Adios, IE

The first browser I used on the Internet to find information was the text based lynx browser. This was quite an improvement (at the time) over Archive and Gopher. When Netscape released their Navigator browser for Windows, I abandoned those old tools, moving on to a new way to access information across the world.

However I primarily worked in a Microsoft world as my career grew and that meant using Internet Explorer, or IE. In fact, I remember thinking all the ActiveX extensions and the bundling on installations of Windows meant that the browser was convenient. It was even nice to program on, since it dealt with poorly formed HTML fairly well. However it had plenty of issues and was a never ending source of calls from customers that had stability and security issues.

In fact, sometime around Windows XP, I moved to Firefox and never looked back. I only had IE installed on my systems because Microsoft included it with the OS. The last 5 or 6 years, I’ve run Chrome and Firefox together, only using IE when a few specific sites required it. Even then, I’d give an inward groan each time I clicked on the familiar “e” icon.

However times have changed. This month, on January 12, Microsoft ends support for all versions of IE prior to 11. While IE will still be run for many years by some people, just as Windows ME and NT 4.0 still exist in places, Microsoft won’t provide support or patches, and we can only hope that people switch to another browser quickly.

I haven’t been thrilled with the Edge browser in Windows 10, as it hasn’t worked in some sites I use regularly. That seems strange to me, but alas, the idea of a Microsoft browser not working the same as other browsers is nothing new. I can only hope that Microsoft fixes the issues in Edge rather than having web developers include code to handle the finicky nature of Microsoft’s browser technology.

The death of IE shouldn’t matter much to us, as data professionals, but I wonder how many of us still have applications using web browser controls based on IE technology. I suspect quite a few, and it’s entirely possible moving forward that we’ll continue to deal with issues of poor rendering of data from our databases through web controls for many years to come.

Steve Jones

The Machines are Learning

One of the technologies that Microsoft is promoting heavily is machine learning. This has rapidly gone from a technology that I heard little about to being in multiple keynotes that I’ve seen at large conferences this year. It almost seems that I can’t go a week without seeing some sort of machine learning article, announcement, or reference.

How applicable is machine learning for most of us? I’m not sure, but banks have certainly taken advantage of machine learning to reduce their risks associated with fraud and their systems work well. In fact, given the ways in which I travel, I’m amazed that I don’t get more calls about fraud related to my card use. With me in a new state almost every month, on a very irregular schedule, sometimes buying computer supplies far from home, I get called by a bank once or twice a year.

Across the ten or so calls I’ve gotten in the last few years, only one questioned legitimate purchases. The rest caught fraud on the same day that someone tried to use my card without my knowledge. That’s a very successful rate of both true positives, and a very, very low rate of false positives. I’m impressed.

If you haven’t played with machine learning, Microsoft has made it easy to give a try in Azure. You don’t even need to put in a credit card to get up and working with machine learning. Whether it’s applicable to your industry or not, you’ll have to decide, but I do think that lots of tedious analysis that humans do now could be better done by a machine.

At least after one of us humans has configured the algorithms and trained the machine to recognize patterns. And, of course, with one of us technologists periodically tuning the system to work better  and monitoring the analysis as data changes.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.6MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.

Visual Studio Subscriptions

Many of us that work with SQL Server do so exclusively through SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). I find so many people really do the majority of their jobs with SSMS, Outlook, and a web browser. Even back in 2003 when I was a full time DBA, I probably spent the majority of my time in those three applications.
However I also see more and more people using Visual Studio and other tools to accomplish their jobs. The growth of new tools, like Powershell, the expansion of our work into BI areas, and more mean that more and more people are using tools besides SSMS to work with SQL Server data.
This past week there was an announcement that MSDN subscriptions were changing. At most of my jobs, I’ve had an MSDN subscription available to me. In fact, some of you might remember the large binders of CDs (and later DVDs) that arrived on a regular basis and contained copies of all Microsoft software. However many of you out there haven’t had MSDN available to you, or you’ve struggled to justify the yearly $1000+ cost, but you do want to work on your careers and practice with Microsoft software.
At first I saw the yearly cost of MSDN at $799, which is a pretty large investment. However as I looked to the side, I saw a monthly subscription, no large commitment, available for $45. That’s not an extremely low cost for much of the world, but it’s very reasonable in the US. It’s also a great way to build a setup that allows you to work with a variety of Microsoft technologies at an affordable cost. What’s more, you can stop paying at any time. Or start again at any time.
I know that it can be a struggle to invest in your own career, probably more difficult to find time than money. However this is a good way to get access to the various development and server tools for a period of time if you want to tackle a project or force yourself to learn a new skill.
I’m glad that Microsoft has moved to a subscription model for MSDN. I expect to see this subscription growing as small companies use a small investment that scales linearly with new hires to provide their employees with tools. I can only hope that many other vendors adopt this same model and allow us to rent our tools, and upgrade, for a very reasonable cost. I just hope they all let us backup and save our settings in case we interrupt our subscription for a period of time.
Steve Jones

Microsoft Exercise

Have we got a deal for you! Microsoft is concerned about the health of your company and is doing something about it.

There’s a trend in modern society of obesity, complacency, and general laziness. Not only does is this bad for society in general, but it also affects your health. So we have a new solution for you, designed specifically to combat this degenerative lifestyle in an easy way.

The Upgrade Treadmill!

Designed by the engineers up in Redmond, this highly engineered device ensures that you won’t sit around getting stagnant on those junky-technologies and deep-fried solutions. Instead we’ve built a system of carefully selected products released on a regular cycle that ensures you’ll be running for the rest of your career.

And it’s easy to get started. Just call 1-800-SHARE-PRICE and enroll now in our assurance program. With a short lifetime and quick expiration, our automated reminders to your boss will ensure that you never slack off and slow down your pace of upgrades.

It’s all in fun, but there’s some seriousness here. I originally wrote this awhile back when it seemed Microsoft was pressing for upgrades to SQL Server 2008 R2 after a relatively short development cycle post SQL Server 2008. However the piece got lost in the shuffle. I found it recently and was reminded of the sentiment when I saw a post to upgrade away from SQL Server 2005 with support ending.

There are good reasons to upgrade; just be sure the reasons are valid for your instance and environment.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 1.8MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.

Microsoft and R

Microsoft purchased Revolution Analytics recently, a commercial company that works with the R programming language. This seems to be a decision to improve the analytics and analysis offerings from Microsoft. I’ve heard this will be incorporated into their Machine Learning offering, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some basic R support in SQL Server at some point. If you’re not familiar with R, we’ve got a basic piece at SQLServerCentral on it.

Microsoft has made lots of acquisitions before, and while there’s some question of whether Microsoft can make R easy to use, I think they can. Years ago, Microsoft bought Proclarity, a company that had some BI type products. Did they succeed with that acquisition? I think they did. A number of the technologies likely made their way into PowerPivot and Power View even though the Proclarity products have somewhat disappeared, being incorporated into other products.

The R language and environment is complex, and I’m not sure how many database developers or DBAs want to become experts. However I do think that it could be possible to make the language easier, perhaps by building functions into SQL Server that help with the data analysis and computational features, and adding extensions in ADO.NET or other client libraries that might support easier rendering of visualizations.

We have lots of tools to help here already, with PowerPivot and other related Excel add-ins, and I suspect that any offerings here will overlap with those products, but allow Microsoft to woo an even wider audience of data professionals.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 1.9MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.

What’s Coming True?

It’s the start of the new year, and the first day of work for many of us. As I start to work this year, I see that much of my work is based on that planning we did at the end of last year. We made predictions for our business, set goals, and today begin to execute on things. However, we are assuming our predictions are somewhat accurate in order to achieve success. What if our predictions aren’t correct?

There’s no shortage of prognosticators out there, and I found a number of predictions about IT, the Cloud, and Microsoft. I have no idea if any of these will actually come true, but I wanted to ask you this week:

Which of these predictions will come true in 2015?

  • Increased automation and less staff
  • more BYOD acceptance and support
  • More telecommuting
  • containerization of software in the cloud (or the data center)
  • More hybrid applications using the cloud
  • IoT growth – more sensors, more data for you
  • Windows 10 will be a hit
  • SQL Server 2015 will come out
  • Windows Phone will become competitive
  • You’ll get hacked at your company.
  • You will encrypt your databases?

The IT trends listed are fairly general, and all of them are really underway now, so I’m not sure there’s much of a prediction there. For you individually, will you see more automation and less people? More BI and cloud usage? Any of the Microsoft predictions likely to come true? Do any these apply to your environment?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and certainly there’s lots of people expecting 3D printing and more mobile technologies to emerge. If you think any of these will, or won’t, definitely come true, take a vote and we’ll rerun this thread at the end of the year. If you have other predictions, let us know as well.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.1MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.

Continuous Delivery for Windows?

I read a bit about the next version of Windows, which is coming in 2015 as Windows 10. I’m not sure how much I care about some of the changes coming in the OS, though having CTRL+V working in a command prompt is very welcome. However I did read this piece about the people testing the Technical Previews and was a little intrigued by one quote: “… Threshold testers … will have those features and fixes pushed automatically to them…”

Does that mean that Microsoft has re-engineered Windows to be integrated with a Continuous Delivery process? If so, then I think this is a good move. We’ve already seen SQL Server move to a pace that releases new versions every two years and bimonthly patches to fix issues. Imagine that we could get patches even more often, as bugs are fixed.

Also imagine that we could get those bugs quickly rolled back and patches pulled if there are issues.

I think that’s one of the interesting things for me. There have been patches in the past which caused, issues and were sometimes hard to remove. If new changes can be pushed out quickly, I’d hope they could be removed quickly. And with all the feedback that Microsoft gets from existing installations, I could even start to see custom patches built that are deployed to only certain configurations that are compatible with the patch.

Of course, that’s an ideal view. I suspect that we’ll still see overworked developers releasing patches that not only fix issues, but cause other problems, and at times, can’t be removed. At least we’ll probably get the patch to fix the patch, a little faster than in the past.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 3.0MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.

Bronze Age Development

I was watching a presentation on testing recently where the speaker noted that on one project he’d spent twice as much time testing as coding. That sounds like an outrageous amount of time, but my concern was tempered when he said the release to production produced no bugs. I’m sure some bugs surfaced later, but I have often seen that most of the bugs, especially the incredibly annoying ones, are typically discovered quickly.

I was reminded of that presentation when I saw this quote: “…the result was a two-year development process in which only about four months would be spent writing new code. Twice as long would be spent fixing that code.”

That’s a quote on the development of Visual Studio a few years back. I wonder if the “twice as long fixing” time would have been reduced with better testing efforts earlier in development. It’s hard to know since all evidence on the value of testing is based on disparate projects with different teams working at different levels of experience, but I’ve run into a few people that think more testing reduces overall development time.

The consultant who gave the presentation believes strongly in testing, not only at the application level, but also at the database level. This person has tried different levels of testing on different projects, and found that building and writing tests throughout development results in many fewer issues at release. Perhaps more telling is that when the person has performed less testing in later projects (because the clients declined to pay for it), there were more bugs in production.

I don’t know if the total time spent on building software is less with testing occurring early than with allowing clients and customers to test and report bugs. Certainly some of that might depend on how many bugs you fix and how many bugs people must cope with, but I do know that the fewer issues people find with your software, the more excited they are to ask you to write more code in the future.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.2MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn. feed

The Voice of the DBA podcast features music by Everyday Jones. No relation, but I stumbled on to them and really like the music. Support this great duo at www.everydayjones.com.

Patching Problems

I applied the Windows 8.1 update a few weeks ago and had some issues with my machine. Windows was fine, but I lost my SQL Server service. A few other users, including some of the SQLServerCentral community also had issues and sent me ideas, but their fixes didn’t work for me. That was OK because the problems gave me a chance to use PoSh to solve a real problem. I’ll be blogging about that in the next week.

However the 8.1 update has caused lots of issues, and Microsoft is acknowledging these problems. That’s good, but the process gives me pause, and to a large extent, I think this makes more and more people suspect about all of Microsoft’s patching processes. I bet there are companies that feel even more justified in waiting for SP1 for SQL Server 2014 before upgrading, even though there is a chance that the patch itself will cause problems.

This is one reason I’ve been hesitant to remain current with Cumulative Updates (CUs). Microsoft doesn’t stand behind them, with the text on each CU page that users should only apply the patch if they are experiencing specific problems. Otherwise users are told to wait for the next Service Pack, which seem to be coming less and less often.

Any patch can cause issues, and I certainly don’t like the idea of automatic updates always being applied because if there are issues, they can become much more widespread than controlled updates. There is also the issue of vendor responsiveness. Microsoft has pushed out patches that caused issues, and while they’ve try to fix issues quickly, I don’t want to have all of my desktops, or all of my SQL Servers, down because of a bad patch.

I don’t know how we patch in a more effective manner, but I do know that I want to have some control over updates as an end user, and I also want ways to remove patches. Moving to the app model of always applying patches over patches, and never rolling back seems to be a step in the wrong direction.

PS – If you want better servicing for SQL Server, vote for final service packs for products still under support.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.8MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn. feed

The Voice of the DBA podcast features music by Everyday Jones. No relation, but I stumbled on to them and really like the music. Support this great duo at www.everydayjones.com.

Patching Problems

I applied the Windows 8.1 update a few weeks ago and had some issues with my machine. Windows was fine, but I lost my SQL Server service. A few others, including some of the SQLServerCentral community also had issues, but their fixes didn’t work for me. It was OK, because the problems gave me a chance to use PoSh to solve a real problem. I’ll be blogging about that in the next week.

However the 8.1 update has caused lots of issues, and Microsoft is acknowledging these problems. That’s good, but the process gives me pause, and to a large extent, I think this makes more and more people suspect about all of Microsoft’s patching processes. I bet there are companies that feel justified in waiting for SP1 for SQL Server 2014 before upgrading, even though there is a chance that the patch will cause problems itself.
This is one reason I’ve been hesitant to remain current with Cumulative Updates (CUs). Microsoft doesn’t stand behind them, with the text on each CU page that users should only apply the patch if they are experiencing specific problems. Otherwise users are told to wait for the next Service Pack, which seem to be coming less and less.
Any patch can cause issues, and I certainly don’t like the idea of automatic updates always being applied because if there are issues, they can become much more widespread than controlled updates. There is also the issue of vendor responsiveness. Microsoft has pushed out patches that caused issues, and while they’ve been responsive, I don’t want to have all of my desktops, or all of my SQL Servers, down because of a bad patch.
I don’t know how we patch in a more effective manner, but I do know that I want to have some control over updates as an end user, and I also want ways to remove patches. Moving to the app model of always applying patches over patches, and never rolling back seems to be a step in the wrong direction.
Steve Jones