One of these days I really should blog about "dumb questions I have been asked at customer briefings." There's a danger in that, of course: namely, that a customer could equitably blog about "dumb answers I received from Donald Farmer." Nevertheless, the other day, a CIO asked me an excellent question. "Aside from core skills, which we always invest in, if we had an hour or so a week for DBA training in new areas, what would you suggest?" Here's what I recommended to her in email, as we followed up.
In the coming year, you'll see a new release, SQL Server 2008 R2, which is, we hope, full of goodies for your DBAs. As ever, there will some features immediately relevant to your business, some that will enable you to do new things over time, and some that you may not plan to use, but which may yet be of interest. So, in general I recommend using that extra training time to do three things: extend your current skills; expand your range with new skills; and explore and incubate some experimental projects.
Extend your current skills
I have rarely met a DBA with time on their hands, and I know that in your business they now manage more physical servers than ever, and with virtualization and consolidation, more instances and more databases, with more data, than ever. So, if I may suggest one feature that you need to learn thoroughly in SQL Server 2008 R2 it is our multi-server and application management improvements. There is a great whitepaper here, from our team, on this topic: http://bit.ly/6yVmOL You'll find this really is an essential feature to save money and to manage a healthy environment in the coming years.
Expand with new skills
When we first talked about SQL Server together, back in 2005, we remarked then on how the scope of the DBAs role was changing. Not only did they manage databases, but with SQL Server your DBAs were also managing reporting systems, OLAP servers, and the ETL process. I know that your DBAs thought this was, and is, a good thing. They not only "owned the data" but all the surrounding services that integrated, enhanced and gave meaning to the data. In SQL Server this was relatively easy, as the development and management environments for all these services are highly integrated. However, there is another area which I suggest your DBAs should delve into : SharePoint. That is a new administration experience, so there is more to learn. But it will be a worthwhile investment of time. Here's why ...
Not only is SharePoint our fastest growing server product, it is also the heart of our collaboration platform; and, as such, SharePoint is fast becoming critical to Business Intelligence. You know about PowerPivot, of course. (See www.powerpivot.com for more on that, especially you can try the hands-on lab.) I expect that in your organization, your adoption of PowerPivot will be departmental - I don't think you can hold the marketing guys back! In this case, I can see your DBAs getting very involved, not only provisioning data, but managing the infrastructure. There's are a couple of great blogs out there already exploring PowerPivot for SharePoint: www.powerpivotgeek.com and www.powerpivottwins.com - and if you want to give your DBAs a head-start on SharePoint there are excellent training links here on Arpan Shah's blog: http://bit.ly/5Ez7xT
Explore and incubate
Finally, I always think it is good to experiment. Even if you have no immediate plans to use a technology, learning more about it can often uncover useful cases, and prepares the team well for the day when the CEO, fresh from reading his latest business magazine asks "Shouldn't we be doing this?" This year, he'll be asking about the cloud. I can just about guarantee it. Fortunately, SQL Azure, the first significant relational database technology for the cloud, is easy to experiment with - in fact, the development and admin tools are basically the same as you are used to. See the team site for more information: http://bit.ly/7zdfAJ I'm not suggesting yet that you port any applications to the cloud - but we'll help all we can if you want to, just let me know. However, I am sure you and your team will find plenty of opportunities to host experimental applications and incubations. We'll be pleased to help with that too.
So, in short, those are my recommendations for those extra training hours in 2010. It is going to be a good year for SQL Server, and it's great to have you aboard.