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Cloud Skills

By Andy Warren,

Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is away on sabbatical.

I was chatting with a friend last week about the direction of SQL Server and that led to a discussion of the future of the SQL Server DBA. Is it bright, or cloudy, or both?

Clearly Microsoft continues to invest in SQL Server, perhaps most heavily and obviously with Hekaton, and before that with Availability Groups, with no lack of marketing and buzz to accompany it. It may not be the feature that you or I wanted most, but it is a new feature, which means new skills to learn and new skills to apply. It’s also reassuring to the CIO or technology manager who is trying to decide whether to renew the enterprise license agreement for SQL Server.

Where I find it confusing – and disconcerting – is with the cloud aspect of SQL Server, and when I say cloud I’m referring to SQL Database on Azure and not a SQL Server instance running in a VM in the cloud. The cloud promises to fix what the weakest part of our game is in my view; the ability to scale-out. That’s good. The rest of the story though, is confusing. Tools and capabilities made SQL Server a success in the market place, but the cloud version seems to lack them. Is that because it’s still a version 1.x (even if they don’t call it that) and we’ll get there? Or is this a sea change in what SQL Server will be in the future?

It’s hard to tell. The cynical part of me thinks that this is a dumbing down of the product and the DBA role, something that sounds good when the sales person tells the CIO they don’t need a DBA if they use the cloud version. The cynical part of me thinks the cloud is built to appeal to developers, who indeed built great stuff but don’t always want to sweat the realities of disaster recovery, reporting, and ETL. The hopeful part of me thinks that we’ll mange local and cloud instances using the same tools and skillsets that we’ve built years building and that we’ll choose where to host based on cost, scale, and other factors. The worrier part of me thinks we’ll end up moving to the cloud because it’s cool and a sense that the boxed product is headed for the dustbin.

All of that comes to the forefront when you and I think about our career. Every time a new version is released it’s healthy and useful to think about the changes and what we need to learn to stay current. It’s hard to know which changes are going to be worth learning, but at least we can assess and pick. The challenge I see with the cloud is that there just isn’t much to learn so far. It’s the work of an hour to set up an Azure account, a database, and start using it, mumbling the whole time about the limitations we hit as we do it. Then what? There is no exam to drive learning, no clear road map to show how the two products will converge or diverge, so what do we do to prepare for tomorrow? Or is there really nothing to do to be prepared?

I’m still bullish on the future of SQL Server. I built a career on it and that has worked out well. At the same time I don’t want to wind up with the mainframe and VB6’s who hang on to those final installs hoping to make it to retirement without having to learn (or re-learn) skills on a whole new platform. I wish Microsoft would show us a better roadmap not just for the products but for the skill sets we’ll need to use them.

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