PASS Summit 2013 Review

As a long-standing member of PASS who lives in the greater Seattle area and has attended about nine of these Summits, let me start out by saying how GREAT it was to go to Charlotte, North Carolina this year.  Many of the new folks that I met at the Summit this year, upon hearing that I was from Seattle, commented that I must have been disappointed to have to travel to the Summit this year after 5 years in a row in Seattle.  Well, nothing could be further from the truth.  I cheered loudly when I first heard that the 2013 Summit would be outside Seattle.  I have many fond memories of trips to Orlando, Florida and Grapevine, Texas for past Summits (missed out on Denver, unfortunately).  And there is a funny dynamic that takes place when the conference is local.  If you do as I have done the last several years and saved my company money by not getting a hotel, but rather just commuting from home, then both family and coworkers tend to act like you’re just on a normal schedule.  For example, I have a young family, and my wife and kids really wanted to still see me come home “after work”, but there are a whole lot of after-hours activities, social events, and great food to be enjoyed at the Summit each year.  Even more so if you really capitalize on the opportunities to meet face-to-face with people you either met at previous summits or have spoken to or heard of, from Twitter, blogs, and forums.  Then there is also the lovely commuting in Seattle traffic from neighboring cities rather than the convenience of just walking across the street from your hotel.  So I’m just saying, there are really nice aspects of having the conference 2500 miles away.

Beyond that, the training was fantastic as usual.  The SQL Server community has many outstanding presenters and experts with deep knowledge of the tools who are extremely willing to share all of that with anyone who wants to listen.  The opening video with PASS President Bill Graziano in a NASCAR race turned dream sequence was very well done, and the keynotes, as usual, were great.  This year I was particularly impressed with how well attended were the Professional Development sessions.  Not too many years ago, those were very sparsely attended, but this year, the two that I attended were standing-room only, and these were not tiny rooms.  I would say this is a testament to both the maturity of the attendees realizing how important these topics are to career success, as well as to the ever-increasing skills of the presenters and the program committee for selecting speakers and topics that resonated with people.  If, as is usually the case, you were not able to get to every session that you wanted to because there were just too darn many good ones, I encourage you to get the recordings.

Overall, it was a great time as these events always are.  It was wonderful to see old friends and make new ones, and the people of Charlotte did an awesome job hosting the event and letting their hospitality shine (extra kudos to SQLSentry for all they did with the shuttle, maps, and other event sponsorships).  We’re back in Seattle next year (it is a release year, after all) but I would say that with the success of this year’s event, I strongly encourage the Board and PASS HQ to firmly reestablish the location rotation schedule.  I’ll even go so far as to suggest standardizing on an alternating Seattle – Charlotte schedule, or something like that.

If you missed the Summit this year, start saving now, and register early, so you can join us!

Go Big or Go Special

Watching Shark Tank tonight and the first presentation was by Mango Mango Preserves and it highlighted an interesting contrast in business trends today and how to capitalize on opportunities.  <Spoiler Alert> Even though every one of the sharks was raving about the product samples they tried, with two of them going for second and third servings, none of them made a deal to invest in the company.</Spoiler>  In fact, one of the sharks, Kevin O’Leary, kept ripping into the owners with statements to the effect that he thinks they are headed over a financial cliff because he felt their costs were way out of line and would be their downfall if they didn’t take action to radically cut costs. He said that he had previously owned a jams and jellies business and knew the cost ratios that you had to have to make it work.  I don’t doubt he knows exactly what he’s talking about and is 100% accurate…for doing business his way, which I’ll call “Go Big”.  But there’s a whole other way to do business today that would be ideal for these ladies to pursue.

As I understand it, based on his level of success in various businesses and the fact that he is even in a position to be investing in other companies, Kevin’s approach is to go mass market (Go Big) and make hundreds of millions of dollars in sales (or something along that scale) while squeezing out every ounce of cost that you can to produce an acceptable margin.  But there is a very different way of making a very successful business these days, which is all about building a passionate and loyal community of customers that are rooting for your success and even actively trying to help you succeed by promoting your product or company (Go Special).  This capitalizes on the power of social media, niche marketing, and The Long Tail.  One of the most prolific writers about capitalizing on this trend is Seth Godin, and I hope that the founders of Mango Mango pick up a couple of his books (probably Purple Cow and Tribes would be good starts) or at least read his blog.  I think the adoration expressed by all of the sharks for the product is the biggest hint that they have a remarkable product and that they are perfect for this type of business approach.

Both are completely valid business models, and it may certainly be that the scale at which Kevin O’Leary wants to conduct business where he invests his money is well beyond the long tail, but that doesn’t mean that there is not still a lot of money to be made there.  I wish them the best of luck with their endeavors!

Before the Summit of 2012

Today, Monday, was the first day of the PASS Summit Preconference training events, but instead I spent the day at the free SQL in the City event put on by Red Gate. For me this was not a financial decision (pre-con sessions cost extra above the general Summit registration) but rather a matter of interest.  I had already included money for pre-cons in this year’s training budget, but none of them really stood out to me, so even if the Red-Gate event were not going on at the same time, I probably would not have gone to any pre-cons this year.  However, the topics being presented at the SQL in the City event were of great interest to me.  There promised to be good information on Continuous Integration and automated deployment of database changes, which lately has been a real hot topic at my work.  And indeed, Red-Gate announced the release of a new tool (still in Early Access Program…a.k.a. Beta) which is called the Deployment Manager.  Since we are in the middle of a TFS implementation project, it will be interesting to see how this plays out and compares to what we put together with the automated builds in TFS.  But, as I understand it, the primary focus of Deployment Manager is not to be the Build process (Red Gate uses JetBrains’ Team City for that in their shop) but rather to aid in the deployment of those build packages, as well as providing easy rollback and a good visualization of which versions of software are in which environments.  It looks promising and I’ve already downloaded the installer package to play with it later.

Overall, I was quite impressed with the SQL in the City event.  Having heard many current and past members of the PASS Board of Directors describe the challenges of putting on a large conference, and the growing pains that the PASS Summit has gone through, I am even more impressed that the Red Gate event ran as smoothly as it did.  And it is quite impressive the amount of money that Red Gate must have spent given that this was a no-charge event to attend, they had a very nice hot lunch, and the after-event drinks celebration.  Well done, folks!

Of course it was great to hear from a variety of speakers.  Today I listened to some folks from Red Gate like Grant Fritchey (blog | @GFritchey) and David Atkinson (Product Manager for SQL Source Control and now the Deployment Manager tool set); and also Brent Ozar (blog | @BrentO) and Buck Woody (blog | @BuckWoody).  By the way, if you have never seen either Brent or Buck speak, you really should.  Different styles, but both are very entertaining and educational at the same time.  I love Buck’s sense of humor (here’s a tip…don’t be late to Buck’s session or you’ll become part of the presentation) and I praise Brent’s slides.  Brent’s style very much reminds me of that espoused by Garr Reynolds on his Presentation Zen blog (and book) and I am impressed that he can make a technical presentation so engaging.

It was a great day, a great way to kick off the week, and I am excited to get into the full Summit!

SQL Source Control Contest

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have written several posts about how important I think it is to protect your source code, to version it, and in particular, all the aspects I like about Red Gate’s SQL Source Control product.  But for a moment, let’s take a break from my writing and I want to hear your stories.  What nightmare situation are you in, or can you imagine, where source control for your database would save the world.  Or maybe your life is not so dramatic, but you do see a challenge that, if you just had a good tool like SQL Source Control, it would go much smoother.  What’s your pain?  You have read my writings, now tell me your story, and be in the running for a free copy of SQL Source Control from Red Gate.

Yes, that’s right.  Although I am just a fan of Red Gate, they have authorized me to give out a handful of licenses to blog readers who are willing to share their story by posting a comment to this blog entry.  Simply add your comment below (be sure to include a valid email address in the box that asks for that) to be entered.  The contest starts immediately and over the next few days, the best stories will win.

What Did You Do? is a Bad Question

Brian Moran (blog | Twitter) did a great presentation today for the PASS Professional Development Virtual Chapter on The Art of Questions.  One of the points that Brian made was that there are good questions and bad (or at least not-as-good) questions.  Good questions tend to open-up the conversation and engender positive reactions (perhaps even trust and respect) between the participants; and bad questions tend to close-down a conversation either through the narrow list of possible responses (e.g. strictly Yes/No) or through the negative reactions they can produce.  And this explains why I so frequently had problems troubleshooting real-time problems with users in the past.  I’ll explain that in more detail below, but before we go on, let me recommend that you watch the recording of Brian’s presentation to learn why the question Why is often problematic in the U.S. and yet we so often resort to it.

For a short portion (3 years) of my career, I taught basic computer skills and Office applications in an adult vocational school, and this gave me ample opportunity to do live troubleshooting of user challenges with computers.  And like many people who ended up in computer related jobs, I also have had numerous times where I was called upon by less computer-savvy individuals to help them with some challenge they were having, whether it was part of my job or not.  One of the things that I noticed, especially during my time as a teacher, was that when I was helping somebody, typically the first question I would ask them was, “What did you do?”  This seemed to me like a good way to start my detective work trying to figure out what happened, what went wrong, how to fix it, and how to help the person avoid it again in the future.  I always asked it in a polite tone of voice as I was just trying to gather the facts before diving in deeper.  However; 99.999% of the time, I always got the same answer, “Nothing!”  For a long time this frustrated me because (remember I’m in detective mode at that point) I knew it could not possibly be true.  They HAD to have done SOMETHING…just tell me what were the last actions you took before this problem presented itself.  But no, they always stuck with “Nothing”.  At which point, with frustration growing, and not a little bit of disdain for their lack of helpfulness, I would usually ask them to move aside while I took over their machine and got them out of whatever they had gotten themselves into.  After a while I just grew used to the fact that this was the answer I would usually receive, but I always kept asking because for the .001% of the people who would actually tell me, I could then help them understand what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future.

Now, after hearing Brian’s talk, I understand what the problem was.  Even though I meant to just be in an information gathering mode, the words I was using, “What did YOU do?” have such a strong negative connotation that people would instinctively go into defense-mode and stop sharing information that might make them look bad.  Many of them probably were not even consciously aware that they had gone on the defensive, but the self-preservation instinct, especially self-preservation of the ego, is so strong that people would end up there without even realizing it.

So, if “What did you do” is a bad question, what would have been better?  Well, one suggestion that Brian makes in his talk is something along the lines of, “Can you tell me what led up to this?” or “what was happening on the computer right before this came up?”  It’s subtle, but the point is to take the focus off of the person and their behavior; instead depersonalizing it and talk about events from more of a 3rd-party observer point of view.  With this approach, people will be more likely to talk about what the computer did and what they did in response to it without feeling the interrogation spotlight is on them.  They are also more likely to mention other events that occurred around the same time that may or may not be related, but which could certainly help you troubleshoot a larger problem if it is not just user actions.  And that is the ultimate goal of your asking the questions.  So yes, it does matter how you ask the question; and there are such things as good questions and bad questions.  Excellent topic Brian!  Thanks for getting the thinking gears churning!

(Cross-posted to the Professional Development Virtual Chapter blog.)

The Winds of Change are a Blowin’

For six years I have been an avid and outspoken fan and paying customer of SourceGear products…from Vault to Dragnet to Fortress and on to Vault Professional, but that is all changing now.  Not the fan part, but the paying customer part.  I’m still a huge fan.  I think that SourceGear does a great job with their product and support has been fantastic when needed (which is not very often).  I think that Eric Sink has done a fine job building a quality company and products, and I appreciate his contributions to the tech community through this blogging and books.  I still think their products are high quality and do a fantastic job of what they do.  But there’s the rub…what they do is no longer enough for me.

As I have rebuilt our development team over the last couple of years, and we have begun to investigate Scrum and Kanban, I realize that I need more visibility into the progress of the team.  I need better project management tools, and this is where Vault Professional lags behind several other tools.  Granted, in the latest release (Vault 6.0) they added a nice time tracking feature, but I want more.  (Note, I did contact SourceGear about my quest for more, but apparently, the rest of their customer base has not been clamoring for this and so they have not built it.  Granted, I wasn’t clamoring for it either until just recently, but unfortunately for SourceGear, I want it now and don’t want to wait for them to build it into their system.)

Ironically, it was SourceGear themselves who started to turn me on to the possibilities of other tools.  They built a limited integration with Axosoft OnTime which I read about several times on their support site (I used to regularly read and occasionally comment on their Support Forum).  I decided to check out OnTime and was very impressed with the tool for work item tracking and project management (not to mention their great Scrum Master in 10 Minutes video).  I fell in love with the capabilities of OnTime.  Unfortunately, the integration with Vault for source control management was, as I mentioned, limited.  I could have forfeited the integration between work items and source code, but there is too much benefit to linking check-ins to work items for me to give that up.  So then I did what was previously unthinkable for me, I considered switching not just the work tracking tool, but also the source code management tool.  This was really stepping outside my comfort zone because source code is Gold, and not to be trifled with.  When you find a good weapon to protect your gold, stick with it.

I looked at Git and Tortoise SVN, but the integration methods for those was pretty rough compared to what I was used to.  The recommended tool from Axosoft’s point of view appeared to be RocketSVN, but I really wasn’t sure I wanted to go the “flavor of Subversion” route.  Then I started thinking about that other tool I liked back when I first chose to go with Vault, but couldn’t afford:  Team Foundation Server.  And what do you know…Microsoft has not only radically improved it over that version from back in 2006, but they also came to their senses about how it should be licensed, and it is much more affordable now.  So I started looking into the latest capabilities in the 2012 version, and I fell in love all over again.

I really went deep on checking out the tools.  I watched numerous webcasts from Microsoft partners, went to a beta preview on Microsoft’s campus, and watched a lot of Channel 9 videos on the new ALM features (oooh…shiny).  Frankly, I was very impressed with the capabilities of the newest version, and figured this was probably our direction.  As an interesting twist of fate, one of my employees crossed paths with an ALM Consultant from Northwest Cadence, a local Microsoft Partner, and one of the companies that produced several of the webcasts that I had been watching.  So I gave Bryon a call and started grilling him to see if he really knew anything or was just another guy who couldn’t find a job so he called himself a consultant.  It turns out Bryon actually knows a lot, especially in an area that was becoming a frustration point for us: Branching strategies and automated builds (that’s probably a whole separate blog entry).  As we talked, Bryon suggested we look into doing a DTDPS (Developer Tools Deployment Planning Services) session with his company.  This is a service that can be paid for by Microsoft Enterprise Agreement planning services credits or SA training benefits, and, again, coincidentally, we had several that were just about to expire, so I put them to good use.

The DTDPS sessions were great; and Bryon, Rick, and the rest of the folks at Northwest Cadence have been a pleasure to work with.  We have just purchased a new server for our TFS rollout and are planning the steps and options right now.  This is still a big project ahead of us to not only install and configure TFS, but also to load all of our source code (many different systems, not just one program) and transition to the new way of life with TFS, but I am convinced that it is the right move for my team at this point in time.  We need the new capabilities that are in alignment with Scrum and Kanban methodologies in order to more efficiently manage all the different projects that we have going on at one time.

I would still wholeheartedly endorse SourceGear’s products and Axosoft’s OnTime for those whose needs are met by those tools, but for me and my team, I think that TFS is the right fit, and I am looking forward to the change.

More Quick Interview Tips

In the last couple of years I have conducted a lot of interviews for application and database developers for my company, and I can tell you that the little things can mean a lot.  Here are a few quick tips to help you make a good first impression.

A year ago I gave you my #1 interview tip: Do some basic research!  And a year later, I am still stunned by how few technical people do the most basic of research.  I can only guess that it is because it is so engrained in our psyche that technical competence is everything (see How to Manage Technical Employees for more on this idea) that we forget or ignore the importance of soft skills and the art of the interview.  Or maybe it is because we have heard the stories of the uber-geek who has zero personal skills but still makes a fortune working for Microsoft.  Well, here’s another quick tip:  You’re probably not as good as he is; and a large number of companies actually run small to medium sized teams and can’t really afford to have the social outcast in the group.  In a small team, everyone has to get along well, and that’s an important part of what I’m evaluating during the interview process.

My #2 tip is to act alive!  I typically conduct screening interviews by phone before I bring someone in for an in-person.  I don’t care how laid-back you are or if you have a “quiet personality”, when we are talking, ACT like you are happy I called and you are interested in getting the job.  If you sound like you are bored-to-death and that you would be perfectly happy to never work again, I am perfectly happy to help you attain that goal, and I’ll move on to the next candidate.

And closely related to #2, perhaps we’ll call it #2.1 is this tip:  When I call you on the phone for the interview, don’t answer your phone by just saying, “Hello”.  You know that the odds are about 999-to-1 that it is me calling for the interview because we have specifically arranged this time slot for the call.  And you can see on the caller ID that it is not one of your buddies calling, so identify yourself.  Don’t make me question whether I dialed the right number.  Answer your phone with a, “Hello, this is ___<your full name preferred, but at least your first name>___.”.  And when I say, “Hi, <your name>, this is Mark from <my company>” it would be really nice to hear you say, “Hi, Mark, I have been expecting your call.”  This sets the perfect tone for our conversation.  I know I have the right person; you are professional enough and interested enough in the job or contract to remember your appointments; and now we can move on to a little intro segment and get on with the reason for our call.

As crazy as it sounds, I’ve actually had phone interviews that went like this:

<Ring…>
You:  “Hello?”
Me:  “Hi, this is Mark from _______”
You:  “Yeah?”
Me:  “Is this <your name>?”
You:  “Yeah.”
Me:  “I had this time in my calendar for us to talk…were you expecting my call?”
You:  “Oh, yeah, sure…”

I used to be nice and would try to go ahead with the interview even after this bad start, thinking I was giving the candidate the benefit of the doubt…a second chance…but more often than not it was a struggle and 10 minutes into what was supposed to be a 45-minute call, I’m looking for a way to hang up without being rude myself.  It never worked out.  I never brought that person in for an in-person interview, much less offered them the job or contract.  Who knows, maybe they were some sort of wunderkind that we missed out on.  What I know is that they would never fit in with the rest of the team, and around here that is absolutely critical.

So, in conclusion… Act alive!  Identify yourself!  And do at least the very basic of research.

How to Manage Technical Employees

In my current position as Software Engineering Manager I have been through a lot of ups and downs with staffing, ranging from laying-off everyone who was on my team as we went through the great economic downturn in 2007-2008, to numerous rounds of interviewing and hiring contractors, full-time employees, and converting some contractors to employee status.  I have not yet blogged much about my experiences, but I plan to do that more in the next few months.  But before I do that, let me point you to a great article that somebody else wrote on The Unspoken Truth About Managing Geeks that really hits the target.  If you are a non-technical person who manages technical employees, you definitely have to read that article.  And if you are a technical person who has been promoted into management, this article can really help you do your job and communicate up the line of command about your team.  When you move into management with all the new and different demands put on you, it is easy to forget how things work in the tech subculture, and to lose touch with your team.  This article will help you remember what’s going on behind the scenes and perhaps explain why people who used to get along great no longer are, or why things seem to have changed since your promotion.

I have to give credit to Andy Leonard (blog | twitter) for helping me find that article.  I have been reading his series of ramble-rants on managing tech teams, and the above article is linked in the first rant in the series, entitled Goodwill, Negative and Positive.  I have read a handful of his entries in this series and so far I pretty much agree with everything he has said, so of course I would encourage you to read through that series, too.

Broken Views

“SELECT *” isn’t just hazardous to performance, it can actually return blatantly wrong information.

There are a number of blog posts and articles out there that actively discourage the use of the SELECT * FROM …syntax.  The two most common explanations that I have seen are:

  1. Performance:  The SELECT * syntax will return every column in the table, but frequently you really only need a few of the columns, and so by using SELECT * your are retrieving large volumes of data that you don’t need, but the system has to process, marshal across tiers, and so on.  It would be much more efficient to only select the specific columns that you need.
  2. Future-proof:  If you are taking other shortcuts in your code, along with using SELECT *, you are setting yourself up for trouble down the road when enhancements are made to the system.  For example, if you use SELECT * to return results from a table into a DataTable in .NET, and then reference columns positionally (e.g. myDataRow[5]) you could end up with bad data if someone happens to add a column into position 3 and skewing all the remaining columns’ ordinal position.  Or if you use INSERT…SELECT * then you will likely run into errors when a new column is added to the source table in any position.

And if you use SELECT * in the definition of a view, you will run into a variation of the future-proof problem mentioned above.  One of the guys on my team, Mike Byther, ran across this in a project we were doing, but fortunately he caught it while we were still in development.  I asked him to put together a test to prove that this was related to the use of SELECT * and not some other anomaly.  I’ll walk you through the test script so you can see for yourself what happens.

We are going to create a table and two views that are based on that table, one of them uses SELECT * and the other explicitly lists the column names.  The script to create these objects is listed below.

IF OBJECT_ID('testtab') IS NOT NULL
DROP TABLE testtab
go
IF OBJECT_ID('testtab_vw') IS NOT NULL
DROP VIEW testtab_vw
go
IF OBJECT_ID('testtab_vw_named') IS NOT NULL
DROP VIEW testtab_vw_named
go
CREATE TABLE testtab (col1 NVARCHAR(5) null, col2 NVARCHAR(5) null)
INSERT INTO testtab(col1, col2)
VALUES ('A','B'), ('A','B')
GO
CREATE VIEW testtab_vw AS SELECT * FROM testtab
GO
CREATE VIEW testtab_vw_named AS SELECT col1, col2 FROM testtab
go

Now, to prove that the two views currently return equivalent results, select from them.

SELECT 'star', col1, col2 FROM testtab_vw
SELECT 'named', col1, col2 FROM testtab_vw_named

OK, so far, so good.  Now, what happens if someone makes a change to the definition of the underlying table, and that change results in a new column being inserted between the two existing columns?  (Side note, I normally prefer to append new columns to the end of the table definition, but some people like to keep their columns alphabetized, and for clarity for later people reviewing the schema, it may make sense to group certain columns together.  Whatever the reason, it sometimes happens, and you need to protect yourself and your code from the repercussions.)

DROP TABLE testtab
go
CREATE TABLE testtab (col1 NVARCHAR(5) null, col3 NVARCHAR(5) NULL, col2 NVARCHAR(5) null)
INSERT INTO testtab(col1, col3, col2)
VALUES ('A','C','B'), ('A','C','B')
go
SELECT 'star', col1, col2 FROM testtab_vw
SELECT 'named', col1, col2 FROM testtab_vw_named

I would have expected that the view using SELECT * in its definition would essentially pass-through the column name and still retrieve the correct data, but that is not what happens.  When you run our two select statements again, you see that the View that is based on SELECT * actually retrieves the data based on the ordinal position of the columns at the time that the view was created.  Sure, one work-around is to recreate the View, but you can’t really count on other developers to know the dependencies you have built-in, and they won’t necessarily recreate the view when they refactor the table.

I am sure that there are reasons and justifications for why Views behave this way, but I find it particularly disturbing that you can have code asking for col2, but actually be receiving data from col3.  By the way, for the record, this entire scenario and accompanying test script apply to SQL Server 2008 R2 with Service Pack 1.

So, let the developer beware…know what assumptions are in effect around your code, and keep on discouraging people from using SELECT * syntax in anything but the simplest of ad-hoc queries.

And of course, let’s clean up after ourselves.  To eliminate the database objects created during this test, run the following commands.

DROP TABLE testtab
DROP VIEW testtab_vw
DROP VIEW testtab_vw_named

SQL Server Developer Tools – Codename Juneau vs. Red-Gate SQL Source Control

So how do the new SQL Server Developer Tools (previously code-named Juneau) stack up against SQL Source Control?  Read on to find out.

At the PASS Community Summit a couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the previously code-named Juneau software would be released under the name of SQL Server Developer Tools with the release of SQL Server 2012.  This replacement for Database Projects in Visual Studio (also known in a former life as Data Dude) has some great new features.  I won’t attempt to describe them all here, but I will applaud Microsoft for making major improvements.  One of my favorite changes is the way database elements are broken down.  Previously every little thing was in its own file.  For example, indexes were each in their own file.  I always hated that.  Now, SSDT uses a pattern similar to Red-Gate’s and puts the indexes and keys into the same file as the overall table definition.

Of course there are really cool features to keep your database model in sync with the actual source scripts, and the rename refactoring feature is now touted as being more than just a search and replace, but rather a “semantic-aware” search and replace.  Funny, it reminds me of SQL Prompt’s Smart Rename feature.  But I’m not writing this just to criticize Microsoft and argue that they are late to the party with this feature set.  Instead, I do see it as a viable alternative for folks who want all of their source code to be version controlled, but there are a couple of key trade-offs that you need to know about when you choose which tool set to use.

First, the basics

Both tool sets integrate with a wide variety of source control systems including the most popular: Subversion, GIT, Vault, and Team Foundation Server.  Both tools have integrated functionality to produce objects to upgrade your target database when you are ready (DACPACs in SSDT, integration with SQL Compare for SQL Source Control).  If you regularly live in Visual Studio or the Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS) then SSDT will likely be comfortable for you.  Like BIDS, SSDT is a Visual Studio Project Type that comes with SQL Server, and if you don’t already have Visual Studio installed, it will install the shell for you.  If you already have Visual Studio 2010 installed, then it will just add this as an available project type.  On the other hand, if you regularly live in SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) then you will really enjoy the SQL Source Control integration from within SSMS.  Both tool sets store their database model in script files.  In SSDT, these are on your file system like other source files; in SQL Source Control, these are stored in the folder structure in your source control system, and you can always GET them to your file system if you want to browse them directly.

For me, the key differentiating factors are 1) a single, unified check-in, and 2) migration scripts.  How you value those two features will likely make your decision for you.

Unified Check-In

If you do a continuous-integration (CI) style of development that triggers an automated build with unit testing on every check-in of source code, and you use Visual Studio for the rest of your development, then you will want to really consider SSDT.  Because it is just another project in Visual Studio, it can be added to your existing Solution, and you can then do a complete, or unified single check-in of all changes whether they are application or database changes.  This is simply not possible with SQL Source Control because it is in a different development tool (SSMS instead of Visual Studio) and there is no way to do one unified check-in between the two.  You CAN do really fast back-to-back check-ins, but there is the possibility that the automated build that is triggered from the first check-in will cause your unit tests to fail and the CI tool to report that you broke the build.  Of course, the automated build that is triggered from the second check-in which contains the “other half” of your changes should pass and so the amount of time that the build was broken may be very, very short, but if that is very, very important to you, then SQL Source Control just won’t work; you’ll have to use SSDT.

Refactoring and Migrations

If you work on a mature system, or on a not-so-mature but also not-so-well-designed system, where you want to refactor the database schema as you go along, but you can’t have data suddenly disappearing from your target system, then you’ll probably want to go with SQL Source Control.  As I wrote previously, there are a number of changes which you can make to your database that the comparison tools (both from Microsoft and Red Gate) simply cannot handle without the possibility (or probability) of data loss.  Currently, SSDT only offers you the ability to inject PRE and POST custom deployment scripts.  There is no way to insert your own script in the middle to override the default behavior of the tool.  In version 3.0 of SQL Source Control (Early Access version now available) you have that ability to create your own custom migration script to take the place of the commands that the tool would have done, and ensure the preservation of your data.  Or, even if the default tool behavior would have worked, but you simply know a better way then you can take control and do things your way instead of theirs.

You Decide

In the environment I work in, our automated builds are not triggered off of check-ins, but off of the clock (currently once per night) and so there is no point at which the automated build and unit tests will be triggered without having both sides of the development effort already checked-in.  Therefore having a unified check-in, while handy, is not critical for us.  As for migration scripts, these are critically important to us.  We do a lot of new development on systems that have already been in production for years, and it is not uncommon for us to need to do a refactoring of the database.  Because of the maturity of the existing system, that often involves data migrations or other additional SQL tasks that the comparison tools just can’t detect on their own.  Therefore, the ability to create a custom migration script to override the tool’s default behavior is very important to us.  And so, you can see why we will continue to use Red Gate SQL Source Control for the foreseeable future.

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