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All About Microsoft SQL Server

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SQL Server is Microsoft's scalable database platform. It runs exclusively on Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 2000. It is very widely used in the industry in small, medium, and large organizations and is mostly for small- to medium-sized projects. As successive versions of SQL Server have been released, its capability to handle larger amounts of data have improved. Microsoft publicly demonstrated SQL Server's enhanced large database capabilities by hosting the Terraserver aerial photography Web site at It is perhaps the most popular database among those who have worked exclusively or primarily in Windows-based environments (rather than mainframe or Unix) because of its Windows user-friendly product design.

Because SQL Server is a true database server, more database administration and design knowledge is required to make use of it than is required for Microsoft's desktop database product, Access. Despite the added complexity of SQL Server, many Access-based systems eventually migrate to SQL Server because of its performance, reliability, large database support, and added functionality. As with Oracle, many database design and administration tools exist in SQL Server.

Microsoft has even included extra client/server SQL debugging capabilities in the Enterprise version of its Visual Studio product (which is Microsoft's development environment).

Why Use SQL Server?

If your organization is familiar with administering a Windows network, would like to run a true database server, and is looking for the simplest alternative to get up and running with the least amount of retraining, SQL Server is a good choice. Additionally, if your organization maintains a database in Microsoft Access, and that database has started to slow down as more users access it and more data is stored in it, moving the database to SQL Server is a logical step. Microsoft's commitment to the PC/Windows platform ensures that as long as you stay with Windows, you won't encounter the phenomenon of a vendor providing great support for most of its platforms, but only mediocre support for the one you chose several years ago. This does happen with some vendors that support many, many different operating system and hardware platforms when sales haven't justified additional product support expenditures.

Many organizations choose to standardize on Microsoft Windows as their only (or primary) operating system because they then don't have to worry about supporting multiple operating system environments. SQL Server might also be chosen by organizations who would like to have only one vendor to call for both operating system and database issues to minimize the finger-pointing that can occur among vendors if a problem occurs. Microsoft has a tremendous presence in the technology channel, and tens of thousands of individuals are trained and certified on various versions of the SQL Server product. This fact ensures that if an organization opts for SQL Server, there are many potential sources of support in addition to those offered by Microsoft.

Job Demand

There is great job demand for those with Microsoft SQL Server expertise. As with other popular database servers, searching popular career listing sites on the Web resulted in more than 1000 opportunities for those with a background in the product. Microsoft SQL Server is also popular in the e-commerce world, with many Windows NT-based Web hosting sites also offering access to it as part of their site hosting packages. SQL Server is likely to be found in organizations of any size, from small retail organizations to large manufacturing operations. So, if you are particularly interested in working with smaller firms, SQL Server might be a good platform choice for you.

Can you see yourself staying in this area of the IT industry, or would you like to try something different?

[Tina]: I would eventually like to get into the Internet part of the industry. I appreciate everything that I have learned, which is a ton, but I would like to branch out and learn different areas.

What do you consider to be the most challenging part of your job?

[Tina]:The most challenging part is supporting an application without any training or knowledge of it. Also, knowing that sometimes the company is down until you fix the problem.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting out in IT?

[Tina]: Don't be afraid of any kind of experience you are offered. At first, I was disappointed in myself for starting at the very bottom as a Support Analyst, but now I would not take any of the experience back. The position that I have is not a ticket taker or reporter but an analyst. I have to analyze and troubleshoot issues and fix them at the drop of a hat. I am ready to move up and on, but will still have to have the database background to continue in my career.You will be amazed at how much you can learn on a daily basis and how good it feels to help people resolve their issues, so that they can continue with their work.

Microsoft has even included extra client/server SQL debugging capabilities in the Enterprise version of its Visual Studio product (which is Microsoft's development environment).

Jargon Buster

Below is the final batch of database jargon. Becoming familiar with these terms will make your research of database technology all the more meaningful.

SQL-SQL is the de facto standard language for accessing and updating information in relational databases. Both ANSI and ISO have issued standards for SQL, and vendors tend to closely comply with these written standards. Sometimes it is pronounced "sequel" as in a movie sequel; other times, it is spelled out letter by letter, as in "S-Q-L." SQL has roots that are found in IBM research in the mid-1970s. Since then, it has become one of the most popular database access languages.

Stored procedure-Program code stored within the database, which operates on database contents. Typically, stored procedures provide a very efficient means of updating and querying a database, more so than programs written in other languages, such as Basic or Perl.The language used to program a stored procedure is specific to the database, such as SQL Server or Oracle.

Entity-Relationship Diagram-A graphical representation of the entities in a database design and the relationships among them.The logical database design, which is represented by the E-R Diagram, is generally done before the database designer sits down with a specific database, such as SQL Server, and begins to implement the database.

Open Database Connectivity (ODBC)-A database independent standard interface (called application programming interface [API]) for accessing the contents of databases, generally from Microsoft Windows-based database client computers. The idea behind ODBC is that any database client program, like Crystal Reports or Microsoft Excel can, through ODBC, access any DBMS for which a piece of computer software known as an ODBC driver exists. The reality is a bit more complex than the theory, because multiple versions of ODBC drivers for most databases exist, and each version tends to have its own set of software bugs or limitations to be wary of.

Java Database Connectivity (JDBC)-A database independent standard interface for accessing the contents of SQL-based databases from the Java language. JDBC is based on Microsoft's earlier ODBC standard, and connectors exist to allow JDBC-based client software to access ODBC databases.
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