Professional SQL Consulting Services: Unlock Your Data’s Full Potential

Professional SQL Consulting Services: Unlock Your Data’s Full Potential

If you are looking for Microsoft SQL consulting services, it’s key to identify the right partner for your specific needs. 

Many organizations need help with SQL database operational tasks like performance tuning, troubleshooting database issues, or handling a migration or upgrade. Most SQL consultants offer these services.

But businesses increasingly want to master and move beyond database operational efficiency—to unlock their data’s full potential and deliver the insights that support better, quicker decisions. This takes a specialist SQL consulting services partner that can architect, model, build, manage, and secure big data and data warehouse systems and deliver business intelligence (BI) via user-friendly dashboards. 

What is Business Intelligence?

Data is the starting point for business-critical decisions. Yet study after study finds that very little of the data most companies collect is ever used for analytics. 

Business intelligence (BI) is the process of using technology to analyze data and extract actionable insights that help executives and others make better informed decisions, while also reducing reporting lead time. To make BI possible, data from internal and/or external sources must be prepared for analysis, then queried to yield data visualizations, reports, and dashboards. These tools represent the results to suit different strategic planning and operational decision-making audiences. 

BI Benefits & SQL Consulting Services

Companies exploit BI for a variety of reasons, from streamlining business processes to improving customer knowledge to developing “big picture” perspectives on new market opportunities. Some of the industries where BI is most critical for competitive success include retail, food & beverage, transportation & travel, and energy/oil & gas. 

Benefits that many organizations experience through developing BI capabilities can include:

  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Greater employee productivity
  • More accurate reporting
  • More accurate competitive analysis
  • Stronger ability to see and forecast market trends
  • Enhanced ability to identify new business opportunities, revenue sources, etc.
  • More comprehensive knowledge of business performance
  • Better data quality

What is Data Modeling?

Data modeling analyzes data objects and plots how they relate to one another. This process structures the data for BI activities and is a prerequisite step before loading data into a data warehouse or data lake.

Data modeling helps you understand your data and make the best technology decisions to store and manage it. A comprehensive data model is also the basis for developing SQL database applications.

Some of the benefits of data modeling include:

  • More efficient database development with fewer errors
  • More consistent and complete data documentation, including a data dictionary
  • A common language to help data scientists and business teams communicate about BI requirements

A rigorously optimized data model helps eliminate redundancy in your SQL database, which reduces storage needs and supports efficient retrieval. The goal of data modeling is to give the business clean, consistent, structured data that can support BI and achieve consistent, effective results.

SQL consulting services focused on the data modeling process can help accelerate the transformation of a company’s “dark” data into business intelligence. From there, you can readily answer future questions regarding that data—to deliver business value for years to come without the need for extensive SQL coding. 

SQL Consulting Services for Successful BI

SQL Server is a leading platform for data warehousing, analysis, reporting, and BI to make your business more competitive and efficient. But successful BI outcomes depend on clean data, best-practice database maintenance, proactive performance tuning, and expert planning/strategy.

If you don’t have BI expertise in-house, the right SQL consulting services partner can provide specialized solutions like: 

  • SQL Server and/or Microsoft Azure SQL architecture 
  • SQL Server and/or Microsoft Azure SQL application development
  • Big data and data warehouse architecture and interface development
  • Extract-transform-load (ETL) process development
  • Data analytics queries
  • Data reporting tools

What’s Next?

There’s no question that effective BI can improve competitiveness, profitability, and resilience. Yet a very high percentage of BI projects fail or show excessively long time to value. Data quality issues are a common problem, as are inadequate project planning and poor requirements definition.

Engaging a SQL consulting services partner with proven BI expertise and project success can help improve the odds of success for your company’s BI initiative. 

If you are looking for a SQL consultant that can customize their offerings for your needs, objectives, budget, and in-house capabilities, contact Buda Consulting to schedule a free 15-minute call. We can accelerate time to value and reduce business risk on BI projects leveraging Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL, MySQL, and other database environments.


SQL Server Consulting Services: Maximizing Your Database Performance and Security

SQL Server Consulting Services: Maximizing Your Database Performance and Security

As your company becomes increasingly data-driven and you initiate more database projects, your Microsoft SQL Server environment inevitably increases in size and complexity—and so does the trouble a faltering, crashed or insecure database can potentially cause. 

Degraded performance, malfunctioning SQL processes, corrupted data sets, and other SQL Server challenges demand immediate, expert attention. Having a SQL Server consulting team on speed-dial can get your database back on track in short order. Besides emergency services, other SQL Server consulting services that growing companies often eventually need include database health checks, database performance tuning, and database security vulnerability assessments. 

When it comes to your mission-critical SQL Server infrastructure, you can’t afford to waste time or take chances. You need an SQL Server consulting partner whose DBAs can go beyond routine database management to quickly identify and fix the root causes of problems, as well as proactively optimize and enhance your SQL Server environment to prevent future issues. This approach often leads to the best cost/performance equation, especially when your business runs on data.

Popular SQL Server Consulting Services

The more you leverage your SQL Server investments, the more likely you are to need specialized SQL server consulting services, from SAN configuration to SQL query tuning to custom database development. Services that a SQL Server consulting partner can offer on an on-demand basis include: 

  • Migrating SQL Server workloads to the cloud
  • Moving from Amazon RDS to SQL Server
  • Moving on-premises SQL Server assets to Microsoft Azure SQL Database
  • Upgrading your SQL Server instance
  • Identifying security issues, reporting on their potential impacts, and recommending specific corrective actions
  • Choosing, implementing, and/or testing a disaster recovery strategy
  • Choosing, implementing, and/or testing a high availability strategy (e.g., clustering, replication)
  • Choosing, implementing, and/or testing a backup strategy
  • Optimizing SQL Server configurations

Help with Managing Databases in the Cloud

SMBs are flocking to public cloud services, including Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS), and hybrid cloud architectures. This trend is rapidly and significantly changing the skills DBAs need, as well as the SQL Server consulting services successful companies are likely to require. 

If your company is moving database workloads to the cloud, a SQL Server consulting partner can help you plan your cloud migration strategy, sort through your IaaS, DBaaS, and hybrid options, level up your DBA skill set, operationalize new cloud database workflows, and overall ensure that you achieve your business goals.

Benefits of SQL Server Consulting Services

Taking advantage of SQL Server consulting services can have a range of benefits for SMBs, including:

  • Proactive monitoring to address performance degradation, availability glitches, capacity issues, and other problems before they impact users’ productivity or cause business disruption
  • Flexible staffing backup to cover both routine and specialized tasks, taking the pressure off you to hire, train, and manage expert DBA resources  
  • A “continuous improvement” mindset to advance the functioning and resilience of your database infrastructure
  • A comprehensive understanding of your SQL Server environment and how it can potentially support your business
  • Overall lower operational costs and reduced business risk associated with SQL Server 
  • The peace of mind of a one-stop shop for all your SQL Server needs
  • Guidance not just with Microsoft SQL Server, but also other database technologies like Oracle, PostgreSQL, MySQL, MongoDB, Hadoop, etc.

What’s next?

Whether you’re under pressure to address SQL Server operational challenges, need to augment your current team, or are facing a move to the cloud, a SQL Server consulting partner can help.

At Buda Consulting, our expert DBAs function as an extension of your team, so that knowledge is transferred as problems are solved. We’re small enough to really know and advise your business, but with deep experience to tackle whatever comes up with your database, minimize future risks, and help you maximize your data’s value.

Contact us to schedule a call with a SQL Server specialist.


5 Steps to Finding the Right SQL Server Consultant for Your Business

5 Steps to Finding the Right SQL Server Consultant for Your Business

Sometimes the need for a Microsoft SQL Server consultant seems to sneak up on you. Your database responsiveness and availability appear to be okay. Then, somewhere in the organization, someone deploys a new database alongside a new application. All of a sudden, you’re having performance and/or reliability issues.

What just happened and how do we fix it? That’s the kind of question an expert SQL Server consultant answers every day. If you need database guidance, here are 5 steps to finding the right SQL Server consultant:

One: Evaluate your database needs

Yes, you’re hiring a database expert to help assess and validate your current and future needs. But you need to do some fact-finding before you choose a consultant.

Start with a list of your pain points and a description of your desired future state. Quantify your hoped-for outcomes as much as possible.

Drilling down into your pain points as far as your expertise permits will both identify core issues and help your SQL Server consultant solve them faster. You might even discover that you really need a network expert or a storage expert, not a database expert. 

Two: Match your needs with consultant offerings

To pick the right SQL Server consultant from among many available options, start with basic questions, like:

  • Are they recommended by one or more peers?
  • Do they have current reference clients in your industry?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Do they have the right expertise on tap? 
  • Are they local to you and able to work on-site if needed?
  • Are they a good match for your business size-wise? 
  • Do their rates fit your budget?
  • Do they have solid Microsoft credentials?

Keep in mind also that your needs will change. You may want a SQL Server consultant that is “a partner not a vendor”—one you can trust to cover any database problem you’re likely to have. 

Three: Talk to the firms on your short list

Most reputable SQL Server consultants offer a free introductory call to talk over your unique challenges and goals. This is a great way to compare ideas and advice, while identifying the consultants you click with. Be ready to discuss the problems you’re having with your database environment, plans for moving workloads to the cloud, compliance concerns, security questions, and so on. 

Do the people you’re talking to sound knowledgeable and confident? Do they ask good questions? Do their initial recommendations make sense? Are they “good listeners” who are motivated to work with you? Or do they sound like they just want to close a deal?

Four: Hire the winner for an assessment or point project

If you have time and/or want to minimize business risk, hire your top pick to perform a database health check, compliance assessment, or security evaluation. These assessment projects will give you critical information about your environment, while providing an accurate indication on whether this SQL Server consultant is right for your business. 

If you’re pleased with the results, you’ve got a winner! If not, at least you learned a lot. Go back to your short list and ask the top contenders a few more questions. 

Five: Write a win-win contract

A win-win contract is one that both parties can live with, which defines unambiguously both parties’ responsibilities so there is always clarity when questions arise. Weak contracts can create financial risk on both sides of the table and can lead to damaged business relationships and lawsuits.

Most contracts with an SQL Server consulting partner should describe (if applicable) the scope of work to be performed, agreed deliverables, project timelines, agreed compensation and fee structures, special equipment or other resource needs, etc. Some contracts also include termination clauses that describe stipulations for ending the contract.

Most consultants will also need to sign a confidentiality agreement to protect your intellectual property and other sensitive data.

What’s next?

With so many possibilities, choosing the right SQL Server consultant can seem bewildering. 

At Buda Consulting, we’re small enough to really know your business, but have the expertise to handle whatever comes up with your SQL Server database environment. From a health check to a cloud migration, we can provide the planning, maintenance, optimization, and specialized skills you need to take your data’s business value to the next level. We’re located in central New Jersey and serve companies of all sizes across the US.

Contact us to schedule a free call with a SQL Server specialist.


SQL Server Is Better Than Ever – Blessing or Curse?

SQL Server Is Better Than Ever – Blessing or Curse?

As SQL server became a world-class database system over the past two decades, setting a trap for many organizations. 

Twenty years ago, mission-critical applications were generally only served by enterprise-level database systems (think Oracle and DB2) . SQL Server was reserved for less critical applications because it was not robust enough to handle the throughput, data integrity, security, and disaster recovery requirements of mission-critical systems. 

Over the years, SQL server has indeed become a world-class database management system. Still not quite as robust in some areas as Oracle, but definitely able to handle many if not most mission-critical workloads. 

Fooled by the SQL Server Price Point

Here is the catch,  when mission-critical workloads required expensive, enterprise-level RDMS, customers paid very high license fees for the software, and are therefore expected to make a significant investment in the administration, security, and monitoring of their database environments. It just made sense to protect the large investment in database licensing.

As SQL Server gained parity with Oracle, customers gradually moved mission-critical workloads over to this less expensive platform, and with that, came the expectation of lower administrative costs, and the unwillingness to make the investment in the administration, security, and monitoring of such systems.

As a result, there are now tens of thousands of fragile SQL server databases, created by developers or less experienced DBAs, running mission-critical workloads, that are not backed up properly, not secured properly, and not set up properly for rapid recovery in the event of hardware failure or user error. 

SQL Server: What are we really investing in?

I said earlier that in the past it just made sense to protect the investment that the organization makes in the expensive database system. And I think that is how many organizations think of it. But in reality, the investment in proper administration, security, and monitoring is really an investment in the data that the database holds, not in the database software. It is an investment in the users of the applications that the database supports, it is an investment in the customers that the users of the application serve.. 

These assets, data, users and customers, are of equal value whether you paid $300k in oracle license fees, or 60k in SQL Server license fees. 

Protect What Matters

It is folly to equate the cost and ease of implementation of the database system with the importance of having world-class administration, security, and disaster recovery to protect your critical business assets.

Take needed action today

If you have SQL Server databases in your environment without a professional database administrator looking after them (or think you might), call a professional to assess those environments to ensure that they are backed up and secured properly. (Hint — almost all of the databases that we assess that have not been actively managed by a professional DBA are not backed up the way the customer thinks they are!).

If you would like to talk about your environment, click here to schedule a consultation.




SQL Server Health Check Checklist

SQL Server Health Check Checklist

SQL injection attacks represent over 65.1 percent of all website application attacks. To prevent your server from becoming a part of that statistic, you’ll need to take action. That way, you can mitigate damages and possibly prevent them. Moreover, you’ll want to enhance your product’s performance to prevent potential bottlenecks. To achieve the above goals, you’ll need to create a SQL Server health check checklist. Our guide will give you a list of some important items to check during your health check.

What Is a SQL Server Health Check?

Since your servers have many moving parts, you’ll need to compile a list of issues that possibly affect your server’s performance. Whether they’re high- or low-level details. Afterward, with your newfound knowledge, you’ll have a better understanding of your environment. From there, you can address issues and eliminate potential vulnerabilities.

Some critical areas of your infrastructure that health checks scan include:

  • Finds performance issues
  • Helps with planning future platform upgrades
  • Pinpoints existing capacity or scalability issues
  • Ensures that you’re running a secure system

You can do these checks yourself by running particular scripts. However, if you want to invest your time elsewhere, you’ll want to opt for an SQL monitoring tool. This premium software can offer practical features like a SQL Server daily health check report, predictive monitoring, and more.

9-Point SQL Server Health Check Checklist

The best way to keep your server environment in working order is to follow the SQL Server checklist below. The issues throughout this list can cause the most trouble within your SQL Servers if not quickly addressed.

1. Inspect Available Disk Space

If you run out of disk space, you’re in for a load of issues. Whether they’re application failures, a slow server, or various errors, checking your available disk space is one of the most important points in this checklist.

2. Do You Have Any Index Fragmentation?

Index fragmentation occurs when you have a significant number of empty spaces on a data page. Otherwise, this may happen due to the physical number of your data file’s pages not matching your index’s pages. Once this problem occurs, it’ll slowly degrade your system’s performance.

To have your server show you your fragmentation, use the function sys.dm_db_index_physical_stats. When detecting fragmentation, you’ll receive information like the average and external percentages that represent your system’s fragmentation. That way, you can figure out if the fragmentation’s size is worth dealing with.

3. Are You Running Newer SQL Server Versions?

First, check what SQL Server version your environment runs. Afterward, you’ll need to check areas such as whether critical fixes have been released for your version. Moreover, you’ll need to ensure that it’s still within mainstream support.

4. Review Server Configurations

Inspect all of your SQL Server’s configurations. Do they meet your needs? You’ll want to review some settings, including anti-virus settings, BIOS updates, and optimize for ad hoc workloads options. Moreover, you’ll want to ensure your system has enough resources to perform the tasks you need. Whether you have the right number of CPU cores or memory.

5. How’s Your Server’s Security?

Aside from performance, maintaining a secure SQL Server should remain your top priority. If your system’s vulnerable, it’ll lead to various issues, including a lot of lost money. First off, you’ll need to ensure that your system’s security is intact. Ways to maintain your system’s integrity include performing routine security audits. When doing these checks, you’ll need to monitor schema changes, modified or missing databases, and other audits required by data regulation organizations.

Moreover, while you’re checking your security, ensure all database administrators have strong passwords. That way, you can protect your system against brute force attacks. Other areas to routinely check include encryption and your firewall’s integrity. Also, don’t forget to test SQL Server updates and install them as soon as possible. These contain essential security improvements for your system.

6. Inspect Your Database’s Properties

You will need to check your database’s properties for each SQL Server to determine if they are appropriately configured for your environment. Moreover, while you’re inspecting your properties, consider the following:

  • When did you last check for corrupted assets?
  • Do you have a maintenance plan?
  • Your database backups
  • Your SQL agent jobs setup

7. Check for Recent Backups

To prevent losing data in the event of an accident, ensure that you have backed up all of your data. Otherwise, your services may suffer from a costly mistake. However, if you already have a backup, you’ll want to perform additional health checks for your backups.

Some of these tests include:

  • Whether your backups consume a lot of resources
  • Check for failing backups
  • Backup compression settings
  • Determine whether your backups are necessary

8. View Your Error Log

Using the undocumented extended stored procedure called xp_readerrorlog, you can view SQL Server Error Logs. If any errors occur within those two days, this query will check the current log and present you with the errors.

9. Check for Slow Running Queries

How much CPU is your SQL Server process using? If your CPU utilization is high, then you’ll run into performance issues. However, with many processes running, you may have a hard time finding what particular process is using the most space.

First, you’ll need to identify kernel-process ID (KPID) and SQL Server Process ID (SPID) values. Then, once you find the culprit, you’ll want to select the counters for your ID Thread, Thread State, Wait For a Reason and % Processor Time. Afterward, you can see which process uses the most CPU.

Your SQL Server Health Check Is Important

Assembling a SQL Server health check checklist helps you optimize your environment’s performance and helps fix any exploitable vulnerabilities. Performing a check on SQL Server health every day isn’t difficult. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you don’t want to deal with it, consider outsourcing. 

Engaging a dedicated team with expertise and focus will save you time and ensure that the most important issues are detected and addressed before they cause data loss or downtime. Learn more about optimizing your data, cloud systems, and more by exploring our blog.

SQL Server Vulnerability Assessment – Keep Your SQL Database Safe With This Microsoft Tool

SQL Server Vulnerability Assessment – Keep Your SQL Database Safe With This Microsoft Tool

By now you all know how hackers are having their way with business all over the world.  I don’t need to give examples to remind you of that. Some are mentioned here and here and I’ve written a number of blogs about the importance of protecting the database here, here and here

So instead of talking about those issues again, let’s dive right in and discuss one of the simplest ways to identify typical vulnerabilities in your SQL Server database.  This is a tool that is already available to you that can significantly minimize your risk.

Microsoft provides a tool called the Vulnerability Assessment tool that will scan your databases for typical vulnerabilities. These include configuration errors,  excessive permissions, and permissions granted to users vs roles, among others. These checks look for violations of best practices for managing a database. Before this tool was released, one had to use a third party vulnerability assessment tool like Trustwave’s Appdetective Pro, or manually run scripts to find such vulnerabilities.  

How This Assessment Tool Compares With Third-Party Tools

I have used third party tools like Trustwave’s and Impreva’s, to identify vulnerabilities in customer systems, and I have used Microsoft’s Vulnerability Assessment (VA) as well. While I have not produced a master list of vulnerability checks that are done in each system in order to do a direct comparison, it feels to me that the VA checks for fewer vulnerabilities. Also, Appdetective Pro adds other features like a discovery tool, a penetration test, and a user rights review (more on that later), but here we will focus mostly on the vulnerability assessment tool.

If you have not taken any steps to secure your database, then using the SQL Server Vulnerability Assessment tool, and taking action based on its recommendations, will probably get you 90% of the way to a secure database. I am not suggesting that you should stop there. 90% is not good enough. But 90% is much better than 0%, which is where you might be if you haven’t run any vulnerability scan at all.

An Overview Of The SQL Server Vulnerability Assessment Tool

I will mention a few highlights here to give a sense of what kinds of things are covered and will provide a link below to a comprehensive guide provided by Microsoft.

The SQL Vulnerability Assessment Tool compares the configuration of your database to Microsoft best practice rules for database management from a security perspective. According to Microsoft’s guide at this point 87 rules are checked, but some only apply to later versions of SQL server. The rules are broken down into six categories.

Authentication and Authorization

These rules ensure that only the right people are able to connect to your database.  These address the confidentiality and integrity principles of the Information Security Triad. Authentication deals with ensuring that the users are who they represent themselves to be, and Authorization deals with what data assets they should have access to. Here are a few important rules that are checked in this category:

  • Password expiration check should be enabled for all SQL logins
  • Database principals should not be mapped to the sa account. 
  • Excessive permissions should not be granted to PUBLIC role on objects or columns

Auditing and Logging

These rules check to ensure that what gets done and seen in the database is traceable and provable. This addresses the non-repudiation principle of information security and enables forensic analysis in the event of a suspected security breach. A few sample rules checked in this category include:

  • Auditing of both successful and failed login attempts should be enabled
  • Auditing should be enabled at the server level
  • There should be at least 1 active audit in the system

Data Protection

Data protection rules are primarily related to encryption. Addressing the confidentiality principle, these rules ensure that data is protected at rest and in transit. Rules such as these are checked:

  • Transparent data encryption should be enabled
  • Database communication using TDS should be protected through TLS
  • Database Encryption Symmetric Keys should use AES algorithm

Installation Updates and Patches

This category would be very helpful but I am not sure the results can be trusted. When running this on a SQL Server 2012 database, it seems that the check for patches was not executed. It did not appear in the result set either as passed or failed. So I do not recommend using this tool to determine whether you are up to date on your patches until this is resolved.

Surface Area Reduction

Rules in this category address all three principles in the information security triad. They focus on protecting the database environment by reducing the threat vectors posed by external interfaces and integrations. Some interesting rules in this category include:

  • CLR should be disabled
  • Unused service broker endpoints should be removed
  • SQL Server instance shouldn’t be advertised by the SQL Server Browser service

Comprehensive List Of Vulnerabilities

Microsoft provides this reference guide that describes all of the vulnerabilities that VA checks. The guide references which version of SQL Server each rule applies to. This guide provides a lot of good information about this tool and about securing your SQL Server database in general. It is not perfect of course. For example, the description of the check related to patches seems to have some cut and paste remnants, but there is good information there. 

How Buda Employs A Vulnerability Scanner To Protect Our Customers’ Data Assets

When we perform a database security assessment for one of our customers using this tool or one of the other vulnerability scanners, we start of course by running the tool. We then examine the result set and determine the actual risk posed by each of the reported vulnerabilities in the context of the specific database, application, and customer. Often, some of the reported vulnerabilities are mitigated by processes that the organization has in place, or by the nature of the application or the data. After filtering out those that do not represent a real threat, we create a report for management that shows the action items that need to be taken, which may include further analysis. 

For example, some of the rules may fail because no baseline has been created for which users should have access to a given role. Addressing this will involve a study of what roles should be active in the system and who should be granted access to them. This can result in creation of baselines for use in future scans. 

Trustwave’s App Detective Pro that I mentioned earlier provides a user rights review report that may be useful for creating those baselines. 

Application Authorization Schemes

The Authorization and logging related checks that these scanners perform (and the Trustwave User Rights Review) are with respect to actual database users. Many applications, however, use application based authorization. These vulnerability scanners will not be able to provide insight about user authentication or logging in those cases.  

In these cases, we create a user rights review report that identifies what data assets a given application user can access, and we ensure that application logging is robust enough to provide the necessary level of granularity to support the security objectives. 

Where to find it

The Microsoft Vulnerability Assessment tool is available in SSMS v and above. So you may have to upgrade your SSMS (free) in order to get this tool. But the good news is that it works with all currently supported SQL Server versions.  

In Summary

Running the Microsoft Vulnerability Scanner can be an important part of a robust security plan for your SQL Server Databases. Running this scanner is an excellent first step to identify many vulnerabilities, some of which can be easily remediated. 

It is important that an experienced SQL Server database expert implement the recommendations and that additional analysis be done beyond the results produced by the tool. Additionally, when using applications that use application level authentication, deeper study must be done to ensure the security of the data in those applications.

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