15 March 2013

Why use a hammer when you already have a rock?

Is it ethically “sound” to invite people to pay money for a tool when there is a documented, validated and free alternative? This debate came up on Red Gate’s private forums this week after one of the developers wrote, in a state of high enthusiasm,

“How awesome is SQL Index Manager! It’s reduced my DB from 60 GB to 30 GB just by rebuilding the fragmented indexes. Why is this not our best-selling tool?”

The obvious answer is that any cursory search will reveal free T-SQL (or PowerShell) scripts to defragment indexes, and plenty of good advice on how to use them. Typically, such scripts will interrogate Dynamic Management Views to retrieve the necessary metadata for each index in the database, and then rebuild them if they exceed a specific threshold value for the degree of fragmentation. One can then create an agent job to run the script regularly.

SQL Index Manager is simple tool. It doesn’t do anything especially “clever” under the covers, but it does offer a nice graphical depiction of your indexes, their sizes and their fragmentation state, recommendations on the required action (rebuild or reorganize) and a very easy push-button way to do it. Most production DBAs would not need it, because it merely provides a nice GUI to encapsulate existing “domain knowledge”. However, there seem to be plenty of others who like a tool like this simply because it saves time and hassle. If you cost out your time as an accountant would, then an hour or so spent learning how to use a free script is the expensive option.

The forum debate progressed, however, to the question of whether it was even right to sell a product that a user might not otherwise buy if “fully informed” of free alternatives that were at least as capable. Surely there is the worry that a customer might resent it later when, more experienced and surer of their abilities, they feel the vendor was reticent about the possible, free alternatives. This can only be bad for ‘customer retention’.

It is a good point, and Red Gate has, via its various books and websites, done its best to build a reputation for publishing information about free ways of performing SQL Server tasks such as index maintenance, monitoring, deploying databases or taking backups, alongside information about what our tools can do to solve these problems. We also like to support free solutions, such as Ola Hallengren’s scripts. If you choose to buy software tools, it is much better that it is an informed choice, based on the extra value of the tool.

Perhaps we’re being too geeky. After all, most office tools are merely a convenience, and the technology is always there to do it for free. Hence one of the best unintentionally funny lines from Hollywood:

“This is in real time?”

“I’ll create a GUI interface using Visual Basic to see if I can track down the killer’s IP address.” (CSI)

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Tony Davis is an Editor with Red Gate Software, based in Cambridge (UK), specializing in databases, and especially SQL Server. He edits articles and writes editorials for both the Simple-talk.com and SQLServerCentral.com websites and newsletters, with a combined audience of over 1.5 million subscribers. You can sample his short-form writing at either his Simple-Talk.com blog or his SQLServerCentral.com author page.

As the editor behind most of the SQL Server books published by Red Gate, he spends much of his time helping others express what they know about SQL Server. He is also the lead author of the book, SQL Server Transaction Log Management.

In his spare time, he enjoys running, football, contemporary fiction and real ale.

View all articles by Tony Davis