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SQL Server training benefits for non-DBAs

DBAs know the value of SQL Server training. But what are the benefits for non-DBAs? This tip by Serdar Yegulalp examines who should learn more about SQL Server.

Most SQL Server professionals associate getting trained in SQL Server as a prerequisite to becoming a SQL Server database administrator (DBA) or programmer. That’s a reasonable enough assumption: It helps to have official certification of your skills.

But there are other reasons to get trained in SQL Server even if you’re not going to be a DBA or programmer. Many positions in IT deal either peripherally or directly with SQL Server and having a greater understanding of SQL Server -- both in a hands-on way and through guided instruction -- can be helpful.

Here are some positions that might benefit from SQL Server training:

For more information on SQL Server training

SQLSaturdays -- a unique way to get SQL Server training

SQL Server training: data models

Internet Information Server (IIS) programmers. Anyone creating software or websites that run on IIS can benefit from SQL Server training. Most IIS apps have a database back end, and it helps to understand database concepts before attempting an implementation. I’ve found that many people who are whizzes at creating IIS apps do not have a good grasp of databases -- they tend to lack knowledge in everything from relational table design to data schemas. Learning SQL Server is one way for them to better understand those topics.

IIS managers. Those who administer IIS should have a provisional understanding of SQL Server, especially if they’re overseeing sites connected to a database. Such knowledge helps when troubleshooting the source of a site outage: Is it the site’s own process, the connection to the database or the database itself? Being able to zero in on and fix such problems is a big win, especially if you can do so without the help of a DBA. After all, what if he’s gone home for the night or is on vacation with the battery pulled from his BlackBerry?

Backup admins. Full-system backups are one thing, but granular SQL Server backups are another. If you oversee a system where SQL Server databases are backed up separately from the rest of the system, it helps to understand how the backups are made, stored, accessed and retrieved. You may find yourself in situations where the database backups need to be handled entirely different from the regular system backups.

Folks who manage clusters. Clustering in Windows has changed a good deal in the last couple iterations of Windows Server (especially with the addition of clustering for virtual machines), and most of those changes have made clustering easier to manage. That said, there are still complexities specific to clustered instances of SQL Server. For example, applying patches to a SQL Server database engine within a cluster requires a deeper understanding of SQL Server’s day-to-day functionality. Note, too, that SQL Server DBAs would benefit from having training, or at least familiarity, with how clusters work.

Virtualization (VM) admins. Virtualization has gone from being an exotic novelty to a standard fixture in most IT departments, and having SQL Server virtualized (as a standalone or part of a cluster) is a natural part of that picture. The more a VM admin knows about the SQL Server instances he’s virtualizing, the better he can do everything from capacity planning to volume allocations.

Keep in mind that training doesn’t have to mean taking a course or being led by the hand through the nitty-gritty of learning about SQL Server. Those who have the motivation to learn about SQL Server can derive a good deal of experience on their own. This could be done by setting up their own test server (which would be an excellent way to learn about other Windows Server technologies as well) or by using SQL Server Express, the free-to-use (albeit feature-limited) version of SQL Server, on a workstation-class machine.

Note that using SQL Server Express as a way to educate yourself about SQL Server will give you general and incomplete knowledge. Many common SQL Server technologies -- clustering/failover, reporting services and others aren’t available in Express. The way to learn properly about these things is to either undertake formal training or use the full-blown version of SQL Server, which enables those technologies. A full edition of SQL Server can also be used in trial edition (either an actual install or as a virtual hard disk. The trial expires after six months but can be upgraded to a full commercial version at any time.

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