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SQL Server DBA training and resources for the reluctant DBA

As a reluctant DBA, you may not know where to look for SQL Server DBA resources. This tip by SQL Server expert Don Jones points you in the right direction.

No matter how much you might wish that you weren’t in charge of your organization’s SQL Server infrastructure, the fact remains that you are. Your job can become a lot easier with the right training -- although I’m guessing that your company’s reticence to hire a dedicated DBA means that weeks upon weeks of classroom training aren’t in your future. This doesn’t mean you can’t educate yourself.

When beginning your search for SQL Server DBA training and resources, I recommend starting with a solid course on the SQL language -- generic SQL is more than enough to start with, and then you can start diving into the specifics of SQL Server’s T-SQL variant. I produced a training video  on precisely this topic, but if you’re more of a book person, I like O’Reilly’s Learning SQL a lot.

When it comes to SQL Server itself, you need to be a bit careful. Remember that DBAs often straddle the line between "administrator" and "developer." Many books that teach SQL Server "administration" inexplicably start out with lessons on database design, normalization and so forth -- hardly topics an administrator needs most urgently. Video training targeted for Microsoft’s SQL Server administration certification exams  typically stay on the right track because Microsoft offers a separate exam for development topics. For books, look for anything by Grant Fritchey (such as Beginning SQL Server 2008 Administration from APress). He’s a Microsoft MVP Award recipient for SQL Server and has an easy-to-read style.

Once the basics of administration are out of the way, you’ll most likely want to tackle performance, the one thing that nobody can ever seem to have enough of. Steer slightly clear of anything specifically targeting query performance tuning (although Fritchey co-authored an excellent book on the topic), simply because in most environments a reluctant DBA has little chance to impact query design. After all, you’re often supporting third-party applications without the ability to rewrite queries and stored procedures, for example. You may also want to look into books on SQL Server troubleshooting and "internals," which often have a more server-level focus that speaks directly to the things you’re more able to affect without the assistance of a developer.

Don’t be too afraid to pick up a book on a slightly older version of SQL Server than the one you’re maintaining. SQL Server 2012 might have a lot of features that SQL Server 2008 didn’t, but the basics of SQL Server performance tuning haven’t changed drastically since version 7. Instead, the products and techniques have evolved over time, meaning a one-version-back book still offers plenty of relevant advice. In fact, older books sometimes spend more pages covering fundamentals, as newer books need to cram more and more features into their page count and often jettison the basics to make room. Fritchey, in fact, is working on a SQL Server Administration in a Month of Lunches title specifically intended to roll back to the basics for SQL Server newcomers. should carry details on that once it’s available.

PowerShell is something no SQL Server administrator should ignore, and more and more books are available on that topic every day. Punch "SQL Server PowerShell" into the search box of your favorite online bookstore and you’ll run across a selection. My current favorite is on SQL Server 2008 and is published by Wrox: Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Administration with Windows PowerShell. I’m sure a SQL Server 2012 update is in the works even as I write this article.

The point is to embrace SQL Server, however reluctant you may have been to be tasked with it. Having DBA skills on your resume can’t possibly hurt in the years to come, and the more capable an admin you are, the more upward mobility you’ll have in your career.

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