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Seats Limited – June Philadelphia Mission Critical SQL Server Class

By: on May 9, 2016 in SQLHAU, Training | No Comments

Hello everyone. I’m in week two of my tour of the UK and Europe, and at my last (and third) conference – Join! over here in Warsaw, Poland. However, that does not change the fact that we’re four weeks out from both SQL Saturday Philadelphia on June 4th and the start of my 4-day Mission Critical SQL Server class on June 6 at the same venue – the Microsoft office in Malvern, PA. Going down to Philly is always going home for me – I grew up in the area.

While there are no more public discounts, there are a few seats left for the Mission Critical Class. If you want to grab one of the remaining seats (and you should want to!), use the discount code PHILLYFLASH for a 30% discount. If you want the best high availability and mission critical training around, and also get the hands on experience with labs, this is the class for you. You can even give your manager this this letter to help them understand why getting this training will help you.

Looking forward to seeing everyone in the class as well as at SQL Saturday Philadelphia.

 

Ding, Dong – SQL Server’s Dependency on .NET Framework 3.5x is Dead

By: on April 15, 2016 in .NET Framework 3.51, .NET Framework 4.6, .NET Framework 4.6.1, Setup, SQL Server 2016 | No Comments

Hello everyone. I’ve been pretty heads down with a lot of customer work, teaching my Mission Critical SQL Server class (with Philly on the way in June), preparing for three upcoming conferences in Europe (including three pre- or post-conference sessions, one of which will have updated labs), and working on the book. Yes, I’ve really been working on it and you’ll see some things shortly. You may have noticed our site got hacked, and I’ll probably do a post about that at a later date, so that’s taken up some time as well. I did lose the post on Distributed Availability Groups which I will rewrite soon. Needless to say, blogging has not been my Number 1 priority. I would rather put that energy into my customers, the book ,and making sure my upcoming speaking appearances go off without a hitch.

Having said that, SQL Server 2016 RC3 was publicly released today and I felt this was important to put out there. There is a major change that actually came in with RC2 that no one seemed to notice. I already talked about how from a server perspective, SQL Server 2016 is 64-bit only and I had a lot to do with that. That was a massive change to SQL Server. This next one is also just as big. Many of us (not just me) have been asking to remove the reliance on the older version of .NET Framework (3.5x), and it’s finally happened. Starting with SQL Server 2016, it is no longer a requirement.

Let me give you a little bit of backstory. For every version of SQL Server from 2008 through 2014, SQL Server required that .NET Framework 3.5x was installed (or enabled as the case may be depending on your version of Windows Server). How to enable .NET Framework 3.5x on Window Server 2012 or later is not apparent to everyone. I even wrote two blog posts (one and two) on how to get this task done. There is also a lot of confusion on why the older .NET Framework version is needed if the later version in the 4.x tree is installed. The short answer is that 3.x (which is the same branch as 2.x and 1.x) is different than the 4.x branch. Parts of the engine still relied on the old .NET Framework so the SQL Server development team could not just rip it out easily.

Some of us knew this was coming, and when I pinged someone around the time of RC1, I was told it would definitely be in RTM. We got it a little bit earlier. This was some hard work on the dev team’s part. If you think this is a hoax, it is not. Figure 1 shows all of the SQL Server features selected but look at the highlighted section – the only dependency is .NET Framework 4.6.

Figure 1. All SQL Server features selected, no dependency

Figure 1. All SQL Server features selected, no dependency

In Figure 2, the Command Prompt window is showing sqlcmd running a SELECT @@VERSION command with its output (RC3), and imposed on it, the output of showing that the older .NET Framework is not installed, yet SQL Server 2016 is running. Huzzah!

Figure 2. SQL Server RC3, no .NET Framework 3.5x

Figure 2. SQL Server RC3, no .NET Framework 3.5x

Couple that with the other changes to Setup introduced in the RCs by splitting out the tools install, installing a SQL Server instance is a more streamlined process … and much, much quicker. Getting an instance up and running is almost a pleasant experience. I have my issues with the new tools install, but I’ll take that as a first world problem.

 

Remember That You Matter, Too

By: on December 28, 2015 in Advice, Mission Critical SQL Server | No Comments

As we wind down in 2015 and head towards 2016, a lot of us look back and take stock of both the good and bad. 2015 has been a pretty good year, but this is not “that” blog post.

In 2014, we got hit with a lot of snow in the Boston area. According to that report, in February alone we got nearly 65 inches. That is just about as tall as me (yes, I’m not very tall ha!). It seemed like it snowed every day for about two months. There was nowhere to put it. Now, those of you that know me know that I don’t mind cold weather or snow, but when you are getting hit day after day, at some point enough is enough. There is nowhere else to put it.

Anyway, what I didn’t talk about with many people is that I slipped twice on ice while shoveling, once landing myself in the emergency room after one of the February storms. That was the second fall. That second fall put a chain of events in place where basically I have not felt right for quite a long time. Things bothered me enough that I went to the doctor in the summer of 2014. I was dealing with the effects of falling until late spring/early summer of this year. It got to the point where I was in quite a bit of discomfort and pain. It was literally uncomfortable to stand, sit, or lie down; no position worked. To be honest, for the better part of 2015, I’ve been miserable.

Unfortunately, my schedule since going to the doctor in 2014 has been pretty crazy. I have been on the road a lot, and I did my best to not make it show, but I was suffering quite a bit. It was a challenge to be on planes for 6+ hours, and even worse, I basically could not sit still while working. When it really was exacerbated to the point of it affecting work, I knew it was time to take care of this problem. I’ve tried not to let it show, but I can say there have been private moments where my pain was excruciating to the point of tears. Now, imagine standing up and teaching a class for four days or doing a preconference session at PASS Summit. By the time Summit rolled around, there were times I had to sit. Summit Squared (PASS and MVP) was my final breaking point; I had to do something. It was hard to work this way, let alone do anything normal. Having to take things like Aleve just to get through the day is not my modus operandi. Some of you may have noticed me walking with a slight limp at one of the Summits. Now you know why.

This is the first time anywhere I’m talking about any of this outside of a small circle of friends and family. I’m not looking for sympathy. There’s a point to all of this. As an aside, those of you who have been asking about the book, here’s the major reason I didn’t get it done by Summit as much as I wanted to. The pain was too much. I’m honestly surprised I made it through 2015 and got as much done as I did looking back.

The good news is that post-Summit Squared, I was going to be off the road for a bit. I made a doctor’s appointment, and am now getting treatment. For the first time in nearly two years, I’m feeling better and closer to normal. I have a way of dealing with what’s wrong. I joke it’s suffering for my art, but I literally left this alone from the time I first saw the doctor in Summer 2014 to fall of 2015. In that time, clearly things got worse. I ignored my body. That was not the most brilliant thing I’ve ever done.

Now that things are back on track, don’t be like me. To be the best you, a big part of that is being healthy. There’s mental health (i.e. needing to take a vacation to recharge the batteries; I’ve blogged about this in the past) and there is your physical/general health. That’s what I’m talking about here. You’re no good to anyone if you are sick, run down, in pain, etc. Sure, you can put a brave face on it, but silently suffering doesn’t work long term. Take it from someone who has been there and is now doing what I should have a year ago.

As you look toward 2016 and your resolutions, take stock of where you are mentally and physically and make sure you carve out time to take care of yourself in the new year. It’s hard to do with all of our personal and professional obligations, but you have to do it. I’m glad I finally did. The difference really is night and day.

Dear Microsoft: I Love You But You’re Driving Me Batty

By: on December 16, 2015 in Always On, AlwaysOn, Windows Server Failover Cluster | 15 Comments

If Microsoft and I had I relationship status, it would be “it’s complicated”. As a Microsoft MVP and someone who specializes in all things Windows  and SQL Server (within reason … there’s way too much for one person to literally know everything), I make my bread and butter on their platforms. Sure, I’ve used Unix and other RDBMSes over the years, too – but not like SQL Server. I speak VMware very well (not just Hyper-V). While I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me, anyone who knows me is aware that I’m outspoken. Some people love it, other people have an issue with it.

I try to be honest but not mean (despite what people may think – and you’d know when I’m being mean, trust me), but the reality is some people just can’t handle the truth so you pussyfoot around it. I come from a place where facts rule the day and I try not to let emotion cloud my judgement, but some of Microsoft’s recent decisions have me a bit puzzled, and quite frankly annoyed.  What MS decides directly affects not only how I do my day job as a consultant and educator, but any one using Windows and/or SQL Server. In this post, I’m going to focus on two issues because I think Redmond needs some tough love and a dose of reality from someone who cares and is passionate about both Windows and SQL Server.

Issue One: Always On

Yes, you read that right – Always <space> On. It’s almost a joke now with me and AlwaysOn, but it ceased to be funny a long time ago. It’s funny in the “haha” sense, and you can see by my Twitter feed people troll me all the time. I’m used to it.

You may have seen my previous blog post “AlwaysOn Is the New Active/Passive and Active/Active“. If not, take a few minutes and read it because it sets this up. If you want the TL;DR approach here it is: AlwaysOn is not the AG feature. If that was the issue, I wouldn’t be writing a new blog post.

As noted in that blog post, the words “always” and “on” have a long history with SQL Server. Always On (with space) was the initial designation for the highly available storage for use with SQL Server. So availability has always been linked; that is not in question. To quote this Hitachi whitepaper:

The Microsoft SQL Server Storage Solution Review Program is a specific SQL Server program that enables storage solution providers to highlight those storage solutions and configurations, via the SQL Server “Always On” labeling, that they have successfully reviewed against core functional Microsoft SQL Server storage requirements. The core requirements defined herein must be met for reliable, highly available SQL Server storage systems. 

Here are some other links from that era (there are more, but I think you’ll get the idea):

As I wrote about in my book Pro SQL Server 2005 High Availability (Apress, 2007) in Chapter 4 on page 122:

At TechEd 2006, Microsoft unveiled the SQL Server 2005 Always On program (http://www.microsoft.com/sql/alwayson/default.mspx) [note: this link does not work now; it did back then, so don’t try it], which is an umbrella that brings all the SQL Server availability technologies under one banner. Part of the Always On program is a partner program for storage solution partners. This specific portion of Always On is known  SQL Server Storage Solution Review Program.

I write a bit more in that, but this was the first morphing of the Always On name, which now included clustered instances as well as database mirroring, log shipping, backup and restore, etc. By SQL Server 2008, the storage certification portion of Always On was killed and it was just the HA-related features (FCIs, DBM, and log shipping clearly mentioned) as evidenced in this SQL Server 2008 OLTP marketing PDF.

Enter the feature introduced in SQL Server 2012: availability groups (AGs). Yes, AlwaysOn was a name for the feature for about five minutes in its development cycle as noted in my other blog post, but ultimately marketing decided to name the feature to be AGs and now had a new umbrella moniker for only FCIs and AGs: AlwaysOn. So the official names for those features are/were (we’ll get to were in a minute) AlwaysOn Failover Cluster Instances and AlwaysOn Availability Groups. So AlwaysOn has no space in 2012. This can be seen here and a screen grab is below in Figure 1. So out are DBM, log shipping, etc from the AlwaysOn moniker. And for heaven’s sake, it’s not AOAG. It’s just AG. We don’t say AOFCI – it’s just FCI (which is clearly seen at the link and in the screen grab; click to make it bigger). Precedence, people. Follow it.

Figure 1. AlwaysOn defined in SQL Server 2012 Books Online

Figure 1. AlwaysOn defined in SQL Server 2012 Books Online

My frustration with people using AlwaysOn improperly as the AG feature is well documented in the other blog post, and that issue has been occurring now for the better part of five years at this point. I’m not going to lie – it’s hard getting people to refer to the feature properly. Microsoft and its employees are some of the worst offenders truth be told.

Fast forward to this year’s MVP Summit which was right after PASS Summit. I was tipped off by a few birdies there was a change coming to AlwaysOn I would not be happy about – Always On (with a space). At first I thought they were trolling me and having a laugh – but no, this was real. SQL Server marketing in their “infinite wisdom” has decided to go back to the original spelling from here on out, which means for SQL Server 2016 (and possibly everything in 2012 and 2014), forget the no space. Ugh.

The new and improved Always On (with space) made its first official appearance in the December 15th blog post “Enhanced Always On Availability Groups in SQL Server 2016“. Now that it’s out there, I can talk about it. I’ve been sitting on this one for over a month. As one Microsoft PM once said to me, “You can report the news, but you can’t make it.”

I’ll cut right to the chase: as if we didn’t already have an AlwaysOn problem, marketing just made it worse. I mean this in the nicest possible way: I really think their heads are up their posterior. That won’t win me any favors, but it has to be said. What the hell are/were they thinking here? This change neither clarifies things or makes them better. It makes them WORSE. We’re taking a time hop back nearly 10 years.

When a bunch of us who fight this constantly found this fact out last month, we were all pretty livid. Marketing apparently lives in a bubble where they don’t give a hoot that people like me have to live with these asinine and uninformed decisions. No, I don’t expect them to consult me personally when they do something related to the SQL Server availability feature set, but it’s like they asked no one who even uses this stuff or thought about the downstream effect. I have a great working relationship with SQL dev, but I’m calling this ugly spade what it is: ridiculous.

What they should have probably done for SQL Server 2016 is something I would actually advocate (no, really): call the feature currently known as AGs  – what most do already  – AlwaysOn (no space). Drop the umbrella banner and just have HA features. FCIs will just be FCIs. I have been adhering to the rules marketing set up for 2012 and 2014, and I get penalized for it because they do a piss poor job enforcing it. PMs on TAP calls and in presentations regularly call AGs AlwaysOn with nary a word said. MS should train their own employees properly to be honest; it would solve many of my issues. Now marketing pulls this rabbit out of the hat? Unbelievable. Well, it is believable; I just have a hard time believing they consciously thought this was a winner of an idea. This almost is the equivalent of Bizarro and Bizarro World in the Superman universe.

A good friend and fellow MVP, Mike Steineke (Twitter | Blog), said two things today with regards to this which made me laugh but are true:

  • AlwaysOn naming is as random and complicated as SQL licensing
  • “Lucas thought Jar Jar Binks was a good idea too…  Meesa like AlwaysOn” – something one of his employees said and appropriate given the opening of Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens this week

I think those two quotes sum up my feelings pretty well.

EDIT: As has been pointed out by two comments, the real goal here is consistency. Failure to be consistent leads to confusion and problems (read the comments for more).

Issue Two: Services/Applications/Roles/Resource Groups and Windows Server Failover Clusters

SQL Server is not alone in its penchant to do things that are detrimental to customers and understanding the platform. Back in the day pre-Windows Server 2008, at the Windows level, we had the concept of resource groups. Simply put, they were basically containers for clustered resources. For example, if you installed a clustered instance of SQL Server 2005, its resources would be in its own resource group. In Cluster Administrator (the GUI-based management tool), they were referred to as groups. The command line cluster.exe also used the group nomenclature. So far, so good. Figure 2 shows what that looks like with a clustered default instance of SQL Server 2005 named BATMOBILE.

Figure 2. Cluster Administrator in Windows Server 2003

Figure 2. Cluster Administrator in Windows Server 2003

In Windows Server 2008, we got a new GUI administration tool – Failover Cluster Manager (FCM). Lo and behold, they changed the name for things in the GUI to be Services and Applications, not groups. But cluster.exe and in Windows Server 2008 R2, the PowerShell cmdlets (such as Get-ClusterGroup), refer to groups. For people who don’t know Windows Server Failover Clusters (WSFCs), this can be confusing (more on that in a minute), and if you come from 2003, it’s a problem as well. The reality is that underneath the covers it’s still a resource group. The concept never changed. There are other issues I won’t get into in this blog post. The groups –> Services and applications thing can be seen in Figure 3 which shows another default FCI named AJA.

Figure 3. Failover Cluster Manager in Windows Server 2008 R2

Figure 3. Failover Cluster Manager in Windows Server 2008 R2

In Windows Server 2012, this was then changed in FCM to be Role(s), but again, any command line still refers to groups. Figure 4 shows a named clustered instance of SQL Server named MINI\DISC.

Figure 4. Failover Cluster Manager in Windows Server 2012

Figure 4. Failover Cluster Manager in Windows Server 2012

 

Why is the UI and the command line out of sync? There honestly isn’t a good reason other than it is what it is. As someone who trains and speaks all the time, I need to make that connection for people between what you do in PowerShell and why it is different than the UI management tool. That also usually means I have to show Windows Server 2003 to people – something I’m sure they do NOT want me doing. I’m sure we’ve all seen the 1,000,001 WINDOWS SERVER 2003 IS GOING OUT OF SUPPORT – UPGRADE NOW e-mails, ads, Tweets, etc. from various folks including Microsoft.

I’ve been talking to the Cluster PMs about this since Windows Server 2012, and with Windows Server 2016 since it wasn’t done, formally filed a bug which was recently closed as will not fix in this version – maybe in the future. Look, I get it. It’s basically a visual thing which does not affect functionality and it’s not broken, and I’m sure there are things that need time allocated to fix which are more important. However, it leads to confusion when showing PowerShell (“What’s a group?”). It’s bad enough dealing with the 2008 R2 to 2012 questions of the Service/Application change to Role. Three versions into this new Role cycle, I’m calling enough is enough. Usability is a concern.

So if they want me to continue to show Windows Server 2003, don’t fix this. Until they do, Windows Server 2003 will be shown in some of my presentations and classes because many people learn visually and need to see that progression. Either that or change the UI back to Group or Resource Group. I’d be OK with that, too.

The Bottom Line

As you can tell, I’m not a very happy camper. Windows and SQL Server have given themselves enough rope to hang themselves on these two issues. SQL Server’s issue is completely self inflicted and causing a lot of confusion out in the world, and has for the better part of five years. I can only hope they come to their senses before SQL Server 2016 RTMs. As for Windows, like I said, I get things that are truly broken need to be fixed. But at this point when you want to put 2003 to rest, you can’t do it half assed. There’s still time before Windows Server 2016 RTMs. I’m not asking for this change to roll back to 2012 or 2012 R2.

I can’t reiterate enough that I am writing this from a standpoint of passion and caring, but the truth hurts sometimes. No one likes hearing their baby (in this case, their work) is ugly. Unlike animals and humans, these problems I discussed here are not life and death, and can be fixed. The ball is in your court, Microsoft. Do the right thing. I would love to see comments below because I think Microsoft needs to hear it from more than just me. Many voices affect change.

Are You Keeping Up With .NET Framework Versions? You Should Be

By: on December 10, 2015 in .NET Framework, .NET Framework 4.0, .NET Framework 4.5, .NET Framework 4.5.1, .NET Framework 4.5.2, .NET Framework 4.6, .NET Framework 4.6.1, SQL Server 2012, SQL Server 2014, SQL Server 2016, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2 | No Comments

You may have seen one of the 1,000,001 Tweets, blog posts, and other warnings around SQL Server 2005 end of life, and prior to that, Windows Server 2003 end of life. But there is something else intrinsic to SQL Server that you also need to worry about making sure you are up to date which affects later versions of SQL Server you may be running: the .NET Framework.

If you’re using SQL Server 2012 or later, one of the required components is some version of .NET Framework 4.x. Windows Server 2008 R2 did not ship with .NET Framework 4.x, so you would need to install it on your own or have SQL Server do it. This is known as out of band. Windows Server 2012 shipped with .NET Framework 4.0 and Windows Server 2012 R2 shipped with 4.5. This is known as in band. The good news is that for installations of SQL Server 2012 or later, you would not have to install or enable .NET Framework 4.x; it’s just there.

Like any other component, the .NET Framework needs to be managed, maintained, and updated. Depending on how .NET Framework was installed/configured, either it will be managed as part of updating Windows (in band versions), or you will need to manually update if it was installed separately (out of band, such as .NET Framework 4.x on Windows Server 2008 R2 or if you installed .NET Framework 4.5 on Windows Server 2012).

Microsoft recently published an official .NET team blog post reiterating that .NET Framework versions 4, 4.5, and 4.5.1 will no longer receive security updates, support, or hotfixes as of January 12, 2016. This was first announced back in August of 2014, so it’s not like this is new news, but I can say from experience virtually no one is talking about it. MS’ new post talks more about the upgrade path. To sum it up, you need to install .NET Framework 4.5.2, 4.6, or 4.6.1 to be considered supported when it comes to your .NET Framework version. Security is a real issue for many, and those responsible may not know that your version of .NET Framework could be a possible attack vector. Is your security team aware of this impending problem? How will this affect your version matrices (you do have those, right?)?

The bigger question is this – have you even planned for this event in your environments for both servers and any clients or application servers that run or connect to SQL Server? Have you been keeping up with .NET Framework versions or did you just install SQL Server and forget about it? I would say that most people I encounter fall into the latter. Staying supported is a key component of being mission critical.

If you haven’t thought about updating/patching your .NET Framework version, now is the time to start planning the upgrade to your preferred, supported, and tested version of .NET Framework in your environments. If you do not test against your applications, you could possibly encounter problems. In other words, without testing you are rolling the dice. That is anti-mission critical and can lead to downtime.

Another question you have to get the answer to is this: who owns this upgrade? Is it the app owner? The DBAs? The sysadmins? The .NET Framework can be a bit of a grey area depending on the server and how it was installed.

Here’s a tip: if you’re considering 4.6, just go to 4.6.1 – you’ll not only have a longer shelf life of supportability, but they enhanced the behavior of MultiSubnetFailover (see this blog post for more information) which could benefit some Availability Groups implementations (I am trying to verify if it applies to FCIs; it should as well …). To help you get to green faster, here are some handy links:

  • This is the KB article to get information on how to download .NET Framework 4.5.2 as an offline installer (including desktop OSes and all Windows Server OSes).
  • This is the link article to get information on how to download .NET Framework 4.6 as an offline installer (including desktop OSes and all Windows Server OSes
  • The blog post linked above for 4.6.1 has links for its download.

If you need help planning or implementing your upgrade strategies, let us know.