Hello, my name is James. I'm an IT Manager, specialising in Windows Server, Software Development (.Net) and SQL Database Design & Administration.

SQL Server Migration and Upgrade – Success

Over the past few months the IT Team have been preparing for one of our most ambitious upgrades of our infrastructure, not because of what we were trying to achieve, but the work needed to get us there.

Our newly retired database server happened to also be a file server, DNS, DHCP and WINS server as well as a Domain Controller. For most small businesses, this was reasonably normal to have a server fulfilling multiple roles – it was a bleak outlook for the team however, as because of the multi-role nature of the server, we’d have to rebuild and redeploy all of our in-house software to point to a new database. This was near enough 100 projects, services and websites needing attention.

Back in late 2011 when the server was first commissioned, we estimated it would be good for 70 – 100 users, allowing comfortably for a 100% growth of the business from the 38 users at the time. From a software development point of view, the concept of having to go through a migration to a new server is not something that was ever discussed. We were content to have our connection strings within our applications name the server directly.

Hindsight. Well… you know the saying.

Fast forward to the present, 202 active users were hitting our database, file services, authentication on a daily basis, and I had to spend a long time babysitting the server into reasonably smooth running – watching closely for long running processes and coming up with clever, slicker ways of running the queries to squeeze out that last extra bit of performance – deadlocks, blocked processes and slower responses were becoming the norm and action was urgently needed.

Our new server was racked and ready to be used some months ago, it runs SQL Server 2014, has 50% more cores, 50% more RAM and we hope will see us through another 3 years.

Our first job, learning from our mistakes of the past, was to DNS alias the server, for use with our database connections. With our alias in check, if we have to go through this exercise again, we’ll be ready.

With all of our software prepped and tested against the new database (which was pointing at our current production database), we were ready.

The documented approach to a database server migration is to detach the databases from production and reattach on the new server. For the purposes of our exercise, we didn’t exactly follow convention – that process would have been a one-way street as our databases were running on SQL Server 2008 R2 at SQL Server 2000 compatibility level, and would have been upgraded as part of the deployment.

We opted for running a full set of backups, shutting down SQL Services and deploying these backups to the new server – with the help of a few scripts I’d created for deploying development database instances, this was painless. The other handy script in my tool belt was ‘sp_help_revlogin’ which we used to script out the logins and security settings.

We switched the DNS alias to the new server, flushed the DNS caches and fired up our first application – with our fingers tightly crossed, it started and could connect!

Are you asking the right open questions?

I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last couple of days with Russ Baleson who has delivered training to our management team around more effective communication.

The content was ground breaking for me for a number of reasons. It changed my perspective on some things I always thought to be right, and it’s prompting me to reconsider just how effective my communication style has been.

Open and Closed questions were always an area I thought I knew well. Open questions lead to elaborate answers, closed questions will generally get a one word response. Simple, Right?

What do you do when your Open question gets a closed response?

That’s always puzzled me, and leading an IT team, I sometimes find it challenging to get my team members to open up – I thought I could write that off to the nature of Software Developers particularly, you can think of many preconceptions here that can be used to explain the traits and behaviours, but it’s dawned on me, it’s self-inflicted. I was wrong in my approach.

Take a typical question you might ask a Software Developer:

Q: What went well with this project?
A: We delivered it on time.

To my software developer, someone with a personality profile that is very analytical, logical and to the point, this is a perfectly proper answer, but it leaves me craving just that bit more. How did you deliver it on time? Did you pull together? Did you think you were you well supported? Just talk to me!

Let’s try this again.

Q: Tell me some of the things you think went well with this project?
A: Well, we hit the deadline, which I suppose is the most important thing, we also worked very well together as a team, it was also really good to get the support of the department manager and that certainly paid off as we knew exactly how we’d approach it.

Suddenly, we’ve hit gold – here’s a real insight into the project and the mindset. A simple change with dramatic results.

What’s the secret?

The key here is in the delivery, the wording is important as you need to make sure your intentions are clear too – I want you to talk, not just a bit, but lots. Just wording your question differently can make all the difference.

What did you do at the weekend?
Tell me some of the things you did at the weekend?

What can we do better?
Talk to me about some of the ways we can do better?

Russ has published a book on Communication Skills which I’ll certainly be purchasing very soon.


Looking back

In 2011, having just taken the plunge to join a long standing friend in his endeavour to set up a creative agency, I’d began paving the way for a career change that’s put me where I am today.

Embracing Social Media helped this fledgeling agency pick up new clients and I worked closely with a number of business owners and stakeholders to develop their social media presence and effectively leverage social media to engage with their prospective customers, supporters and audiences.

Back then, Social Media was a relatively new ‘buzz word’ for business, and doing it right was something that didn’t come naturally. Trying to get the point across that broadcasting your message was never going to be effective had me banging my head against the wall frequently, it seems this lesson is still as relevant now as it was then.

Personal circumstances lead to the agency ultimately closing and I faced redundancy, but a new opportunity with a professional connection led me to a new, multi-disciplinary role that developed over the next four years into leading the day-to-day operations of an IT team, supporting 175 users and the infrastructure of the market leading financial services business it has now become.

Today I’m not able to dedicate the same time and effort to social media as I used to, with my role evolving towards management of an IT department, I’ll find opportunity to talk about new and upcoming technology, and share information, tips and tricks I think might help though, so hopefully my site will find some new life.

As part of my reflection on how I got here, I decided to resurrect some of my ‘tools of the trade’, mainly to see if anyone visited my blog anymore, and was quietly surprised to see some traffic coming through.

‘Reputation Management’ – also known as googling yourself, was an important task for anyone trying to establish themselves as a credible source of information, so out of curiosity, I wanted to see just what Google held on me. I was delighted to find that some of my work had been picked up by BusinessInsider in their article Humanizing Your Social Media Efforts, the site is ranked in the top 200 sites in the world in terms of traffic volume, so huge exposure for me!

This might help get a bit more traffic to the site today, and explain why you are reading this, so I’ll be thinking of some relevant, useful and quality content to put here soon


Copyright © James Coleman-Powell, 2016