I while ago I was asked to write a review of a tool called SQL Stripes. The description of the tool states that "SQL Stripes is an application that helps you - the SQL Server DBA, to have complete control over your servers". This is achieved by giving each server that the tool monitors "a 'Stripe' which contains valuable real-time data on the selected server". It should be noted that the product is still in beta, the version that I tested was version number 0.60b Build 300 (released June 2nd 2003).
I tested SQL Stripes in an environment containing three SQL Server instances running on three separate machines, all Windows 2000 Advanced Server. As you will probably see later on I think this tool is even more appreciated if you're administering a much larger SQL Server park, but although my environment is rather small I was still hoping that SQL Stripes could satisfy my need for a nice and small monitoring tool that also contained functionality to resolve and further investigate the alerts and issues it finds. The main reason for this is that I am administering this environment more or less in my spare time, so anything that lets me do this easier is interesting.
Installation of SQL Stripes is extremely straight-forward. I downloaded the tool from the authors web site (see below in Product Information), unzipped it and ran the installer program. After clicking the Next-button a couple of times i was finished. Doesn't get much easier than that. Next step is starting the application for the first time. You are met by a clean interface, with a small window in the lower right corner called 'Available SQL Servers'. It has one default server, 127.0.0.1 (local), already added but you must of course edit the details to set up login information etc (if you even have a local SQL Server instance). By right-clicking in this window, or opening Setup in the menu, you can edit the server details and add/remove servers. Adding servers is as simple as it is in Enterprise Manager, you just enter the IP-address or instance name (SQL Stripes supports connection through TCP/IP and Named Pipes), select Windows Authentication or SQL Server Authentication and you're off.
Using SQL Stripes
When you've installed the software and have configured the servers you want to work with it's time to open stripes for them. Each server gets a stripe of it's own showing ping time, status of SQL Server Service and SQL Agent Service, what protocol was used to connect to the server, available space on hard drives used by databases and finally what version of SQL Server the instance is running. The image below shows a single stripe for my local SQL Server, which as you can see is not started. With a stripe like this one for each of the servers you are administering you can easily get a quick overview of the status of your servers. As SQL Stripes is a small program that doesn't use a lot of resources you can have it running on your workstation and configure it to automatically refresh the stripes at any interval you like. Along with this auto-refresh feature SQL Stripes also has the option of notifying you by email if the ping test fails and/or the SQL Service is down.
I've described one part the functionality the SQL Stripes offers and that I was expecting, the simple monitoring features. But the application has lots more than that. For each stripe (server) you can open up a new window that shows the databases that exist on the server. The image below shows the databases on one server. The listing shows the size of each database, the amount of free space and if the database is regularly backed up or not. You can view the database processes (i.e. executing sp_who2) and also show more details about each database by right-clicking and selecting to view the tables, views and physical files. If you want to work with a specific table in Query Analyzer you just right-click the table and select to open it in QA. SQL Stripes will open QA, log in on the specified server and create a simple SELECT-statement for the table. There is also options for checking backup history and running DBCC CHECKDB from the database listing.
Finally, there are two more pieces of functionality that I would like to mention. The first one is the possibility to connect to each server using PCAnywhere, Terminal Services or VNC (whichever you have got installed). I haven't actually tried this feature though, but it is a great option to directly connect to the server if the stripe shows any problems. The other feature is something that's called the SQL Command Emulation Console. It's a command console like a normal MS-DOS Command Prompt, but I guess it runs through SQL Server using xp_cmdshell.
The product doesn't come with any documentation other than a simple readme-file describing it, but since it is still in beta that's OK. There where a couple of things that wasn't 100% clear to me what they did, such as a mode selection in the console. The developer is of course just an email away though. Even though SQL Stripes is only in beta I didn't manage to get it to crash a single time, so I didn't actually need a lot of support anyway.
I really like SQL Stripes. It is somewhat a nice and clean mini-version of Enterprise Manager, which is a really 'sluggish' tool that I try to stay away from as much as possible. Using SQL Stripes and Query Analyzer together (which is really simple with the integration from SQL Stripes to QA) I can handle most of my work in an effective way. And with the rate of development (check the version history file) I guess it will just become better and better over time. One thing I would like is to be able to extend it by some kind of system for configuring the menus (mainly the right-click menus of databases and tables) to add my own commands there. And of course, the best of all, SQL Stripes is freeware.
|Ease of Use||4||SQL Stripes is easy, intuitive and straight-forward to use. It does of course assume that you know SQL Server pretty good.|
|Feature Set||4||Contains the features that I want, no more no less. Of course there are always things you could need there, but I prefer a slim tool that still does more or less what I need.|
|Lack of Bugs||5||Well, I didn't find any bugs at least.|
|Value||5||It's free, what else is there to say.|
|Technical Support||0||None in the form of support at the developer's web site, but as I said, the developer is just an email away and does encourage feedback and bug reports to be sent to him.|
|Documentation||0||Nothing more than a simple readme-file, but since it is a beta I wouldn't expect more.|
|Performance||5||No problems with performance, but it doesnt really have anything performance-heavy. Small footprint on memory so it is OK to keep running on a workstation.|
|Installation||5||Straight-forward and without problems.|
|Learning Curve||4||If you are an experienced DBA you won't have any problems at all learning SQL Stripes. A newbie DBA might be a bit confused though as there is no help.|
|Overall||4||SQL Stripes is a nice tool that I have just started to use but I expect to continue doing so and look forward to upcoming releases. I would recommend the developer to take some time to release a version 1.0 complete with documentation and then continue to add features, because in my opinion SQL Stripes is fully usable as it is.|
Developer: Adi Sapir (firstname.lastname@example.org)