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An Interview with Brad McGehee - Part 1

By Robert Pearl,

Allow me to start this column with a True or False question.

"Database engine error 2540 means you will most likely be restoring a database shortly?" Answer: True. Explanation: Database engine error 2540 indicates problems that cannot be repaired automatically in a database, such as corrupt metadata, Page Free Space page corruption, or corruptions in critical system base tables. The most common cause of this problem is hardware-related. If you get this error, be prepared to identify the hardware problem, correct it, and then restore your database.

If the above question seems so familiar, that's because you've probably seen it before. Better known as SQL Server Stumper No. 18, it is one in a series of stumpers appearing in RedGate's banner ad campaigns on many SQL sites, including our beloved SQLServerCentral.com. The studious looking fellow, whose picture accompanies the ads, is none other than Brad McGehee – MVP, an accomplished writer, mentor, public speaker, active blogger, and lest we forget, RedGate's point-man as Director of DBA Education. He specializes in SQL Server administration and performance tuning. Brad was also the founder of SQL-Server-Performance.com (he sold the website in 2006), a leading SQL Server site dedicated to performance and optimization.

Brad's been real busy as of late, traveling around the world, working on his new book (more on that later), doing speaking engagements, and most recently attended the MVP Global Summit in Seattle. (Check out this video for a promotional MS ad – you can see Brad in the front row and other notables declaring "I'm a PC and an MVP!") Having traveled over 150,000 miles to 24 locations in frequent flyer miles (as of this writing), and calling Hawaii his permanent vacation home, I was fortunate enough to catch up with the ubiquitous Mr. McGehee, and bring you the first in this two-part MVP interview series.

In part one, we learn about Brad's background and beginnings in the SQL Server world, as well as how his collection of documentation, scripts, articles and related SQL Server performance info evolved into one of the most successful industry web-sites today.

We also have Brad share with us here, his Top Ten Feature List for SQL Server 2008.

Robert Pearl: Tell us about your background. How did you end up in the SQL Server industry?

Brad McGehee: I got my college degree in Economics and Business Administration, but when it came time to find a job after graduating; my first job was as a computer salesman and trainer. It was the summer of 1982, about 6 months after the IBM PC first came out. PCs were still very new then, and my little experience with them got me the job. My first exposure to any database software was a database program called T.I.M., which was written in the version of BASIC that was included in the ROM of the IBM PC. The program was very buggy, but it was my first exposure to any form of databases.

Over the next few years, I learned to use a lot more "desktop" databases, including dBase, R:Base, FoxPro, Access, and several others you would never have heard of. At this time, working with databases was only a small part of my regular job.

It wasn't until I began working full-time as a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) that I began to learn how to use SQL Server. I started with version 6.0, and have worked with it ever since. Eventually, I got my first job as a full-time DBA, and have been a full-time DBA ever since.

RP: What inspired your idea to come up with SQL-Server-Performance.com? Tell us how it was founded.

Brad: I had started a new job as a DBA with a very large company, and the first thing they had me work on was performance-related SQL Server problems. At that time, my performance tuning experience was limited, so I had to do a lot of self-learning, very fast. As I searched the Internet, read books and articles, I started collecting performance-related information in a large Word document. The Word document got larger and larger, making it harder and harder to find the information I was looking for. To save time, I first decided to put all of the content I had into HTML pages on a local web server, and use a local search engine to make it easier to find what I was looking for. Once I started this task, I discovered that it was a lot of work. I also realized that with just a little extra work, that I could put the content on the Internet so others could find and use the same information I had found. At that time, there was very little SQL Server performance information on the Internet. I didn't have any special goals when I started SQL-Server-Performance.Com, other than to make it easier for me to find the information I had collected, and to perhaps share what I had learned with others.

RP: What was your reaction to the enormous popularity and traffic to the site?

Brad: I was really surprised to find that almost immediately after I launched the website that it became very popular. It got well indexed in the search engines, and the search engines were driving a lot of visitors to the website. This acted as positive reinforcement for me, so I continued to research SQL Server performance issues, and to publish what I learned. As the website grew in content, so did the page views. Before I knew it, the website had become the most popular SQL Server website on the Internet.

RP: Take us through some of the site's beginnings, travails, and evolution.

Brad: When I created the website, I used standard HTML and ASP code for everything. I did not use any sort of content management system. As the website grew, this became a problem as I had to manually do all of the maintenance. This was especially a problem when I did two different website redesigns over the six years I ran the website. At some point, I begin to spend more time maintaining the website than creating new content, which was not my goal.

RP: When did you realize it was time to move on, and put up the site for sale?

Brad: After running the website for six years, I got to the point where the site's maintenance, and the management of the advertisers, took so much of my time that it was no longer any more fun running the website. At the same time, I was getting bored of the DBA job I had (also for the same six years). So I decided to make a major life change. I sold the website, quit my job, and moved myself, and family, to Hawaii. I figured if you are going to make a change in your life, it might as well be a big change.

RP: What did you do after you quit your job and sold the website?

Brad: Shortly after I sold the website and quit my job, the owners of Red Gate Software approached me about doing some consulting work for them. They had been my second advertiser on the website, and they had eventually become the largest advertiser. I had known them for many years, and we had a good business relationship. After consulting for about six months or so, they offered me a full-time job as Red Gate's Director of DBA Education.

RP: Tell us more about your role as Director of DBA Education.

Brad: Essentially, the focus of my job is education for the SQL Server community. I speak at conferences, TechFests, Code Camps, SQL Saturdays, and many user group meetings. I also write custom books for Red Gate which are given away free in the form of e-books and printed books. In addition, I contribute to the SQLServerCentral.Com and Simple-Talk.Com websites.

RP: As a prolific writer on the subject of SQL Server, talk about some of your already published works, and perhaps give us a preview of those to come.

Brad: My most recent books include: "How to Become a Profiler Master," How to Become an Exceptional DBA," and "Brad's Sure Guide to SQL Server 2008." All my books can be downloaded free, along with other free e-books, at www.sqlservercentral.com/Books.

I am currently working on a new book called "High Performance SQL Server Index Maintenance," and I am doing a second edition of the book, "How to Become an Exceptional DBA." Hopefully they will come out late summer or early fall.

RP: Among your writings, you have published "Brad's Sure Guide to SQL Server 2008: The Top Ten New Features for DBAs" Please tell us about some of them here, and how they will benefit the DBA.

(I didn't know he would actually list ALL Ten, but the more the merrier, and a great overview for our DBA audience, still thinking about when and why to upgrade to SQL 2008.)

Brad: While each DBA has their favorite new features in SQL Server 2008, my list includes:

  • Management Studio Improvements – bringing with it IntelliSense and a debugger for T-SQL, the ability to run multi-server queries as well as improved performance and numerous other enhancements, SSMS 2008 could well start to rebuild the tool's somewhat-tarnished reputation in the DBA community
  • Policy-Based Management – every DBA knows the frustration of trying to manage tens of servers, the configuration of each one inevitably being subtly different from that of another. Policy-based management can ease a lot of this pain.
  • Data Compression – the first immutable law of database administration is that databases will grow (and grow) over time. SQL 2008 enterprise brings with it data and backup compression, thus reducing physical file sizes as well as disk I/O.
  • Resource Governor – everyone knows it's not "best practice," but most DBAs, nevertheless, deal with situations whereby a SQL Server supporting OLTP applications is also used extensively for reporting. Often this can cause resource contention to the point where production activity is affected. Resource Governor promises to be a valuable tool in curtailing this problem.
  • Performance Data Collector – historically, DBAs have used a mishmash of different tools to get performance data out of SQL Server, including Profiler, System Monitor, DMVs, and more. Performance Data Collector is one of the tools that start to address this issue, moving more towards a single-location, single-format model of collecting, storing and analyzing performance data.

RP: What? You say there are only 5 of Brad's top 10 SQL 2008 features listed above? Here's another stumper for you: How do you keep a captive SQL DBA audience in suspense? Answer: Tell you next time, when you come back to read Part II of my exclusive interview with Director of DBA Education and MVP Brad McGehee.

Next, we will continue to bring you the remaining 5 of Brad's top 10 SQL Server 2008 features, his thoughts on the industry trends for SQL Server, and some career advice for DBA's struggling to stay above water in the current marketplace. You can be sure, that it will be exceptional!

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