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    Copyright © Nancy Hidy Wilson, 2010-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Hidy Wilson and nancyhidywilson.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

SQLSaturday #447 Dallas – I am Speaking

SQLSat_logoThe first SQLSaturday I ever attended was #35 in Dallas and the North Texas SQL Server User Group (NTSSUG) set the bar high as host. That was several years ago and scheduling conflicts have prevented me from making the drive up I-45 from Houston to attend another SQLSaturday there. However, this year, I’m honored to be presenting at SQLSaturday #447 Dallas on October 3, 2015. My topic is “Managing SQL Server in the Enterprise with TLAs”.  What are TLAs, you ask? Why Three-Letter-Acronyms, of course! The TLAs that I will be discussing which you as a SQL Server DBA should be utilizing are CMS, PBM, and EPM. Come to my session in Room 100 at 8:30am (updated 9/30 for schedule change) and find out how using these features will improve your productivity and help you ensure standards are being followed in your environment.

If you are a data professional within driving distance of the DFW Metroplex, you should consider attending this free day of learning at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) hosted by the North Texas SQL Server User Group.

Check out the entire schedule, including low-priced Pre-con sessions on Friday, and register today to take advantage of this free training!

If you can’t attend this event, then check here for all the currently scheduled SQLSaturdays in the US and around the world! There is likely one occurring near you soon!

TSQL2sday #70 – Strategies for Managing an Enterprise


Jen McCown (Twitter) of Midnight DBA is the guest host for this month’s SQL blogger event known as T-SQL Tuesday (#TSQL2sday) which was started almost 6 years ago by Adam Machanic. This month, Jen has assigned us the topic: Strategies for Managing an Enterprise. Jen will be doing a wrap-up summary of all blog posts submitted on this topic per the rules and I’m looking forward to everyone’s input on this subject.

I’ve been presenting a session for the past several years at SQLSaturday events entitled “Managing SQL Server in the Enterprise with TLAs”. The TLAs (three-letter acronyms) are CMS (Central Management Server), PBM (Policy Based Management) and EPM (Enterprise Policy Management Framework). I’ll be presenting this session at SQLSaturday #447 Dallas on Oct. 3rd, 2015, so you can come learn the details of these features then. But, per the assigned topic for this post, let’s focus on the “strategies” driving the usage of these features.

For me, one of the main goals in managing the enterprise is finding ways to reduce the effort in managing that landscape –whether two instances of SQL Server or two thousand instances. A strategy for getting there is organization. The CMS enables you to define groups to which you register your SQL Server instances and then you can perform tasks against those groups. Why perform a task per instance when you can do it for multiple instances at one time? The CMS is actually defined in tables in the msdb database of the designated instance. I would recommend having a dedicated “central management server” instance which you will use for CMS, PBM, EPM, and other administrative tasks.

With CMS, you can create many groups and register instances in multiple groups based on the tasks that you may want to perform against those groups. For example, you can create groups to organize by SQL Server version, by Production\UA\QA\Dev\Test, by Application, by location, and be sure to have one group with all your SQL Server instances registered to it. SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) enables you to run “multi-instance” queries using a CMS group. That is, you execute the contents of the Query window against every server instance in the specified group and the results are returned to the SSMS console.

A second strategy in managing the enterprise is standardization. Policy Based Management enables you to define expected settings (e.g. conditions) and verify whether an instance of SQL Server meets those conditions. Examples of policies could be checking that the sa login is disabled or ensuring the AUTO_SHRINK option is off on all databases. My recommendation is to configure the policies on the same instance as your CMS groups (e.g. your dedicated central management server) so that you only have to manage one set of policies. Policy definitions are also stored in the msdb database. You will also want to export the policies to a central file server. Policies are exported as XML formatted files. When evaluating the policies on a specific instance, you may use either the central management SQL Server instance or the file server where they are stored as the source. SSMS also allows you to manually evaluate policies against a CMS group – returning all the results to your SSMS console.

The third strategy is automation. If you have a CMDB (Configuration Management Database), then you can utilize it as the source for populating your CMS groups by scripting the entire process to keep your CMS groups current with the CMDB contents and setting this up as a SQLAgent job to schedule as needed. Policies can be assigned to categories. The EPM Framework provides a mechanism (a PowerShell script) to automate the PBM evaluations by category against a specific CMS group and store the results for reporting. EPM requires a database repository to store the results, so again I recommend creating this database on a dedicated central management server. Once you’ve been through the exercise of setting up your CMS, establishing policies, and configuring the EPM Framework for your environment, you’ll see additional opportunities to utilize the CMS for automating other tasks.

So, start leveraging the CMS, PBM, and EPM features today to reduce your efforts by organizing your instances, increasing standardization, and automating tasks in your enterprise!

SQLSaturday #423 Baton Rouge – I am Speaking

I’m honored to be presenting again at SQLSaturday Baton Rouge on August 1, 2015. My topic is “Managing SQL Server in the Enterprise with TLAs”. What are TLAs, you ask? Why Three-Letter-Acronyms, of course! The TLAs which I will be discussing that you should be utilizing are CMS, PBM, and EPM. Come to my session in Room 1220 at 12:15pm and find out how using these features will improve your productivity!

If you are involved in almost any kind of IT work within driving distance of Baton Rouge, you should consider attending this free day of learning. Although using the SQLSaturday branding, there are more topics to be covered than just SQL Server. In addition to the traditional SQL Server AppDev, DBA, and BI tracks, there are tracks for .NET developers, SharePoint, Web/Mobile Development, Windows Server & Virtualization, Career Development, IT Managers, and more!

Check out the entire schedule, including low-priced Pre-con sessions on Friday, and register today to join more than 600 IT workers taking advantage of this free training!

If you can’t attend this event, then check here for all the currently scheduled SQLSaturdays in the US and around the world! There is likely one occurring near you soon!

SQLSaturday #150 – Baton Rouge: Presentations Uploaded

My presentation slide decks and demo scripts from SQLSaturday #150 have been uploaded.

Thanks to the planning team for selecting my sessions and thanks to everyone who attended my sessions – I enjoyed the opportunity to share my passion.   

SQLSaturday #150 – Baton Rouge – Signup Now!

There’s an awesome FREE technical training event coming to Baton Rouge on August 4, 2012. That’s right; SQLSaturday and Tech Day 2012 will be held at LSU’s new College of Business facility.  This is the fourth year that the Baton Rouge technical community has held this event and they expect around 400 people – if you live anywhere close by, then you should be there!  William Assaf (blog | twitter) even got some local TV exposure for the event this year.  

This event is bigger than your normal SQLSaturday. In addition to tracks for the SQL Server professional, there are also tracks for .NET developers, Windows Phone developers, SharePoint, and general professional development. Check out the full schedule here, and then sign up here.

Why am I plugging this event? Well, for one thing the Baton Rouge SQL Server community has always come west across the state line to support our SQLSaturdays in Houston. Secondly, I’ll be speaking at their event this year on “Managing SQL Server in the Enteprise with TLAs”.  TLA is “Three-Letter Acronym” for those unsure. We have lots of those in techno-speak. I’ll be covering CMS, PBM, EPM, MDW, and more…. If you work with SQL Server and don’t know what those are or how they can help you, then register today for SQLSaturday #150 and come to my session at 8:20am in Room 1700! 

Addendum: I’ll now also be presenting a second session “SQL Server 2012 Database Engine – Why Upgrade?” in the 2:45pm slot in Room 1700.


If you can’t attend this event, then check here for all the currently scheduled SQLSaturdays in the US and around the world! 


TSQL2sday #32 – A Day in the Life

TSQL2sday is a monthly SQL Server blogger event started back in late 2009 by Adam Machanic (blog | twitter). For more info on its beginning and purpose see the origin of TSQL2sday. Each month a different SQL Server blogger is the host (announces the theme and compiles a recap). This month’s event is hosted by Erin Stellato (blog | twitter) and the selected theme for this month is “A Day in the Life”.

Erin challenged us to track what we did in our jobs for a specific day and write about it. This is great because I often have trouble explaining to others (especially non-IT folk) what my title of SQL Server Service Engineer really means. However, as this exercise is just supposed to cover a single day, this is just a small sample of what I do. There is no such thing as a “normal” day for me. Sometimes my tasks are based on the “crisis du jour” prioritization method, and sometimes I can actually follow the team work plan. The variety in my job is one of the things I like about it. So here goes…

Unless, I have an early morning meeting with global colleagues, my day nearly always begins with processing email. Since I work in a global organization in the region whose workday is last to begin, even if I’d cleared my Inbox the day before, I always open my mailbox to encounter new emails from European and Asia-Pacific colleagues who have already completed or are wrapping up their workday. In that sense, this day starts out as just a normal day (no early meetings!).

Unfortunately for this write-up, it appears that summer time may be impacting my email load in a positive sense as I have only a handful of emails and only as a cc on a couple of subjects which one of my teammates is handling.  One of the issues has to do with deploying SQL Server Enterprise Edition versus Standard Edition and licensing implications for the customer. My team is comprised of technical experts – we can tell the customer if what they are trying to do requires a specific edition of SQL Server to use the requested feature, but we are not involved in the licensing agreements between Microsoft and each customer.  That is for others to figure out! 

Email done and no looming crisis for today, I can get back to the task I’ve been working on previously – writing an automated process to rollout multiple T-SQL Scripts to multiple instances using PowerShell. These are the scripts which update the standard tables and stored procedures in the admin database we install on all instances along with a set of SQLAgent jobs which the operational DBAs use for system maintenance. Every so often, we need to rollout updates to these objects. Our current automated process for doing this (which was developed for SQL 2005) isn’t as automated as we’d like it to be. We have since created a CMS and are utilizing registered groups to run various processes (like EPM) and now want to extend that concept to this activity as well. I’m thinking within a couple of hours I can write a script to save our operational DBAs literally hundreds of man-hours. Easy, right?

If you’ve worked with PowerShell any at all – or any programming language for that matter – you know there is always more than one way to write a process to accomplish the task at hand. The challenge is in finding the most efficient way that gives you what you want.  Our old script to run a set of .sql files was written in VBScript and called the sqlcmd utility. I figured I’m writing this in PowerShell, I’m using Invoke-Sqlcmd to get the list of instances from the CMS, I can use the Invoke-Sqlcmd cmdlet as shown in BOL in the second example and it will work just like sqlcmd. Wrong! It seems that example only works if you are running a SELECT statement in your InputFile.  This particular set of .sql files should have no output unless it is an error and in my test I have a script which I know produces an error – but my output file is empty.

I try various parameters such as -ErrorLevel and -SeverityLevel and I even use -Verbose to no avail – still nothing is piped to my output file.  I consult with my team mates to see if they tried this before; I search for examples on the Internet and the best I can find in one of the forums was someone else encountering the same thing, but with no solution for me. I can be stubborn some times and I’m not about to give up yet – after a couple of hours of struggling – I fire off an email to my SQL PowerShell buddy Allen White (blog | twitter) asking for his input – can I do what I’m trying to do with Invoke-Sqlcmd or should I revert to calling sqlcmd?

While waiting for Allen to respond, a couple of more emails have hit my Inbox.  Yea! It appears that our request to rebuild one of our team’s test servers has been completed.  We try not to do this too often, but part of engineering is writing scripts \ installing \ testing \ uninstalling \ enhancing scripts…repeat; over the course of time sometimes things get so messed up from all the testing (and occasional bad script) you just have to start over with a clean image.  This is now a box we plan to use for testing our processes on SQL Server 2012.

It doesn’t take long before I have a reply from Allen – I hope he doesn’t mind if I quote him:

I honestly believe that it’s best to use the tool that best suits the task, so I’d use sqlcmd here, because it works the way you want it to. 

Thanks Allen for the reminder not to use a hammer when a screwdriver is what you need! Sometimes, a hammer is all you have, but not in this case. 

Now, it’s time for lunch. I head down to the cafeteria with my team mates and join other colleagues at our usual table. I don’t hang around too long chit-chatting as I want to get back to my desk and switch out my code and test so I can announce success at our afternoon team meeting.

Remember earlier what I said about more than one way to do something? Now, I have to decide how to go about calling sqlcmd.exe from PowerShell. I need to specify variables to all the parms based on the target instance and input file to execute – and the output filename and location is dynamically determined as well based on the target instance and input filename.  I start with looking at Invoke-Command, then move to Invoke-Expression, but I’m still not getting my output file like I want it and I’m not able to detect if sqlcmd experienced an error to report in my general execution log. I have an example using [diagnostics.process]::start($exe,$args).WaitForExit() that seems to be getting me close to what I want, but now it is time to break for my afternoon meeting.

I’m the Technical Team Lead for a team of three. We each have our areas of specialization within the overall work plan, but try to keep each other in the loop so we can back each other up at any time. As needed (usually every 1-2 weeks), we meet formally to update the work plan, assign/reassign new/old tasks if needed, catch each other up on what we’ve each been working on and brainstorm areas for improvement. This is one of those meetings and since last week was a holiday week and we didn’t meet, we have a lot to catch up on.  The nice thing about a team is having others to bounce ideas off of and this is what I do with my frustration in finding the exact syntax I need to be using to get the results I want from calling sqlcmd inside PowerShell.  The next thing I know, one of my colleagues has done their own search and found a code example – I look and express skepticism as it is very much like what I’m already doing, but with one key difference that might make a difference; what can it hurt to try?

We continue to discuss how far we want to take this initial rewrite of our update process.  We are also in progress of redesigning our whole automated install process and ultimately we want the update process to utilize what we are putting into place there.  However, we have a more immediate need to have the operations team rollout some updates and decide that version 1 of the update process will do no more than we have already in place today (in terms of reporting), but it will be automated such that the DBAs only need to review the central output file for any problems. Selection of the systems requiring an update into a special CMS group can be done in an automated fashion as well as scheduling the update itself in SQLAgent. We decide to make further enhancements for logging the process’s results into a central table in a future version.

Our meeting continues with more brainstorming about the consequences of developing an install and configuration solution for SQL Server which can account for multiple versions and differing customer standards (e.g. install locations). We plot out on the whiteboard differing ways we can handle this – probably the umpteenth discussion like this that we’ve had; but each time we come in with new experiences and thoughts from what we decided previously and in some cases started trying to implement and we are therefore continually refining the solution.  We are becoming more confident that we are developing a standardized, but flexible solution which is also more sustainable across multiple versions of SQL Server than our existing process.

The meeting concludes and although I’m anxious to try the code snippet my colleague found, it is really time for me to head home. I arrived at the office much earlier this morning than my normal start time trying to beat the rain and now I need to try to get home before the next round hits. There is some flooding already occurring around town. Working further on this script can wait until later. I know that once I do get started back on it, I won’t stop until I have it totally finished. That’s my life!

I probably learned more today in trying all the ways that didn’t work the way I thought they would than if the first code I tried had worked. This experience will pay off later, I know.

Today was an “Edison day”:

I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.


P.S. I did finally get the script functioning the way I wanted the following day and it will save our operations team hundreds and maybe even thousands of hours. This is what I do!

TSQL2sday #026 – Second Chances

What is TSQL2sday? Back in late 2009, Adam Machanic (blog | twitter) had this brilliant idea for a monthly SQL Server blogger event (the origin of TSQL2sday).  This month’s event is hosted by David Howard (blog | twitter) and this month Dave is letting us chose our topic from any of the prior 25 topics! As my first foray into this event wasn’t until the 14th occurrence, I really like this idea and selected “TSQL2sday #007 Summertime in the SQL” as my second chance topic. Okay, so it is January, but it was 70+ degrees in Houston today, so quite balmy. However, that wasn’t why I chose this topic; I really chose it because this topic was about what is your favorite “hot” feature in SQL Server 2008 or R2. I thought about “updating” the topic to SQL Server 2012, but I’m really not sure yet which new “hot” feature of SQL Server 2012 will turn out to be my favorite – and after 3 years, I definitely know which SQL Server 2008 set of features is my personal favorite – CMS and PBM.

The Central Management Server (CMS) and Policy-Based Management (PBM) features have made the overall management of large numbers of SQL Server instances, well, manageable.

The CMS enables us to organize instances into multiple different classifications based on version, location, etc. We rebuild the CMS on a regular schedule based on the data in our asset management system. This ensures that all DBAs have access to a CMS with all known instances. If you are not familiar with the CMS – it does not grant any access to the instances themselves and connectivity using it only works with Windows Authentication, so there are no security loopholes here.

We then use these CMS groups as input into our various meta-data and compliance collection processes. Approximately 90% of our technical baseline compliance evaluation is accomplished via policies in PBM. We’ve incorporated all of this using the EPM (Enterprise Policy Management) Framework available on Codeplex with a few tweaks of our own to work better in our environment.

If you haven’t yet checked out the CMS and PBM features, I encourage you to do so today. I have two previous blog entries relating to this topic – “Managing the Enterprise with CMS” and “Taking Advantage of the CMS to Collect Configuration Data”.  I’d also highly recommend that you watch the SQL Server MCM Readiness Videos on the Multi-Server Management and PBM topics.

And, it is good to know that by the time this entry is posted – we should be back to our normal 50 degree January weather in Houston!