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On The Road Again...Part I

By Robert Pearl,

(an interview with Raj Gill, SQL2K5 Roadshow Presenter)

As we all finally rev up for the long awaited release of SQL Server 2005 coming this November, we're on the road again, as the Get Ready for SQL Server 2005 Roadshow continues its tour to cities across America. For those of you, like myself, who attended the Administration Sessions, you may have had the pleasure of watching and listening to expert presenter, Raj Gill, CTO and co-founder of Scalability Experts. As a premier Microsoft Partner, Scalability Experts specializes in large-scale SQL Server implementations and has been at the forefront of spreading the word and getting us ready to migrate to SQL2K5. They have just received their second excellence award from Microsoft for advanced infrastructure solutions.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Raj in between Roadshows and ask him a series of questions on his favorite topic, MS SQL Server. Call him SQL Server evangelist, his goal is to get the message out there to SQL Server users and non-users alike, that if your looking for an end-to-end enterprise BI and database platform, SQL2K5 is indeed the tool of choice.

Following is the first part of this two part interview series, where Raj talks a little about his background, the company he co-founded, the on-going Roadshow, BI, what's new in SQL2K5 and how it can offer customers real world business solutions.

RP: You’ve been in the industry a long time; give us a little background how you started out in the field, what was your original focus in technology, and when and why you co-founded Scalability Experts.

RG: I first became familiar with SQL Server version 4.0, and I've always enjoyed stretching the limits of what can be done with large amounts of data. Early on in my career, while working with large datasets stored in VAX/VMS systems, I was able to create a Windows-based solution to analyze and report on these datasets using SQL Server 6.5 and Visual Basic.

Next, I worked for Microsoft as part of the SQL Server Support team, where I gained a great deal of knowledge about SQL Server product line. I interacted with the SQL Server development team and was able to take part in some of the largest SQL deployments during the release of SQL Server 7.0 and SQL Server 2000.

Since the release of the version 7.0 and then 2000, SQL Server has been quickly penetrating the enterprise marketplace. I saw an opportunity to create a focused team of expert consultants to help deploy, scale, and architect some of the most challenging and fast-growing SQL Server-based solutions. In January 2001, I co-founded Scalability Experts.

RP: Tell us about Scalability Experts, and their core business model, and function. Does SE just specialize in large-scale implementations?

RG: During the past four years, SE has developed and deployed some of the most advanced large-scale SQL Server-based architectures for complex customer applications. We are continuously focused on R&D, which allows our consultants to keep up to date with the newest technologies surrounding SQL Server. For instance, several of our consultants have recently published information about their involvement in Project REAL, a collaborative effort with Microsoft that tests out the BI capabilities of SQL Server 2005 with real data and real challenges.

Project REAL link http://www.microsoft.com/sql/bi/ProjectREAL/default.mspx

We have a range of services and solutions, and we focus on assisting our customers with three core goals:

  • Support the existing infrastructure—through training workshops and knowledge transfers and by analyzing the SQL Server environment for scalability, high availability, and capacity planning.
  • Reduce cost—We can assist customers in migrating to SQL Server, consolidation, or monitoring solutions which can all greatly reduce the TCO of the database environment.
  • Grow business—When a company is ready to scale their SQL Server environment, we are ready to assist with from planning to implementation with a variety of BI and OLTP services.

Our typical customer has a multi-terabyte SQL Server deployment in a complex web of integrated applications. Over the last few years we have also seen tremendous growth in small to medium-enterprise customers who want to be proactive and build scalable solutions using SQL Server. We work very hard to please our customers, and just received our second excellence award from Microsoft for advanced infrastructure solutions.

RP:“Get Ready for SQL2005” is the overall theme of the RoadShows, and SQL Server 2005 Readiness something that your company focuses on as well. Talk about what it takes to get clients ready and up to speed on SQL2K5.

RG: SQL Server 2005 is generating tremendous excitement in the marketplace. When a customer first expresses interest in SQL Server 2005, I make sure that they are familiar with the new features available in the release and I recommend that they study the architecture of their SQL environment. After an Architecture Design Review is completed, the customer can identify business requirements and can often match them with specific features in SQL Server 2005.

At Scalability Experts, we are also very excited about the upcoming release. We are one of only three SQL Server 2005 Expert Content Providers for Microsoft, and have been busy 'getting ready' in our offices as well.

RP: How does one become a technical presenter? Did you evolve into this role or was it something you envisioned becoming?

RG: I never set out to become a technical presenter. I spend most of my time consulting, and I enjoy interacting with customers, understanding their needs and helping them build long-term solutions. Due to my unique consulting experiences, I have learned a great deal. I try to share this hands-on information during my presentations. When I talk about SQL Server, whether in a one-on-one consulting setting or during a technical presentation, I really enjoy myself and I think that shows.

RP: How did you become involved in the SQL Server Roadshows, and get the honor of presenting the admin track.

RG: During the alpha stages of SQL Server 2005, Scalability Experts was invited to join Microsoft's ASCEND program. This program gathered SQL Server experts to develop expert level content.

The RoadShow was a natural progression of Microsoft's effort to get SQL Server 2005 information out to a broader audience. I think SQL Server magazine has done a tremendous job in organizing these events and attracting large audiences everywhere. It's truly an honor to be delivering presentations at these road shows and I get to share this honor with two other SE presenters, Joe Yong (Chief Architect) and Rick Heiges (Consultant).

RP: Do you think the Road shows have been successful? (In getting the SQL Server populace ready for SQL2K5)What would you say is the overall success rate?

RG: Absolutely! The amount of concentrated information that you can learn in one day is amazing. By dividing the sessions into DBA, BI, and development tracks, the attendees can really focus on their interests. Overall, I would give the roadshow an A+ for success in helping educate people about this release.

RP: What do/did you enjoy most about the SQL Roadshows? What is your favorite part?

RG: My favorite part of the Roadshow is a series of true/false questions that I ask at the end of the DBA track. The questions are all a little tricky, so the audience gets very involved and this has started some great discussions on a variety of topics.

(OK, if you think you're ready for SQL2K5, why not take the challenge and test your knowledge of the new SQL Server Engine (click link) - but don't cheat and bring the answers if you're still planning on attending the Roadshow :-)

RP: Which is your favorite presentation and why?

RG: My favorite session is called An 'under the hood' tour of SQL Server 2005 that I present during the DBA track. This session really shows the amount of hard work and innovation that has gone into SQL Server 2005. My hat is off to all those hard working Microsoft developers for building such a robust database product! SQL Server 2005 is truly a major release and there are a TON of engine enhancements.

One of the unfortunate aspects of presenting is that you don't get as much time as you would like to sit in on other presentations. I have heard many great comments about all of the presentations.

RP: What are some of the most memorable moments of any of the RoadShows that you attended?Where?

RG: There are a couple of roadshow moments that are quite memorable. In Chicago, there were people so eager to get a seat at a presentation that a fight almost broke out! Luckily, there was room for everyone, and no one got hurt.

Another great memory that I have from the roadshows were the 'Ask the Expert' sessions that I shared with Bill Baker, General Manager of SQL Server Business Intelligence at Microsoft. Despite his title and experience, he was down to earth and very honest in his answers. Of course it was also a lot of fun, too. Bill has a great sense of humor and would make the audience laugh with almost every response.

RP: What are some of the toughest questions you were asked about SQL2K5? Was there anything about SQL2K5 you didn’t know about??

RG: Although there were always a few tough technical questions that required follow-up, the toughest set of questions seemed to deal with licensing -- especially early on when many of the decisions were not yet made. The attendees wanted to know if specific features were available in Standard Edition or if it was something that was Enterprise level.

RP: What were some of the biggest user complaints about MS SQL Server? Does SQL2K5 address them?

RG: The attendees that I came in contact with really were focused on what's new. I rarely heard complaints about the current release, but when we discussed new features like non-modal windows, scripting actions from dialog boxes, and high availability upgrades, the attendees expressed their happiness at the fact that Microsoft has addressed their pain points in the new release.

RP: You speak about getting the message out there and changing the mindset of how people view Microsoft SQL Server in the industry. Tell us about this.

RG: SQL Server never truly received the recognition that it deserves as an enterprise ready data management platform. Microsoft led the industry with the release of SQL Server 7.0 which included basic auto tuning and auto management capabilities. These features were significantly extended in SQL Server 2000 where the server is able to automatically track and respond to changing workload demands and available system resources.

With SQL Server 2005, the boundaries have been significantly stretched with SQL Server dynamic auto tuning and auto management being able to effectively handle multi-terabyte database and thousands of transactions per second. Other databases are still trying to grapple with wizards and tuning guides.

And that’s only the relational database. SQL Server is also the industry leader in the BI space with the highest market share in OLAP. With the major enhancements to Analysis Services, Reporting Services and Integration Services in SQL Server 2005, I think that SQL Server will also dominate the reporting and ETL markets soon.

I also believe that the thought leaders will also play a vital role in changing opinions related to SQL Server. Instead of simply showing others how a cool new feature works or honing on the technical details, the focus also needs to be on how the great enhancements in SQL Server 2005 help customers solve real world business problems, get more competitive, reduce cost and improve the bottom line.

End Part I.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for Part II of my exclusive interview with Raj Gill, where we'll discuss his take on what the future holds for the DBA, the challenges on upgrading to SQL2K5, how it can assist with SOX compliance, 64-bit SQL, OLAP, more on BI, and the new book by Scalability Experts coming out soon. Plus, more questions to test your readiness on High Availability in SQL2K5. You won't want to miss it!

Written and Compiled by: Robert Pearl, President
Pearl Knowledge Solutions, Inc.

rsp05@pearlknows.com
http://www.pearlknows.com

Copyright © 2005 - All Rights Reserved.

Note: Not to be reprinted or published without express permission of the author.

When SQL is the Center of Your Universe!

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