That's no moon . . . It's a SQL Server!

DBA Preschool 1: Talk the Talk

One of the questions I’m commonly asked by co-workers or those who are interested in what I do is “How do you become a database administrator?”. This is a tricky question, given that there is not a single path to becoming a DBA. Ask 10 DBAs how they got into the business, and I guarantee you’ll get 10 different stories. I’ve been thinking about my own path to becoming a DBA, and something occurred to me: there is an awful lot of training material out the for intermediate and advanced database administration, but very little material for those people starting with little to no knowledge of databases. I’m going to try to fill in this gap with a new blog series I’m calling “Database Preschool”. The series will focus mostly on administration, with some database development thrown in.
DBA Preschool 1: Talk the Talk
One of the most frustrating things about learning SQL Server is all the acronyms and slang used by veterans. The first lesson in Database Preschool will focus on defining these acronyms. I’ll be defining them in the order that makes the most sense for someone who doesn’t already work with SQL Server.

SQL – Structured Query Language. You might be surprised to find that Microsoft doesn’t own the acronym SQL. There are two things you need to know about SQL: 1) SQL refers to the programming language used to create, populate and maintain databases. There are actually many different variations of SQL; the version Microsoft’s SQL Server uses is called Transact SQL, often abbreviated T-SQL. 2) Database professionals pronounce SQL as “sequel”, and never by spelling out the acronym as “S-Q-L”. If you want to be a database professional, you’d better not mix the two up in public circles. Nothing screams “scruffy-looking noob” like someone saying “Es-Queue-El”.

SQL Server – Microsoft’s relational database engine software. SQL Server can refer to many different technologies working together under this platform, but usually when we say SQL Sever we are referring to the core database engine – in other words, the software that manages data storage and retrieval.

BI – Business Intelligence. That might sound like an oxymoron, but in fact BI refers to a emerging discipline in the database world. Business Intelligence refers to the software and methods a company uses to analyze, interpret and distribute their data. SQL Server offers multiple BI components to achieve these tasks.

SSMS – SQL Server Management Studio. If the database administrator is an artist, then SSMS is the paintbrush. SSMS is the primary software you’ll use to administer databases and work with data. In SSMS you will connect to individual servers, execute queries, work with SQL Server Agent (a built-in scheduling and automation tool), and configure instances of SQL Server. Most DBAs spend much of their day in SSMS.

SSIS – SQL Server Integration Services. This tool allows SQL Server to Extract, Transform and Load (often abbreviated ETL, or sometimes E/T/L) data from any heterogeneous data source. What does that mean? It means that SSIS can move information between any database, spreadsheet or file, and it can make changes to the data as it moves between sources. SSIS is a very powerful tool and (in my personal opinion) is the best of its kind.

SSRS – SQL Server Reporting Services. This tool allows you to build sophisticated reports, and includes many options to distribute those reports intelligently. SSRS supports self-serve reporting sites, subscription-based distribution lists, and impressive visualizations. SSRS is a Business Intelligence tool and it is not uncommon to specialize in this aspect of SQL Server.

SSAS – SQL Server Analysis Services. SSAS (not to be confused with SAS) is a robust data analysis tool that can be used to perform complex calculations and aggregations on dimensional data. This Business Intelligence tool is incredibly powerful and, when paired with SSRS can make up an in-demand specialty if you are willing to put in the work to learn this skill.

BIDS – Business Intelligence Development Studio. BIDS is a special version of another popular Microsoft Development tool called Visual Studio. BIDS is designed to help you develop business intelligence projects. While SSIS, SSAS, and SSRS are tools for BI, they actually run as Windows Services to enable projects developed in BIDS to run. For example, if you want to create an SSIS package that extracts data from a spreadsheet and loads it into a table on your SQL Server, you’d use BIDS to develop it and SSIS to execute it. The same holds true for reporting (SSRS) and data analysis (SSAS).

BOL – Books Online. Books Online is an ever-growing resource developed by Microsoft. Books Online for SQL Server can be found at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms130214.aspx. Think of Books Online as a combination of instruction manual and troubleshooting guide. Microsoft also indexes key forums for SQL Server, which permits you to search out questions and to see what answers others with the same question have received. BOL should be your first stop for syntax questions.

SSC – SQL Server Central, located at http://www.sqlservercentral.com/. This non-Microsoft resource is the largest independent technical website focused on SQL Server. There are help forums, large collections of pre-written scripts (T-SQL code), blogs and daily trivia questions to help you sharpen your skills. I’m telling you about SSC for one reason at this point in Database Preschool: the scripts available can help you both 1) solve immediate problems, and 2) get a sense for how to write good T-SQL.

CRUD – Create, Read, Update, Delete. This is a curveball to most new administrators. This term comes from LINQ (Language Integrated Query), which is a query language that application developers can use as an alternative to SQL. The Create, Read, Update, Delete refers to actions done in LINQ, and they are equivalent to statements in SQL. Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about these queries now, but if you do, here are some rough equivalencies between LINQ and SQL: Create = Insert, Read = Select, Update = Update, and Delete = Delete.

There are many more acronyms waiting for you in the wide world of databases, but this is a good list for a first-timer.  As Database Preschool continues, I’ll define each new acronym as we go.


2 Responses to “DBA Preschool 1: Talk the Talk”

  1. Great to see you are helping those just starting in the profession with these posts

  2. […] DBA Preschool 1: Talk the Talk […]

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