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September 2016
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I read Tom LaRock's post on the future of monitoring, looking at the rise of machine learning and complex algorithms to evaluate systems. Tom notes that the data input into a system is crucial in determining whether the system can produce a prediction or output that has value. Since the humans that decide what data is included may not choose wisely, the system won't necessarily reduce the time required to manage a system.

I tend to agree. From my conversations with those people having success with machine learning systems, the data preparation is the most critical (and difficult) step. Shortcut the cleansing and organizing, or make poor choices of what data to include and you won't likely get actionable results.

Read the rest of "What is the Future of Monitoring?"

Direct download: futuremonitor_133_v1402.mp3
Category:Editorial -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

I've been watching Microsoft for quite a few years, with my career being tightly intertwined with the company for 25 years.  I'm amazed by the way the company has changed in the last five years. It's probably been longer than that, but from the outside, the last 5 years have been surprising. Certainly the way Microsoft produces software is a process worth studying by almost any organization with developers. There are some scale advantages Microsoft has, and their mission is to reach and touch people at a level far beyond what many of us deal with, but there are lessons to be learned.

There's a great piece that shows some of the ways in which Microsoft is practicing DevOps in their own software development. I like that the focus isn't just that developers do more, but that operations staff are involved in working closely with the development teams. In fact, there's a quote I like that notes in addition to technology changes and habits, " we found that the organizational changes and cultural shifts required to embrace these practices have been just as significant."

Read the rest of "DevOps at MS"

Direct download: devops_ms_132_v1401.mp3
Category:Editorial -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Machine learning and artificial intelligence seem to be the hot topics these days. From bots that can interact with people to systems that learn and grow as they process more data, it seems that science fiction is becoming reality. At least, in limited ways. Autonomous cars, perhaps the highest profile example of these topics, are advancing and being tested in a few locations around the world, but I think we are a long way from having human controlled and autonomous cars interacting freely at any scale. There are still plenty of issues to work out, and the consequences from mistakes require serious consideration.

I was thinking of this as I read an interesting question: Whose black box do you trust? It's a look at algorithms and machine learning, and the impact they have on the world around us, despite many of us not understanding how they work. The main examples in the piece are in the area of journalism as it relates to social media (primarily Google and Facebook), but also touches on autonomous vehicles, both autos and planes. The latter was a bit of a shock to me as I assumed humans always handled takeoff and landing, something the author says doesn't happen at SFO. Some searches around pilot sites seem to note that automated landing is done regularly to test systems, but is used in a minority of cases.

Read the rest of "The Black Boxes"

Direct download: blackboxes_131_v1400.mp3
Category:Editorial -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

There was a post recently asking how to train a junior DBA. What tasks do you give them, how to get them productive, etc. The responses were interesting, but I was struck by one note from a person that is a junior DBA. They mentioned a few things that have helped them get better at their job, some of which I hadn't thought about before.

Since I try to teach people about SQL Server in writing, in presentations, and longer formats, I decided this might make a good poll question. If you spend a few minutes thinking about how you've improved your skills at your job, let us know what works best for you.

"What Helps You Learn?"

Direct download: whathelpsyoulearn_130_v1399.mp3
Category:Editorial -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

I've read a lot of science fiction in my life. Quite a few books talk about cyberspace and the interactions of humans and software. In Snowcrash there are AI systems defending systems. The Unincorporated Man series has AI systems that not only have sentience, they hide their capabilities from humans. Numerous other examples exist, including movies such as The Matrix, which popularized system programs independently able to evaluate and react to security issues.

Science fiction is here, showcased recently at the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge. You can watch a bit about the challenge or read a short article about what happened. Overall, it's amazing. Seven systems ran various pieces of software that were targeted at finding vulnerabilities, patching their own and exploiting those of other systems. All without human intervention.

Read the rest of "Capture the Flag"

Direct download: capturetheflag_129_v1398.mp3
Category:Editorial -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Are you a tech company. That's an interesting question. I'm sure some of you might not think so, working for a commercial organization that has some physical product you sell or some service you provide. You might not consider yourself a tech company. However, your organization might be, at least according to this essay at Medium.

I certainly think software has changed, and will continue to change the world. I think data becomes is an important part of our system, but in conjunction with software and the ease with which we can gather, process, extract, and analyze the information inside of our data. In order to do that, I do believe that we need ways to better build and deploy software, whether that's database software or application software.

Read the rest of "Are You a Tech Company?"

Direct download: techcompany_128_v1397.mp3
Category:Editorial -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Is there such a thing as a 10x programmer? It's an interesting idea, and one that is discussed from a few perspectives in this Q&A. There's some talk about how to define "x" as well as the idea that the environment and project might make a big difference in productivity. Certainly the baseline of the staff measured makes a difference. If most of your programmers aren't very productive, then a more talented developer might easily outperform the average by a factor of 10. Depending on how you measure productivity.

I wonder, though, is there a 10x DBA or database developer? What would that look like? If we examined the effectiveness of a DBA managing systems, I have seen DBAs that managed 10x the absolute number of databases and instances. Working inefficiently, connecting the individual systems to apply updates or check statuses could easily make you ten times less efficient then the DBA making use of scripting and the ability to apply changes across many systems, not to mention managing them for issues.

Read the rest of "The 10X Programmer"

Direct download: 10xprogrammer_127_v1396.mp3
Category:Editorial -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Securing a computer is a challenge. There are all sorts of potential issues in every platform, and ensuring safety for your data can be less a reflection of your ability and more the good fortune there isn't a focused effort to attack your systems. However, we certainly also face issues with inside users, many of which may make mistakes that are accidental more than malicious. It's for these reasons that we look for secure by default applications and a reduced surface area for any system.
 
Many people refuse to turn on xp_cmdshell as an option for scripting in SQL Server. This is disabled by default, and quite a few DBAs are glad of this setting. However, there are plenty of people that think xp_cmdshell isn't a big security risk. There are certainly ways to mitigate the usage by non-privileged users, and this can be a tool that is very handy for accomplishing work without a lot of development tim

Read the rest of "The Danger of xp_cmdshell"

Direct download: securexp_126_v1395.mp3
Category:Editorial -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

One of the good skills to have for a data professional is how to analyze data. Most of us could learn more about data science and data analysis for some aspect of our jobs. We are data professionals, so we should understand how to analyze data. I'd expect that a competent data professional would be able to put together a report on some set of data that means something to an end user. If we administer systems, then analyzing usage (index, space, etc) is a skill we need. If we write code, sooner or later we're going to write some report for a client. Either way, we need to perform some sort of analysis.

How can you learn more? There are lots of resources available. I thought it was interesting that Microsoft has teamed up with edX for their own data science degree. While there are mixed feelings on this, I think edX has a good platform and strong partnerships for teaching. There are other places, such as Coursera, that are doing the same thing, offering a variety of courses online.

Read the rest of "Data Science Education"

Direct download: datascienceed_124_v1394.mp3
Category:Editorial -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

Last week I went to the Redgate Software office in Cambridge, UK. I travel there a few times a year to meet with product groups and touch base with the other people in marketing. However, this trip was planned around Down Tools week, which is an event that Redgate has once or twice a year. This is similar to what other companies have done, like Atlassian ShipIt day, and I had the chance to participate a bit in one of the projects. It was quite fun, and a memorable experience.

The idea is that a project is pitched as an idea for a single week. These are usually ideas that aren't worth funding as a large project, or would help the world somehow. A team comes together for a long week and has to showcase their work by Friday afternoon. There have been projects just to try something fun at Redgate and investigate something. We had a number of projects, including a charitable image recognition project for Waterscope. That one was really interesting, as some of the software and documentation improvements that were made will be pitched to their investors and taken our for field trials.

Read the rest of "Down Tools Week 2016"

Direct download: downtools_124_v1393.mp3
Category:Editorial -- posted at: 9:00pm EDT

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