Two SQL Server Resources That Improved When You Weren’t Looking

SQL Server

SQL Server learning materials seem to live at two extremes. Blog posts are short and to the point, but they don’t cover material in depth. Books are long and detailed, but to quote a famous philosopher, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Enter two resources that have been out for quite a while. They aim to cover subjects from start to finish, but in a way that you can digest in an hour.

Microsoft Books Online (Yes, Books Online!)

Microsoft Books Online earned a terrible reputation for being the last place you’d ever want to look for help. Look up the sys.databases view, for example, and you get gems like this:


No context, no hyperlinks to more details for a particular setting. These aren’t even new settings – they’ve been out for years. Since at least SQL 2000, there’s been a Books Online page for ANSI NULLS that they could have linked to.

However, when you weren’t looking, Books Online went to finishing school. It’s now chock full of great explanations of concepts. When you’re looking to implement a feature, check out these explanations:

Books Online still tends to focus on features rather than tasks. For example, if you need to find out why your server is slow, heaven help you if your only resource is Books Online.

SQL Server Central Stairways

SSC’s Stairways series covers topics start to finish with 5-15 tutorials from one or two authors. I love the consistency on these – you can settle in with one author and really dig into a topic with a logical flow. Think of it as an interactive book chapter, often with lots of demos you can run to illustrate concepts.

They’ve added stairways for T-SQL, indexes, transaction logs, PowerShell, replication, SSRS, and other good foundational topics. The existing stairways keep getting better as the authors add more posts.

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12 Comments. Leave new

  • I think the Stairways are a fantastic resource. The 30-90 minute quick training videos and such here and on plural are also great for quick pointed training over the old 800 page books.

  • sreekanth bandarla
    November 27, 2013 12:50 pm

    You should probably add “” to the list with all the awesome information and guidence you guys are providing lately to SQL Server community and all the impoved free tools being offered like sp_blitz, sp_blitzindex and sp_askbrent! Please keep it coming…#BrentozarRocks 🙂

  • Well, look at BOL through Microsoft’s eyes: it is a big cost saving. The community (people like you) have devoted their time to document and guide users on how to hack their way though SQL Server. And you do it for free. The community does it for free, for whatever reason. Hence, what would make Microsoft care about investing time and money in BOL?
    And yes, when I say “hack their way though SQL Server”, it seems even a bit funny: I don’t know if you noticed, but at the SQL Rally in Stockholm there were at least two sessions which were devoted to the topic: “Data: Faster SQL Server Performance Techniques with SQLCLR” and “Using Your Brain to Beat SQL Server”.
    The community actually does presentations at Micosoft events on how to avoid bugs and survive another day at work by using workarounds.
    Brent could have done much better by presenting something similar. Not sure why he had to go for the 101 session…

    • Feodor – Thanks, glad you like our contributions. You’ve got an interesting point about Microsoft letting the community build the documentation. I never thought about it being a cost savings for them.

      About my presentations – you know, it’s funny, I don’t like presenting 400-level material at all. I want to write material that 2004 Brent would have needed to get his job done better. I totally understand that there’s a good audience for 400-level material, but it’s not my presenting style.

      I sat in both of Adam’s sessions that you mentioned, and I’m curious about something. What techniques from those sessions have you implemented in your environment? I’m always interested to hear what people put right into use in production after seeing sessions like that.

    • Feodor – oh, and just for the record, the attendee evaluations just came in. Both of my sessions beat both of the sessions you mentioned. Looks like I didn’t do too bad after all. Whew!

    • Feodor,

      The problem with the SQL Server community is that there are too many good people out there giving this stuff away for free. Then when you get to a Sr. DBA position, knowing that you did it by standing on the shoulders of volunteers who shared what they know, you get to the point that your conscious pushes you to give back. Because of this, there will never be any concern about this information running dry.

      I’d mention names here, but that would be a couple coworkers you wouldn’t know along with me duplicating half of the SQL Server MVP list.

  • I have to agree with the earlier posts. If I want to know the syntax of how to execute a command the BOL is good. If I need to know why certain things need to be done then I go to and a few other sites. I am reading an older book that Brent help author, “SQL Server 2008 Internals and Troubleshooting” and have come across several references to for Microsoft open source solutions. I did not realize that site was out there until reading that book. Keep contributing and I will keep reading and learning! My accomplishments at this point are to keep the rest of the team I work with informed on the best practices I have come across. That in itself has cut back on the numbers of fires we have to deal with.

  • I never knew Stairways is such a great resource. You see, that is why I check your website every single day. Every time I do that, I learn something new. Thanks Brent.


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