R2’s new Data-Tier Application (DAC) capabilities give the DBA to manage databases as if they were more like virtual servers. Today I’m going to talk about what that means short-term and long-term.
Short-Term: Nothing To See Here, Move Along
I don’t think most DBAs will see a .dacpack file in the wild for years:
- It’s SQL Server 2008 R2 only. The new SQL Server Utility model can’t be used to manage older versions of SQL Server. Whenever I poll enterprise DBAs, the majority of ’em are still on 2000 and 2005.
- It’s only available in Enterprise Edition. Microsoft has only put the coolest new features in Enterprise Edition lately, and this is no exception.
- They don’t develop themselves. Somebody has to develop the DACs before you can deploy ’em to your server. Yes, you can reverse-engineer an existing database into a new Data-Tier Application, but…
- Not all SQL Server objects are supported. Data-Tier Applications support only a subset of objects like tables, non-clustered indexes, views, functions, and stored procedures – and not just any stored procs, either.
To illustrate that last point, I tried extracting one of my favorite databases, a Twitter cache built using Tweet-SQL, and got the following errors:
Some of the errors included:
- This object depends on dbo.tweet_usr_followers(Stored Procedure) that is not supported in a DAC.
- Accessibility(SqlAssembly) – This object type is not supported in a DAC.
- dbo.tweet_acc_archive(StoredProcedure) – This object type is not supported in a DAC.
The problem: extended stored procedures and encrypted stored procedures.
Ironically, these techniques are often used by third party vendors to deliver their code – like TweetSQL, and like Quest, for that matter. Yesterday, I blogged about why third-party vendors are a great use case for DACs, but now we can see why adoption in that user group won’t be quick. Why would a third-party vendor deploy their database as a .dacpack if it can only be deployed on Enterprise Edition and none of the contents can be encrypted?
In fact, who would use this at all when it’s such a minor subset of SQL Server’s capabilities?
Flash Back to SQL Server 2008’s Release
At the PASS Summit in Seattle, I talked to a DBA who’d really had it with Microsoft. He complained that 2008 didn’t have anything groundbreaking for production database administrators. He’d loved SQL 2005’s introduction of SQL Server Management Studio, but since then, he hadn’t seen anything out of Microsoft to really make his job easier. PowerShell and Policy-Based Management were theoretical steps in the right direction, but not big enough. (To date, I still don’t see widespread adoption of either, and I agree with his sentiments.)
More than making life easier for production DBAs, SQL Server 2008 started to install plumbing that would make life easier for BI users. Much easier. Much, much easier. SQL Server 2008 R2 brings the faucets and shows just how easy it’s going to be. To quote Microsoft’s R2 marketing page:
“Self-service analysis tools allow end-users to quickly create solutions from disparate data sources within a familiar Microsoft Office Excel user interface. By publishing these solutions in SharePoint Server, users can easily share them with others.”
As Microsoft delivers capabilities to end users, they’re focusing on self-service.
Not making it easier for administrators – making it self-service. Making it easy enough that no dedicated administrator is required – in theory, at least.
The reality is that DBAs don’t buy SQL Server. DBAs sell SQL Server. They sell it to CIOs, developers, and BI users. Microsoft’s approach with self-service BI in SQL Server 2008 R2 means that they’re selling directly to the BI users, empowering them to do their own work without getting approval from the DBA.
That DBA who complained about Microsoft not focusing on DBA tools isn’t going to be any happier with SQL Server 2008 R2. The features available at release will be focused on BI professionals, and the new-plumbing features that will work long-term are focused at a different audience altogether. When you read that SQL Server Utility features will make life easier for production DBAs, you need to read between the lines.
Long-Term: Look Up, The Sky Is Coming
The subset of supported features is eerily similar to SQL Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-based SQL Server offering.
Did you hear that just now?
All over the universe, DBAs cried out in anguish at the prospect of reading yet more about how the cloud is coming to steal their buckets.
Just like SQL Server 2008 R2 starts to deliver self-service BI, the next versions of SQL Server will probably focus on delivering self-service data storage. The “self” could be:
- Developers who just want to write applications that store data without the hassles of asking for DBA permission
- Network admins who want to manage SQL Server the same way they manage the rest of their servers – as virtual servers, slicing up pools of resources
- Project managers who want to buy a third-party application and don’t care about how the database works
Virtualization didn’t become popular by catering to the people who liked their own dedicated servers. It caught on because it catered to the people who paid the bills and the people who had to manage all those dedicated servers. Likewise, the DAC concept might catch on not by catering to DBAs, but by catering to people who never really liked DBAs.
These types of users will love the DAC concept, and furthermore, they might like the concept of just hosting their database in the cloud. Us hard-core DBAs look at Azure’s pricing model ($10/mo for 1gb, $100/mo for 10gb) as crazy high, but to project managers and network admins, that’s not too bad at all. Compare it to the cost of a fully configured SQL Server Enterprise Edition box with licensing (because remember, DACs only work on Enterprise Edition) and the cost is downright sensible.
DBAs complain about security problems in the cloud, but the DAC concept appears to have conquered some of those limitations. Security requirements are built into the DAC package, including logins and permissions, and non-secure multi-database elements (like extended stored procedures) just aren’t allowed in .dacpack files.
When I interviewed Tom Casey at the PASS Summit in 2008, he hinted at this by saying that SQL Server is already somewhat multi-tenant, and now I see where this is going. Down the road, you can choose whether to deploy a DAC in your internal cloud (SQL Server resource pool managed by the SQL Server Utility Control Point) or to Microsoft’s cloud. If your developers have already confined their application to using a subset of SQL Server’s functionality, then it’s no additional headaches for you.
The SQL Server Utility model won’t change the way you work this year, but ask your Windows administrators how their job has changed with the advent of virtualization. Take heed of the lessons they learned, because your job will be changing next.