Embracing the Next Platform Change

Are you ready for the new database, cloud computing, or mobile computing platform?

Depending on your tolerance for change, career preparation, and sense of adventure, contemplating any sort of software platform switch will evoke in you gleeful anticipation or abject dread—or, most likely, some combination of the two. Regardless of how you feel about change, you likely have been or will be involved in a platform selection and deployment process. As businesses constantly look for ways to improve processes, reduce costs, and increase efficiency—ultimately, to boost profitability and market share—the IT platforms that run the business are perpetually under review.

Your ability and willingness to facilitate, if not drive, the platform selection process affects not only your organization’s success but your own career. Are you dragged into platform changes kicking and screaming? Do you wait until the decision is made, then smile and roll up your sleeves for the deployment phase? Or do you notice that business systems could be better, research alternatives, sell the solution to your managers, and drive the change process?

Although cloud computing and mobile development platform choices are trendy topics, examining the database platform selection process reveals the classic battle among opposing forces: a tendency toward preserving the status quo among IT professionals who have invested their careers in learning a specific skill set, the business need to consolidate disparate database systems, and a reluctance on the part of both company leaders and IT departments to tamper with systems that could bring the business to a halt.

Despite the complications and potential risk, database platform switches and cross-platform implementations are on the rise. The Windows IT Pro audience has historically represented a cross-section of database adoption: about 54 percent of readers use SQL Server, about 18 percent use Oracle, and about 20 percent use MySQL according to an independent Readex audience profile conducted in 2009.

Raj Gill, founder and CTO of Dallas-based Scalability Experts, said that database platform switches are driven by the typical factors of cost savings, standardization, and operational and management efficiencies. Particularly when companies are formed through a series of mergers and acquisitions, managing disparate databases can be difficult and expensive.

“The sheer cost of managing a variety of database platforms can be daunting,” Gill said. “Consolidation across multiple database platforms does not work very well. So the first step for an organization would be to standardize on a couple of database platforms and then migrate—consolidating within each type.”

Migration tools such as Microsoft’s SQL Server Migration Assistant (SSMA) can help organizations plan a smooth transition. Gill noted that a company’s success with the tool depends on a couple of factors.

“If the business logic is primarily sitting in the database object, then SSMA works well,” he said. “But if the business logic is embedded in the application layer, then the migration assessment can become more involved.” Gill said that Scalability Experts has built a toolset to “automate all scenarios of migrations to quickly arrive at the cost and effort to migrate very complex applications.”

The availability of appropriate skill sets is a critical factor in the success of a database platform switch, according to Gill. “Two or three database platforms are common in a typical company,” Gill said. “If DBAs can support multiple database platforms, they are automatically in high demand. Right now, the combination of Oracle and SQL Server skills is hot.”

Scalability Experts has written coursework called Practical SQL Server (PRASS) for Oracle DBAs. For another perspective on transferring database platform skills, you can follow well-known Oracle expert Jonathan Lewis as he chronicles his experiences adapting his general database expertise to SQL Server in his Simple-Talk blog series.

“At the end of the day, companies need a highly skilled team to manage mission-critical systems,” Gill said. “Cross training and functional readiness are key.”

To boost your ability to manage mission-critical databases, consider becoming a Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) on SQL Server. If you’d like more perspective on adapting your skill set to meet the trends toward multi-platform computing, check out the Professional Career Development Seminar that we are producing in cooperation with Microsoft at Tech•Ed 2011 in Atlanta on May 15. Windows IT Pro experts Michael Otey, Sean Deuby, Paul Thurrott, and Richard Campbell will moderate panel discussions that will help you navigate IT career choices of the future—regardless of the next best platform.

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