whether the databases are the right tool for this, but specifically Microsoft SQL Server.

Kimberly Tripp: Exactly, exactly. And just telling people that are really knowledgeable about databases and have a really strong background in databases, [and] really just kind of proving the point that SQL Server is a viable platform and has an amazing set of tools and resources that can—if it's not necessarily the exact same feature—it might be able to still do some of the things that they were doing in Oracle, for example, but just differently. So I mean, just giving people with a different mindset and a different architecture and just like I said, a different way of doing things and approaching problems, and there were big discussions about grid-based computing and Oracle rack.

Carl Franklin: Probably a lot of numbers being thrown around too, right?

Kimberly Tripp: Yeah, but numbers aren't that scary. I mean, SQL Server can play with the big boys in terms of transaction processing. And I think the things that were the most interesting was just architectural and style differences; that the mindset of an Oracle person to a certain extent is one way, and the mindset of a SQL person is different, and I am not saying that Oracle is all evil or SQL is the best thing on the planet. It's just—sometimes what it takes is thinking outside the box, looking at the problem in a different way, and you can find a solution that isn't feature-by-feature exactly the same, but yet still performs well, stays available, and so forth. So, it was a fun, different mindset kind of class.

I actually just got an e-mail today that said something like, "I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions around 'shared nothing' and 'shared everything'. I was pleased to note that Microsoft religiously believed in the 'shared nothing' architecture and why it felt that it was the right way to address the data issue." That school of thought is almost forgotten when you work with Oracle for a while. So, that was in an e-mail that I got just today. So, it's interesting, and like I said, it's just a different approach to the problem. And sometimes the design is what makes something work, not so much having XYZ feature to do it.

Carl Franklin: I got a question for you Kim. Do any of the speakers that speak against you in the same time slot at TechEd ever, like, send bombs to your house and stuff and give you death threats and...?


Kimberly Tripp: It's so funny. I have some of the funniest stories about either the same time slot or—but the TechEd organizers have been doing some pretty ruthless things to us over the years. Like this year in a very hot time slot. Okay, so there are lots of kind of jokes on how sessions tend to score better when they are later in the week, and the best time slot is XYZ, and so there are all these theories, theories on how to have a great session, and...

Carl Franklin: Right.

Kimberly Tripp: I do have to admit that 8:00 a.m. in the morning is not the best time slot.

Carl Franklin: Yeah.

Kimberly Tripp: You don't get as many people...

Carl Franklin: Yeah, for anybody.

Kimberly Tripp: People are hung over.

Carl Franklin: That's right.

Richard Campbell: It's TechEd.

Carl Franklin: You don't want to be there; they don't want to be there.

Kimberly Tripp: Exactly, 8:00 a.m. is totally not the best time of day; so it's really funny. There is this great time slot that I have this year which is Thursday, last time slot of the day before everybody goes to the party, it's like 4 o'clock, 5 o'clock something like that...

Carl Franklin: Nice.

Kimberly Tripp: And they put Steve Reilly in exactly the same time slot and I think Mark Russinovich as well; so they have got these three probably pretty large sessions, all going at the same time by speakers that give each other grief all the time. So, it's just funny. So I think they're given us a run for our money this year.

Richard Campbell: Making you work for it.

Carl Franklin: Yeah.

Richard Campbell: So, Kim you mentioned Service Pack 1 for SQL Server 2005, and the way you talked about it, it's not like, this is just a patch of bugs from the RTM; There are new features in Service Pack 1.

Kimberly Tripp: Yeah, yeah totally. Two of the features that got a lot criticism when SQL 2005 shipped were database mirroring and what they were calling at the time—Oh! my God! I don't even remember what it was called—the SQL Express, something. It was basically like a little Management Studio-light applet and it was meant for querying and Microsoft made the decision to not allow production use of database mirroring and they chose not to ship this little Management Studio-light applet, mostly because the applet that did exist at the time really was a little bit Spartan. So, it wasn't that it wasn't robust, I mean, it was really more that, it was just—it didn't have a lot of features, it was like this really just limited little query tool. You go in, you would execute a query; it didn't even have all the keystrokes of Management Studio. So, I mean, it was just an environment that I think those of us that used it went, well, okay, if I have to run one query real quickly, and not do anything else, I might use it, but outside of that it's not an environment that I really want to spend that much time in. And they realized that and they said, let's not ship it.

And then database mirroring is one of my favorite features. I even liked it at the RTM timeframe, but they decided not to support it for production use mostly because—and if you think about it, it makes total sense—if it's a feature for high availability, you want to make sure that it has been extensively tested in a variety of different circumstances and has gone through a lot of failovers. And in terms of all of their early adopters of the product, having the system set up for high availability is one of the last things you do per se; you have to get the application working. You have to use the new features and design things, and so as they (Microsoft) kept getting closer and closer to ship, the number of customers that had actually fully-tested failover scenarios was pretty low and they were kind of going, "Well, do we really feel comfortable in this going out as a production feature without more testing?" and so they made the decision. I thought this was a great decision to not pull the whole thing from the product, but to leave it in the product, allow you to use it, allow you to prototype with it, and allow you to test for it, and all you needed to do was turn on a fully-documented trace flag. And the whole feature was documented in [the] RTM—so that's cool. And nobody is going to go [into] full production use the day that a product ships. So, it's like—get it out there—get people working with it. 99% of the functionality was good; nothing ever ships perfect, right? I mean, if it did, we would all be out of a job.

So, seriously though, every software product, every product, every company on every platform, there are bugs. So, it shipped out of the box. It was in a good state. I really enjoyed using it and thoroughly learning it, so that when SP-1 shipped it was like, yeah, this is now supported [for] production use. They didn't really change all that much. Everything that you did, works really well and all they did really, in terms of enhancing it—in addition, yes, they fixed bugs—but in addition they added something called the Database Mirroring Monitor, which is a way for you to get some insight into when you last received activity from the principle, if you are in this kind of high availability configuration and, just all sorts of good stuff.

So, I was really pleased, SP1 came out and—I know some people have had issues with SP1 not installing, even I did on one of the machines that I was working on. I found this kind of a cool tip if any of you guys have struggled; if you go into Control Panel and go to the SQL Server support files and you repair the support files, that almost always has solved my SP1 failure installation. [So if] I failed to install for SP1, I kind of fix it by repairing the support files through this little thing that's an Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel. But outside of that, I haven't really had any problems with SP1. I have been pretty pleased with it, and those are the two major things that were in SP1. And then, of course, if you go the knowledge base, you can see the whole fix list of issues and bugs and so forth, and there will be more.

Carl Franklin: That's cool.

Kimberly Tripp: That's what keeps it interesting, right?

Carl Franklin: Right.

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