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Just Because You Don’t Like The Answer Doesn’t Mean It’s Wrong

By: on February 3, 2012 in Advice, Annoyed, Consulting, DBA, Politics, Presenting, Rant, Speaking Engagement

Many people, including myself, spend our own time answering questions on things like the #sqlhelp hash tag on Twitter and on various forums (TechNet/MSDN, SQL Server Central, etc.). This even happens during talks in Q&A sessions. Most people are nice and gracious, but every now and then, you have someone who just keeps chipping away at the stone to hopefully get the answer they really want to hear (even though it’s not possible). 10 observations:

  1. One thing I see quite often is the lashback when a correct answer is provided but yet the arguments still continue. Here’s the deal: some technologies – clusters are a good example – work the way they work. I didn’t design the feature. For example, the requirement for shared storage for a clustered instance of SQL Server up through SQL Server 2008 R2 (this changes a little in 2012, but only in certain scenarios). You can’t get a Windows failover cluster or a SQL Server clustered instance to work any other way potentially without either unsupported (by MS) hacks or not clustering at all. Don’t hate us if you may have not thought out all aspects of your design, have run into an issue, and don’t like what we have to say. We’re really not trying to egg you on or irk you – we’re just giving facts.
  2. Don’t expect us to design your massively complex solution for you for free based on 140 characters or a blog post in a free forum. That’s consulting and what most of us do for our day jobs. We’ve got bills to pay. We can point you in the right direction, but hopefully you’re going to base your design on more than a few line response. Those of us who answer questions love to give back, but realize that there’s always going to be some caveats to what you get for free in a smaller response.
  3. We can’t make you experts in 140 characters or a series of replies. Hopefully you’re not expecting that.
  4. Help us help you. This can’t be said enough. The more and accurate info we have, the better. I go through this with my clients all the time – it’s hard to make decisions about tomorrow when you don’t know what is going on today, what happened last week, or even last year. You need historical data to be able to make informed decisions.
  5. You’re probably wasting your time if you ask something like “I need more disk performancebut I’ve got no budget. Will 5 SATA disks work?” You pretty much have already answered your own question. You can do things right, you can do things fast, or you can do things cheap. Those three things generally don’t all work together. Sometimes you can do them right and fast, but never cheap. Fast and cheap are often lumped together, but often leads to never being right. I think you get the point. There’s a tradeoff somewhere.
  6. Capacity is not just size (memory, storage, etc.). There’s a whole performance aspect you need to consider. That’s why we ask questions like “How many I/Ops do you need?”
  7. Your workload matters. Know what it is and be able to hopefully articulate that. What advice works for one implementation may be totally wrong for another.
  8. RT(F)M. Before asking us a question, do some simple homework first. A simple BinGoogle search may yield your answer or point you to a BOL topic to allow you to ask a more directed question. That’s where we’ll provide you with (hopefully) some value.
  9. Do NOT post any confidential info about your company, app, or data. This may include things like schema, object names, etc. Common sense, but is it really? Find a way to express your question while still keeping sensitive things under wraps. Easier said than done, of course. This is why I put NDAs in place with my customers when we work together. It allows me to do work and protects both them and me.
  10. I subscribe to the motto that there are no stupid questions, and I truly believe that. Heck, we all started somewhere. It’s one reason I give back to the community. I didn’t get here on sheer will alone – I’ve had help along the way. But really look at #8 above – many questions can be answered that way. What is not easy, though, is trusting the information source it may come from. I’ve seen some sketchy advice put out there (no, I won’t say where), and it’s a free Internet. People can post what they want based on their experiences – just doesn’t make it technically sound advice. OK, I lied – one example which involves shrinking. We all know how shrinking is not a normal best practice. Don’t believe me? Just read some of Paul Randal’s thoughts. Point is, that first linked post gave OK technical instructions, but not necessarily the most sound advice. Learn to differentiate the two. In the case of that original link, I bet the DBA smartly sized the DB for longer term growth. We’ll never know.

Sorry if this sounds cranky, but I see this stuff over and over. We really do want to help you. Just don’t shoot the messenger if you don’t like the message.


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