You Should Push Back on Your Software Vendors

Published On: 2020-07-09By:

I’ve seen two twitter discussions in the last two days about terrible software vendor practices. The first was a vendor who wanted to install binaries on the C: drive (and only the C: drive) of the server hosting the SQL Server database for the application. The other was a vendor who didn’t support using replication to another database to report against their database. Both of these scenarios are terrible–database servers should really only run database services, and it’s none of your software vendor’s business as to what you do with your transaction log.

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Speaking of the software vendor’s business, let’s talk about the business model of software vendors. For the most part, smaller vendors don’t make their profits on your initial purchase of your licenses, instead they charge an annual maintenance fee (sometimes they have different names for it, like support, or in the case of Microsoft Software Assurance), As part of this agreement, you are typically entitled to patches, security fixes, new versions of software, and in some cases support tickets. In order to stay supported, you need to agree to a certain set of requirements from the vendor.

This is a lucrative business–software has very high profit margins, making it a target for investors, private equity, and venture capital. The latter two of those can do bad things to otherwise good companies in order to try to extract every penny of profit out of them. This can include laying off core engineering staff, and replacing them with much cheaper offshore resources, who while good engineers, aren’t familiar with the core architecture and more importantly use cases of the product. They may also cut testing resources, so the program is only “certified” on older versions of database and operating system software. Private equity has done terrible things to a lot of businesses and software isn’t exempt from that. Read this article about a company that has acquired a bunch of zombie independent software vendors (ISVs) and just milks support fees for profit. Seriously, read that article.

While there are some good ISVs out there, they are few and far between, but at all times you need to remember that you are their customer, and they work for you. That doesn’t mean you can yell at a support engineer on the phone, but when they tell you that you can only run their software on SQL Server 2005 running on Windows 2003, and oh yeah, they need the SA account for their application to run, you should push back.

A lot of DBAs I encounter are too timid to do this–the business needs some app for manufacturing widgets, and the widget team just wants that app even though the vendor insists that the backups need to be shipped to a server in Russia. I will say this–pick you battles–it’s not worth to argue about something like a MaxDOP requirement (unless there’s an obvious performance problem there), but when the vendor says something like you can’t use Availability Groups with their app, or wants to trap you onto a legacy version of the RDBMS, you should push back. The other #sqlhelp thread I saw was where someone wanted to build a log reader to apply transactions to a secondary database for reporting, because the vendor didn’t support replication. That’s stupid–you’d be building a very fragile system, when SQL Server has a perfectly good feature (transactional replication) to do the same thing. Or even the vendor who wanted to install software on the SQL Server. No. Just say no.

In summary–you own your software, and you manage your database environment. You shouldn’t do anything that puts your business’s data at risk, but at the same time, you want to manage your environment in as consistent a fashion as possible, while adhering to best practices. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2018/11/19/how-a-mysterious-tech-billionaire-created-two-fortunesand-a-global-software-sweatshop/#38fe205e6cff

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PASS–An Organization in Trouble

Published On: 2020-06-19By:

PASS is an organization that has helped my career at many levels. I’ve served as a user group leader, a SQL Saturday organizer, a regional mentor, and spoken at PASS events around the world. PASS has a big problem–its main revenue source is the annual PASS Summit, which isn’t happening in person this year due to the pandemic. This is a force majeure event, which would have been challenging for any organization, but especially one that’s been managed as poorly as PASS has in recent years. Today, I’m calling on the PASS Board to put C&C in formal review based on it’s failures to properly manage the organization. 

If you don’t know, PASS is run by a for-profit Canadian company called Christianson & Company, which has been involved with PASS for as long as I have at least. If you look at my good friend Steph Locke’s analysis of the organization’s budget, you can see how little of of the organization’s revenue goes back into community activities. While the board of directors continually praises C&C for their efforts, most members and volunteers have not value for these efforts. SQL Saturday subsidies have been cut, the website has numerous bugs, which has lead many events to no longer be run under PASS’ governance, especially in Europe, where most of the major events are no longer SQL Saturdays. 

The list goes on: the job board never grew into anything worth further investment, the 2019 Microsoft Modernization events sponsored by Microsoft didn’t get the traction it should have, the execution of the Business Analytics Conference was a complete failure (something C&C should have excelled at), the multiple attempts to create lasting events in Europe was a failure (the full PASS Summit and SQL Rally), and all efforts to monetize Summit content has fallen flat. 

This brings us to today: While this pandemic is likely (and hopefully) a once in a lifetime event, for having a full-time management company, it has not been handled well. The conference dragged its feet moving to virtual event, being beat to the punch by many other events. Additionally, as most of those other (admittedly vendor subsidized) events went online, they became free events. So PASS is in a situation where most of their formerly paid competition, like Microsoft Ignite, and VMWare VMWorld are free online conferences. So they need to prove they can deliver value in their paid conference. And arguably the management company is not handling it. They’ve outsourced it to another third party.

At DCAC, we’ve thought about how to make a virtual event better. We haven’t worked out the details, but during Denny and John’s precons on Azure, I’ll be in adjacent chat/breakout room if students in the session want to see a specific demo again, or ask some deeper dive question. A competent management company would been thinking about this since the pandemic became news in February, and it was fairly obvious that the event was going to be virtual. What I would have done is the following:

  1. Plan a small-ish virtual event in late March or early April with 5 prominent community speakers on whatever platform appeared to be your leading candidate for a virtual summit. This does two things–it lets you work out some of the kinds of a virtual conference, and helps your demonstrate the value of your event, by maybe having breakout rooms with out speakers. The community would have helped with this.
  2. After demonstrating that value, announce the virtual conference. Plan a series of smaller virtual events to keep up the energy around the event.

I spoke at event this week that had nearly as many attendees as PASS Summit did. It was run by the volunteers. Great job @eightkbconference

C&C is not a management company. At this point, they are PASS. They have no other revenue, all 20 or so employees work full-time for PASS and they are on an opaque contract with no end in sight. It’s disingenuous for us to consider them anything less. Their organizational oversight is a volunteer board. Not even the executive committee has a fiduciary responsibility to the organization. No one is paid and therefore, no one has skin in the game. That’s why all the excess money is simply funneled into C&C’s pockets while SQL Saturday sponsorship budgets are cut and there is no value to the UGs affiliation beyond the Summit discount and a marketing platform they could get free anywhere else. You want more value from PASS? For this and all the reasons I list above, I say the community should call on the PASS BoD to put C&C in review, accept competing offers, and see what the market will come with.

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Licensing SQL Server Power BI Reporting Services, Integration Services, and Analysis Services

Published On: 2020-05-19By:

On the twitter hashtag #sqlhelp I saw a really dangerous (dangerous because it could cost your company a lot (somewhere between tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of pick your favorite currency) bit of advice, that someone has received from their software reseller.

I’ll paraphrase the tweet so as to protect the guilty: “our reselller said that if we bought a license of enterprise edition, we could run the database engine on one server, and SQL Server Reporting Services on another.” This is 100% wrong, and always has been. Per the SQL Server 2019 licensing guide.

Screen Shot 2020-05-19 at 10.56.02 AM

Even though SQL Server Reporting Services is separate installation now, the licensing is exactly the same as SQL Server. I think some of the confusion in the Twitter stream is related to the one of the terms of Power BI Reporting Service. If you purchase Power BI Reporting Services through your SQL Server licensing, it is treated exactly like any other SQL Server component for the purposes of licensing. That means, if you need a SQL Server database engine for your report server databases (the database that contains the PBI-RS metadata), you have two choices:

1) Install the database engine side by side with your PBI services

2) Buy additional cores to run the database engine on a different server.

This last bit is where it gets a little confusing. If you buy your PBI RS licenses through having Premium capacity in the Power BI service, you can install SQL Server standard edition, exclusively for the purposes of Power BI or other products like SSRS or SSIS that require a SQL Server database.

Customer may run any number of Instances of any SQL Server database software (SQL Server Standard) included in Power BI Report Server in one OSE on a Server dedicated to Customer’s use for the limited purpose of supporting Power BI Report Server and any other product that includes SQL Server database software. Dedicated Servers used for this purpose, that are under the management or control of an entity other than Customer or one of its Affiliates, are subject to the Outsourcing Software Management clause

 

That’s from the volume licensing guide.

tl;dr Always assume you need a license for production, unless you are paying for PBI premium and then you may have an engine license you can use just for that.

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New Features in Cloud Shell in the Azure Portal

Published On: 2020-05-18By:

One of the things that was really painful in the early days of Azure, especially for those of us who are consultants with many customers, was the process of switching tenants and logged in sessions. To Microsoft’s credit, they have made this process much better, it’s a single click to switch between logins and/or subscriptions. However, when I working with Azure programmatically as I often do, logging in from my laptop is a little bit more painful.

The workaround for this has been to use cloud shell within the Azure Portal. You can even do this on a mobile device, which can be really handy, if something bad happens and you don’t have a laptop handy. However, the one problem I had with Cloud shell was that it was hard to debug in. I would develop a script “offline” and then paste it into the shell, and sometimes miss obvious variables or cut and paste errors. Also, if you were using the PowerShell version of cloud shell, saving scripts was not intuitive.

However, when I logged in this morning in an effort to run some PowerShell code against a customer’s tenant. I was greeted by a message that I didn’t get a screen shot of and can no longer recreate that said vim, nano, emacs, and code (VS Code) were available as text editors in cloud shell. Let’s try it out.

 

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 5.06.11 PM

Note, that is how you exit vi like a boss (escape+:x!). So I created a trivial file, big deal.

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 5.06.32 PM

I can also see my file. That’s also pretty nifty. But check this out:

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 5.09.51 PM

By typing code followed by my file name, I get a limited version of Visual Studio Code (btw, I checked and dark mode seems to be the only choice). You can’t highlight code and execute it using F8, but you do get really nice editing functionality in the portal. And you can save a file and it stays in your home drive in cloud shell.

 

 

 

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