Your comprehensive guide to SQL Server

Microsoft Structured Query Language (SQL) Server is an innovative software technology that has revolutionized how data is handled—data that must be easily accessible to a specific organization, but completely inaccessible to unauthorized users. 


SQL Server ensures this happens because a SQL Server:


• Is implemented from RDBMS (Relational Database Management System)

• Is an ORDBMS (Object-Relational Database Management System)

• Is platform dependent

• Is both GUI and command-based software

• Supports SQL language


There are many different versions of SQL Server, each catering to a different workload or set of demands. Some are scaled down and free while others are tailored to higher levels of application support and scalability. For over 20 years, SQL Server worked exclusively on Windows. However, it has recently become available to run on Linux as well.

Applications for SQL Server

Since the system is designed and built to manage and store information, it’s useful for almost all organizations by default, but perhaps the most in-demand applications are for those in the business industry. This is because SQL Server supports intelligence operations, analytics operations and transaction processing.  


SQL Server is used to:


• Store and manage information

• Create and maintain databases

• Analyze data through SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS)

• Generate reports through SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)

• Carry out ETL operations through SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS)

• Share data files by computers in the same network

• Increase the speed with which data is processed

• Be a reliable backup system

SQL Server glossary of terms

Here is a brief listing of some commonly used SQL Server terms and their definitions.

• BLOB: Stands for Binary Large Object and is a piece of binary data that has an exceptionally large size. Examples include images, audio or multimedia tracks that are stored as digital data. It can also be any variable or table column that is large enough to hold such values.

• Compression: A technique that helps reduce the size of a database to improve performance. It is best suited to log tables, audit tables, fact tables and reporting.

• Fabric configuration: Creating an environment that is conducive to high productivity and maximum efficiency.

• Index: A database object that provides fast access to data in the rows of a table, based on key values in a relational database.

• Partitioning: The process of replacing a table with multiple smaller tables. This is done to positively affect the environment and most of its processes.

• T-SQL: Stands for Transact-SQL and is the language containing the commands used to administer instances of SQL Server, to create and manage all objects in an instance of SQL Server, and to insert, retrieve, modify and delete all data in SQL Server tables.

• Virtualization: Technology that lets you consolidate workloads from multiple servers onto a single server. This drives up the hardware utilization rate and increases the ROI for your servers.

Here is a more comprehensive SQL Server Glossary.

SQL Server best practices

Knowing and utilizing SQL Server best practices can provide much guidance for those who want to optimize their host clustering, virtual machine configuring, virtual deployments and SQL Server resiliency. 


When followed, best practices offer:


• Better scalability with higher capacity, memory and virtual machine density

• Higher performance from better support

• More availability from faster and simultaneous migration and support

• Significant manageability in both private and public clouds

• Complementary architectural design of an organization’s specific environment

• Advantages of key platform features to deliver the highest levels of execution and accessibility

How to get the most from Your SQL Server

Sometimes, you may be dealing with a vastly underpowered server. This causes a lot of frustration, but there are a few things you can do to mitigate the issues.

Tuning the indexes

With such a huge database that grows every month, indexes, partitioning and compression are keys to decreasing the time of a batch process. 


Here are a few other tips for improving performance:


• With just a handful of index changes you can eliminate clustered index scan and key lookups.

• The user-defined function feature is often the source of hidden performance problems.

• Use Profiler to create and manage traces and analyze and replay trace results.

• Updates and deletes must be done cautiously to avoid locking up the server.

Upgrading SQL Server, OS, and applications

If you’re experiencing frequent timeouts, delays and other nonsense, there’s a chance your version of SQL Server could use an update. By simply upgrading the SQL Server (and sometimes the OS and its applications) you can make a dramatic improvement in performance. 

How did SQL expert Kathi Kellenberger deal with an underpowered and under-functioning SQL Server?


To make the best use of server hardware investments, you should consolidate workloads as separate virtual machines. This allows you to gain greater scalability and build reliable infrastructure for mission-critical workloads. 

Fabric configuration considerations

Here are three considerations for properly building scalable, high-performance virtualized infrastructures.


1. Hardware: This includes hardware-assisted virtualization and hardware-enforced Data Execution Prevention. 

2. Compute: There should be a large amount of processing and memory power available to handle demanding, mission-critical and high-performance workloads.   

3. Storage: It should be designed to provide enhanced reliability, availability and performance for widely distributed database application. Improper configuration can lead to poor performance and operation. 

4 .Networking: Network performance and availability is important for reducing networking complexity while simplifying management tasks.


While proper planning is required before virtualization, the results of optimal performance and ease of management are well worth the initial effort. 

Must-know SQL Server features

Knowing the basics only gets you so far. If you’re ready to go beyond the basics and explore additional must-know features and capabilities of SQL, read on.

Execute a query over a sliding window of data

Viewing data through a window by using T-SQL commands offers three benefits:


1. It focuses, simplifies and customizes the perception each user has of the database.

2. It provides a backward compatible interface which emulates a table whose schema has changed. 

3. It acts as a security mechanism by allowing users to access data without granting permissions to directly access the underlying base tables.

Integrate a highly-scalable BLOB storage solution

Integrating document BLOB storage with SQL Server is an innovative feature that works seamlessly with a relational SQL Server database to solve the dilemma of storing BLOBs (Binary Large Objects) within the relational database. This is accomplished with FILESTREAM.


Before FILESTREAM, SQL Server was forced to put BLOBs into the standard database filegroups. Because BLOBs don’t naturally fit within this structure, they are pushed into off-row storage. This bloats the structured filegroups and kills performance. 


Now, with FILESTREAM, SQS Server stores BLOB content as files in the file system where they belong. 


It also:

• Establishes and maintains reference points

• Physically stores the BLOB data separately from structured row data

• Provides full transactional consistency

Expose your data in more effective ways

When you add Elasticsearch as a secondary index to your primary SQL Server data store, you are able to add new features that will uncover your collected data in new and unexpected ways. 


New features you can add include:

• “More like this” searching

• Scoring of search results

• Fast aggregations and statistics

• Geo distance filtering

• Syncs data across indexes

• Analyzers

• Templates

• And more


Because of these extremely useful features, Elasticsearch is a free add-on well worth exploring. 

The need for certified professionals

The demand for certified SQL Server professionals has been (and always will be) high since SQL Server must be monitored at all times to ensure it’s working properly and efficiently. When the system isn’t functioning well, it leads to too much downtime and a loss of revenue. 


A qualified SQL Server professional brings much value to an organization with:


• Higher overall productivity

• Better risk mitigation 

• Sustainable hiring 

• Increased business agility 

• A huge saving of both time and money


How is all this accomplished? A certified professional tends to be more engaged in their work, enjoys mentoring other employees, has the knowledge to identify, diagnose and respond to problems in a timely manner and will help to develop features and applications that bring about improvement.   

SQL Server certification

There are several reasons you may want to become SQL Server certified. The curriculum is set to internationally recognized standards, ensuring that the knowledge gained is immediately applicable and useful. Certification also acts as proof of the skills, knowledge and experience that happens to be in such high demand, making certified professionals very valuable to employers.


If you have yet to get certified for any version of SQL Server, it’s time to do it. There are a variety of exams, each building on top of each other to help you progress through the ranks of: 


• Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate

• Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist

• Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert on Business Intelligence or Data Platform


To help you prepare for the required exams, learn about the specific exam requirements, take online instructor-led courses, download your evaluation copy of SQL Server and tinker with it yourself and practice by using Virtual Labs.

More about SQL courses

Regardless of which version of SQL Server you’re working with, learning more about your version is critical to becoming the go-to person in your IT world. Pluralsight has you covered. With a vast array of articles, online instructor-led courses and hands-on skill development opportunities, you’ll get the answers you need to work more efficiently and pass your SQL Server certification.


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