SQLServerCentral Article

An Interview with Brad McGehee - Part 2


Welcome back! Today, we continue with Part II of our in-depth interview with SQL Server performance guru and MVP, Brad McGehee.

We concluded Part I (see Part I –link) with a cliff-hanger, so to speak, listing only 5 out of Brad's Top 10 list of favorite SQL 2008 features. Here are the remaining 5 favorite features, which are excerpt from another popular e-book, "Brad's Sure Guide to SQL Server 2008"


  • Transparent Data Encryption – whether we like it or not, Security is an issue with which DBAs are going to become more and more familiar. On top of the available column-level encryption, SQL 2008 Enterprise adds the ability to perform full database-level encryption
  • SQL Server Audit – again, auditing is an area in which DBAs have tended to use to mishmash of tools in order to track the activities they need to monitor, from DDL triggers, to SQL Trace to third-party tools. The new SQL Server Audit capabilities attempts to expand the activities that can be easily monitored as well as offering the DBA much more granular control and ease of administration.
  • New Data Types – it's a long time since SQL Server has been a simple "relational data store", and SQL 2008 pushes boundaries again, introducing spatial data types, hierarchical data, as well as unstructured data such as videos, Excel files and so on.
  • Extended Events – the second major strand of the push to "centralize" performance data collection in SQL Server is the introduction of extended events. These provide a generic event-handling system whose goal is to make it much easier to capture, store and act on disparate troubleshooting data from SQL Server, the Windows OS, and applications.
  • Change Data Capture – a continuous, but often thwarted, goal of the DBA is to cleanly separate OLTP and OLAP activities onto separate servers. However, moving data between the two, while keeping them synchronized, has proved a difficult problem. Change Data Capture could well be the answer.

For Microsoft's list of top SQL Server 2008 features, you can go here, and find out what's new in 2008. Since this is the official product page, there will be a whole host of useful information, including product details, editions, whitepapers, benchmarks, reasons to upgrade, and how to try and buy.

RP: SQL Server has come a long way from a small-mid RDBMS platform to an Enterprise-Class End-to-End business intelligence platform. What are some of the industry trends that you see? Where does it go from here and what will the future bring to SQL Server?

Brad: I don't like to predict the future, as I am usually wrong. But the biggest trend I see with SQL Server is that as new versions comes out, more and more new features are added. Because of this, it is no longer possible to know everything there is to know about SQL Server. With each new version, I have to pick and choose those areas I want to continue to master, and ignore other areas because I just don't have the time to keep up with every new feature. I feel this will continue to happen in future versions of SQL Server. In essence, SQL Server is becoming more powerful, but it also becoming more complex to administer.

RP: As a speaker and presenter at many conferences such as SQLPass, SQLConnections and other user groups, what is one of your more interesting and memorable moments?

Brad: When I speak, I am usually very well prepared, and I even scope out the room before I speak so I know how it is set up before I get there. I don't like surprises. A couple of years ago at PASS I didn't scope out the room. I was a little preoccupied with other things, so I just showed up at the room about 15 minutes before the session started, and I got the surprise of my life. The room had seating for 500 people, and as I was setting up, getting ready to begin, people flowed into the room until not only were all the seats were filled, but people were standing up in the back of the room. This was the biggest crowd I had every spoke to, and I wasn't psychologically prepared for it. To say the least, it wasn't my best presentation. Personally, I like smaller groups so there is interaction with attendees. When you speak to 500 people, personal interaction is impossible

RP: What are some of your favorite most sought after topics?

Brad: This varies. When I speak at larger conferences, the more technical the presentation, generally the more successful it is. On the other hand, when I speak at user groups, the more introductory topics seem to go over better. My most popular presentation is one called "Mastering SQL Server Profiler," which is based on my book.

RP: With SQL Server Profiler, it is easy to discover that your queries are running slowly. Once poorly performing queries are identified, there comes the harder task of speeding them up. Once again, the Profiler can provide a lot of information that can help diagnose and resolve these performance problems. Brad describes this essential part of the process of performance-tuning in an article taken from a chapter of Mastering SQL Server Profiler.

Let me pose another question to our audience. Are you an "exceptional DBA"? What makes the top 10 percent of SQL Server DBAs excel in their careers?

It's a tough question that has seen recent debate on the SQLServerCentral forums. It's also a question that Brad examines in depth for another of his awesome e-books, How to be an Exceptional DBA - a career-advice guide on how to stand apart from the average DBA.

For Brad, the Exceptional DBA is not just defined by a list of qualifications. It's not a simple matter of knowledge, fine-tuned from a server room over years, either. It's just as much about the DBA's understanding of being defined by his or her actions that are taken every day.

RP: Describe to us the details of this publication and give us insight into your years of experience in the industry.

Brad: Over the years, as I attended many SQL Server conferences, I noticed that there were essentially two types of people who attended them. One group included the "Accidental DBAs" who happened to fall into the career of a DBA. Then there were the "Intentional DBAs," who more or less choose the career of DBA. As I talked to many of the "Accidental DBAs," I realized that here was no career information for these DBAs to help get them started on this career, so it inspired me to write such a book. I called it "How to Become an Exceptional DBA" because I figured that if someone was going to choose the career of DBA, that they might as well try to be an exceptional one instead of an average one. The focus of the book was to offer career advice for those new to the DBA field, especially in regards of how to stand out from the crowd.

RP: Given the recent economic climate, and global recession (which has hit IT pretty hard), how much of that advice is applicable today, what might you change or add for all the struggling DBAs and techs out there in today's market?

Brad: All of the advice I provided in my book is very applicable in today's job market. While we don't' have any control over whether or not we are laid off, we do have control over our personal career. My advice is for all DBAs to become exceptional DBAs. If you are an exceptional DBA, then there is a smaller chance that you will be laid off; and even if you are laid off, it will be much easier to find a new job if your skills and experience are exceptional.

RP: Cloud computing is a hosted solution that offers 24 × 7 access to applications and data without the overhead of an onsite IT team to maintain them, but potentially cedes control of over a company's data. What are your thoughts about SQL Server and cloud computing?

Brad: I think this is still in an experiment, and only time will tell if it will be successful or not. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about security, performance, and reliability. I would suggest companies tread very slowly in this area.

RP: If you are interested in learning more about this topic, please see this excellent article, from SQL Server Magazine, called "Cloud Computing Comes to SQL Server" It covers many of the unanswered questions that Brad poses, as well as issues affecting the DBA. With the advent of SQL Server Data Services, also covered, it is sure to be a topic of continuing debate for the immediate future.

RP: Everyone is talking about virtualization these days. Given today's technological advances, would you now recommend running high-end SQL Servers on a VM?

Brad: I think virtualization is great for development and test SQL Servers, and in some cases it might also be OK for smaller SQL Server instances that don't experience a lot of performance issues. But when it comes to large, mission-critical SQL Servers, virtualization is not a great solution, at least in its current form. Performance, reliability, scalability, and management are all still problems that need better solutions. After a few more years of improvements in virtualization software, I might change my mind.

RP: If you are thinking about virtualizing your SQL Server Environment, there are many factors an organization must consider when determining whether to virtualize SQL Server 2005. This whitepaper, Using SQL Server 2005 in aVirtual Environment,will discuss the some of the benefits and licensing considerations. However, as it concludes, virtualization may NOT always be the right solution, for reasons Brad mentioned above, such as very high throughput applications and database applications that must be highly scalable.

RP: Who came up with the SQL Server Stumpers that we often see appear in Red Gate ads? Can we expect to see a compilation of these being published?

Brad: The web ads that have my photo and a SQL Server stumper question were written by me, and for whatever reason, have been a successful ad campaign for Red Gate, and you will probably see more of these in the future. I don't think there are any plans to publish them in a book. But if you like to answer stumper questions, Steve Jones writes a new one every day at SQLServerCentral.com.

(You can see the "Question of the day" by visiting SQLServerCentral.com daily. I also know SSC put out volumes 1 and 2 of Two Minute SQL Server Stumpers, but not sure if they are still available – ping Steve if you want to get them.)

Editor's Note: We have a number of books available on SQLServerCentral.

RP: So, how's Hawaii, these days?

Brad: When most people leave their home to travel, for work or pleasure, they look forward to getting away from the same old thing. But that's not me. I prefer being at home, at its like being on vacation already. I travel about 14-15 weeks a year, and there is still no place I have been to that beats Hawaii. My favorite activities including hiking and snorkeling, both of which Hawaii offers plenty of opportunities.

RP: So, where's Brad off to next? He'll be continuing his journey and world tour to countries like England, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, where he will continue to spread the gospel on all things SQL Server.

One of the places you'll be sure to find him, is the upcoming SQLPass Summit 2009 this fall, in Seattle. I'm sure he'll be presenting, and you'll have an opportunity to stop by and say hello. If you'd like to attend this fabulous event, you can find more details and register here: http://www.sqlpass.org/Events/ctl/ViewEvent/mid/521.aspx?ID=35

This concludes my interview with DBA extraordinaire Brad McGehee. I hope you enjoyed this article, and want to thank Brad personally, for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions and agree to this interview.

Hopefully, I will continue to bring you more of these exciting interviews with more MVP's and industry notables for your reading pleasure. Please feel free to check out my previous articles and MVP interview series on SQLServerCentral.com.

We'll be seeing a lot more of Brad, as he continues to educate the masses as Director of DBA Education for Red Gate Software. Be sure to keep SQLServerCentral.com bookmarked where he'll continue to bring us more SQL Stumpers, talk about new SQL products, and don't forget to keep watching for his upcoming new book(s) on being an exceptional DBA, and high performance SQL Server index maintenance.

From beautiful Hawaii, (well at least one of us :-), until then, A-L-O-H-A!

We have a User Poll for on this interview: Based on Brad's description in the article, do you consider yourself an "Accidental" or "Incidental" DBA?

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