I was talking with someone recently about features in SQL Server and they mentioned that partitioning was something DBAs should know. It's only available in the Enterprise and Data Center editions for production use, but my friend noted that it works in Developer edition and felt there was no excuse for a DBA not being familiar with a feature that's been out since SQL Server 2005, nearly four versions removed from its introduction.
I can understand that, but if you don't have the ability to actually tune large data sets and see the impact of partitioning in a larger, production environment, it's easy to dismiss this as a feature that doesn't provide many benefits in a smaller situation. The same could be said for clustering, SSIS imports, or any number of features that aren't often used. So how do you actually learn to get some experience with these features?
The first thing you need to do is get a copy of SQL Server Developer Edition and install it as a virtual machine on your primary computer. I use VMWare, but you could use Virtual PC, Hyper-V, or VirtualBox as well. The important thing to do is have a sandbox to play in and a machine you can easily copy, clone, or destroy as needed. I would recommend a base install of Windows and SQL Server DE, and then copy that for a machine you can experiment with.
One way to learn is duplicate the work that someone else has done. Make a copy of your virtual machine and then implement partitioning as described in an article. See if you can duplicate the way the author used the feature and get the same results. If you can't, find out why, and if you can, experiment with the feature and try to improve the author's implementation. The SQLServerCentral Stairway Series is a great way to do this in SSIS, SSRS, or other features that you may never have seen. Set aside an hour or two a week to learn some feature. After a month or two, you might be surprised what you've learned.
The most important is to understand how a feature works and gain some experience in using it. You might not become an expert, but being able to talk about the feature, and explain how you might use it in a situation comes from practice. That ability might get you the project or job that allows you to become an expert over time.
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