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Check Out These Tools – SQL University

Some neat (and free) tools to help you out with SQL Server. This is my second contribution to the SQL University “Tools of The Trade” week series.

In part one we had a quick chat about why to look at using various tools to help you out working with SQL Server. In this post, we’ll talk about some neat free tools I’ve encountered (or plan on encountering) in my career. This has a DBA bent to it since that is what I primarily am. Please do check out the post from DBA Coach, Tom LaRock, where he goes through all types of SQL Server tools. His post is great and covers a lot of information and he brings up a good point on rolling your own (I was originally going to say, “Don’t, plenty of tools already exist”. His post reminded me of what I learned through rolling my own tools early on and it reminded me that a lot of companies started out that way).

Enough introduction, on to some tools…

Performance Analysis Of Logs (PAL)

Great Tool! I was introduced to this tool from a SQL Server premiere field engineer working on a case at my full time position. I originally blogged about using PAL with SQL Server last year and have remained smitten with this tool. You can download it from codeplex here. Check it out, it is free and easy to install. In a nutshell this tool takes perfmon log files (even tells you what counters and objects to watch) and it creates pretty reports that show you potential issues. Great for troubleshooting general performance issues. Great for taking baselines.

Microsoft Assessment And Planning Toolkit (MAP)

Put down your pencil. Put down your notebook. Pop Quiz Time! Ready? How many instances do you support? How many instances of SQL Server are installed in your network? What version are they? How did you do? Put your shoes and socks back on please, it won’t help.

I don’t know a bout you but at most environments I walk into, that is not a readily answerable question. There are hidden SQL Server instances everywhere, it would seem. This is a tool that is also free and you can download it from Microsoft here. I blogged about this tool last year talking about how to find your SQL Server instances, but it really has other uses. Not only can it find your instances, it gives you a simple excel spreadsheet with good information (Server Name, Instance Name, Version and Edition of SQL Installed to name just a few) and you can use this spreadsheet as the start of a total environment documentation. Add columns for application owners, support people, etc. Import it into a database of database instances.

Enterprise Policy Management Framework

This great tool is another tool you can download from Codeplex. It is a neat framework that sits on top of Policy Based Management. It can take your existing policies and check them against all of your SQL Server 2000,2005 or 2008 instances that you discovered with the MAP tool above. It evaluates the policies and presents some excellent reports that can give you a good glance of how you are looking with compliance. This is a great tool to allow you to quickly find potential higher priority policy failures and drill into more details about what the failures are. If you are still doing homework from our meeting on knowledge sharing, this would be one great way to open up info about your environment. Publish the reports and let people see how compliant the environments are with the policies you setup.

SQL Nexus

SQL Nexus should be in your troubleshooting arsenal. It collects data from various sources and gives you some good diagnostics information and detailed reports outlining potential areas of concern. This is, yet another, free tool you can download from Codeplex (Sensing a pattern? Perhaps you can do some searching/playing on Codeplex and find some new tools in the process 🙂 )

Three Books

There are plenty of other good free tools around. Checking out Tom’s post above or  following a blog syndication feed like SQLServerpedia will get you some tips for SQL Server tools as folks blog about tools they like. One of the books below actually goes into some details on tools like SQL Nexus. These books are three books I think should belong in every SQL Server person’s library. (There are others but these three are a good start).

In No specific order:

  • Inside SQL Server T-SQL Querying. This book, by Itzik Ben-Gan, exists for SQL Server 2005 and for 2008. Perfect book for anyone who has to write SQL code or advise those that do. It covers the how and why behind how SQL processes a query. It covers set based theory and helps you think logically.
  • SQL Server MVP Deep Dives – 53 MVPs got together to write this book. Tips and Tricks, advice and commentary on a huge range of topics. All easy reads, all written from the folks who give much to the SQL community. Proceeds of book sales help out a worthy cause as well.
  • Professional SQL Server 2008 Internals and Troubleshooting – I just read 80% of this book ( have one more chapter to finish for an upcoming review). So far? This book is a great balance of academic knowledge going into the “how and why?” behind the topics and practical information (putting it together for the real world). The last few chapters of this book also talk about using a few free tools and reporting components to better tune and work with your environment.

I may make a part 3 to this in the future and add some more free tools that I missed in the interest of not over burdening you in this one post. If I do, I’ll link it here and it will be published to my feed.

SQL University Survey

If you would like to participate, SQL University is running a survey to seek feedback on all sessions provided this semester. If you have a few moments please check out the survey. The results will help us blog more relevant content and improve SQLU next semester!

Mike Walsh
Article by Mike Walsh
Mike loves mentoring clients on the right Systems or High Availability architectures because he enjoys those lightbulb moments and loves watching the right design and setup come together for a client. He started Straight Path in 2010 when he decided that after over a decade working with SQL Server in various roles, it was time to try and take his experience, passion, and knowledge to help clients of all shapes and sizes. Mike is a husband, father to four great children, and a Christian. He’s a volunteer Firefighter and EMT in his small town in New Hampshire, and when he isn’t playing with his family, solving SQL Server issues, or talking shop, it seems like he has plenty to do with his family running a small farm in NH raising Beef Cattle, Chickens, Pigs, Sheep, Goats, Honeybees and who knows what other animals have been added!

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