Jonathan Allen's Top 10 Favourite Simple Talk Articles

We asked several well-known readers of Simple-Talk to write about their all-time top ten favourite articles from
Simple-Talk, and why these articles had particularly appealed to them.  First off the blocks is Jonathan Allen, a working DBA who has done so much for the community of SQL Server users in the UK.

I don’t think there are any sites that can compare with the breadth and depth of articles about database applications and their development that Simple-Talk have amassed over the years. It’s truly staggering to review the index page and take a few clicks down into some of the topics. I have selected my top 10 after a lot of thought. My list is rather ephemeral though, because in a few months my workload may have shifted and I’d collect a different set together as my favourites.

They are presented in no particular order but having a list on the internet means that it is obligatory to have numbers so let’s start with…

8: Fabiano Amorim’s ‘Showplan operator of the week’ series

– This stands out as an epic series of articles in my opinion. As it’s my list that is what counts here, and I feel compelled to include the definitive explanation of the most important Query Plan operators by Fabiano Amorim. This was run as a series with the title of “Showplan operator of the week” back in 2010. Fabiano created sixteen articles that take you through exactly what each image (representing an operator) in a query plan means and how it plays its part in the execution of your query. I started reading this series as each one came out, but found it was too difficult for me to retain the information right there and then so I decided to simply reference the series as and when I come up against an operator that is troubling me. A brilliant resource.

This eventually came out as a book. The print version is rare, but you can download the eBook version here Complete Showplan Operators. If you are working on optimising TSQL or looking to understand why TSQL is executing a query in a particular way then you will need to look at the query plan and if you want to understand the query plan then Fabiano’s articles are a brilliant resource.

5: Gail Shaw’s Series ‘Finding the Causes of Poor Performance in SQL Server

-I guess there is a logical connection between working with query plans and determining the causes of poor performance in SQL Server. For this, Gail Shaws two-part series written in 2009 is a classic. It’s now getting a little dated but the process and methodology still stands true. Where it shows its age is that it uses SQL Profiler instead of the now-preferable Extended Events. Hey Simple Talk Editors, perhaps a refresh for SQL Server 2014 could be justified? (Er. Yes. Good idea! Ed) Part one shows you how to collect the activity from the ailing server and part 2 tells you how to break apart the TSQL running on your server and to find the bits that hurt the performance the most. Once you have identified it Gail describes how she goes about streamlining code to resolve issues. This is a great introduction to the methods used by a top level DBA to keep on top of SQL Server performance

4: Richard Morris’s Geek of the Week series

– Coming in at number 5 is the Geek of the Week series (in fact I’m merging it with the DBA of the Day series too) by Richard Morris. Richard must be the most prolific writer for Simple Talk with these two series to his name. He has interviewed almost everyone who is anyone in the SQL Server and wider IT community. From Linus Torvalds, Donald Knuth and Tim Berners-Lee to Buck Woody, Paul Randal and Itzik Ben-Gan there are interviews with the great and the good from the tech world. An interesting series that gives some insight into these people and their backgrounds.

9: Rodney Landrum and the SQL Server Tacklebox

– What comes after 5? Yep, exactly, 9 and here I want to draw place the SQL Server Tacklebox series from Rodney Landrum. These articles are also expanded into a Simple Talk book that provides a framework for monitoring and managing a network of SQL Servers using SSIS. If you have a whole bunch of servers that are all going off in different directions like a group of school children in a toy store then reading this series and then the book too will provide you with some idea and some hard and fast code samples to start bringing order to your network. Rodney also does the very interesting SQLBeat podcast, give it a listen next time you are checking your backups!

1: Jonathan Kehayias and ‘Free Tools for the DBA: PAL Tool

– Here we are at number one which means we must be halfway through our top ten. Time then to point out the article from Jonathan Kehayias focussing on the ‘Performance Analysis of Logs’ (PAL) Tool, titled Free tools for the DBA Jonathan introduces the reader to this excellent tool for collecting and analysing performance counters on SQL Servers. A great guide that everyone should read at least once so they understand what this tool and how to use it to identify performance bottlenecks on troublesome systems or to benchmark your system when it’s working well.

7: Karla Kay Remail and ‘Thinking of Setting up a SQL Server Users Group?

– In compiling this list I have been scanning through the Simple Talk archives and found a great article that is now probably worthy of being declared a SQL Community International Asset. It is a post attributed to Karla Kay Remail. It was written almost 5 years ago and chronicle’s the startup and first year of the Pensacola SQL Server User Group who were just embarking on their first SQL Saturday. In the time since Jun 2009 Karla has got married and changed jobs and will be known to most people working in SQL Server as Karla Landrum. Working for PASS, Karla represents the PASS and SQL Saturday movement at hundreds of SQL Server events world-wide every year. These free events bring top-class SQL Server training to all parts of the world. Take a look at for details of where they are being planned. Boost your knowledge and make some new friends but going to some of these events. Congratulations Karla on what you have achieved and thank you for all that you do to promote user groups and PASS.

6: The SQL Server Howlers series by Grant Fritchey, Gail Shaw and Thomas LaRock

– I want to put 3 articles in 6th place, they are all titled SQL Server Howlers but they are from 3 different authors. Grant Fritchey, Gail Shaw and Thomas LaRock have all compiled their own list of SQL Server Goofs, Catastrophes and Accidents. Quite how they were persuaded to expose their chequered pasts so openly is something that will remain known only to them and the commissioning editor at Simple Talk but the result is 3 documents that give reassurance to the reader that no one is perfect and everyone is subject to bad luck and capable of making bad decisions. The main thing to take away from these articles is the way that the situations were resolved and that much learning was done.

10: Feodor Georgiev and ‘Collecting Performance Data into a SQL table

– I have a passion for benchmarking (taking a snapshot of performance statistics that represent ‘normal’ operating activities on a system and keeping it as reference at times of slow performance) and the article from Feodor Georgiev back in Jan 2011 does a great job of leading the reader through setting up the necessary tools to collect the data but also shows how to compare performance data sets. It is important to collect baseline and performance statistics because you have to know what normal looks like so that you can compare metrics during slow performance so that you know what to fix. Eg. If your benchmark shows CPU is normally 30%-40% but your current is consistently between 80% + 90% then you need to check what is using the CPU as that could be the cause of the system slowdown.

3: Phil Factor.

– No list of Simple Talk articles would be complete without a contribution from Phil Factor. Often working on the fringes of SQL Server functionality – sometimes between what is just about possible and what should never be tried (eg How to import data from HTML pages!! or Fifty Shades of Gray: The SQL and PowerShell o_0) or making the case for calm and logical thinking in the face of disaster Phil has documented accounts of true stories (names are always changed to protect the innocent) and provided imaginary scenarios that illustrate his points perfectly. It is sometimes easy to confuse his work with something that you might read in Private Eye but you can be sure of an engaging and edifying read with any of his posts.

2: Rob Sheldon and ‘Microsoft’s Log Parser Utility: Swell ETL

– Last to appear in my list is a single article from Rob Sheldon on the little known tool – Log Parser. I would have tried (and rightfully failed) to include the series of posts that I wrote on this tool but as they appeared on my blog they are not Simple-Talk articles and therefore are not eligible. This would not be simply for some ego massaging purposes but solely to get more people aware of, and using, Log Parser. It is such a flexible and useful tool that all DBAs should have it to hand for data processing. Rob does a great job of introducing the tool to the reader and gives some sound advice and examples. I totally recommend that you download and use Log Parser right now, just so that you know about it for when the time comes.