SQL Server Product Selection Checklist
I have seen the recent addition of SQL Server product listings on your web site and see the value in being able to find all of the SQL Server products per category in one place. Going to your web site rather than having to search all over the Internet to find the products myself is a big time saver. Now that I know where the products are located, how should I go about evaluating them? I know I only have a limited amount of time to take a look at the products and need to select the correct one for our environment. I really do not want to get bugged by all of the sales people at these companies, but I do want to take a look at their products. So how should I go about evaluating products in the SQL Server market?
Leveraging a new Microsoft SQL Server feature/product or third party SQL Server product in your environment should be a relatively painless task that should be able to be completed in a relatively short amount of time. Whether the product is from Microsoft or another vendor the overall process should really not be any different. As such, below outlines a potential checklist that can be followed when evaluating a SQL Server solution:
- Need - Identify the true need from a people, process and technology perspective. Be sure to balance all three of these components so you do not have a technology solution that no one can support or a process that is too time consuming with a team that is not properly trained on the technology.
- Budget - Speak with your management to determine the budget for the product purchase as well as the overall project. Depending on your organization ensure you differentiate between the capital budget, maintenance budget and the potential charge back to another part of the organization.
- Another way to look at the budget is based on cost or time savings of your time as a DBA, Developer or Network Administrator. For example, if you perform the same task every day for 2 hours per day and a product is available that will cut that time down to 15 minutes per day, then determine cost savings by purchasing the product. One simple way to make this calculation is: Hourly Rate * Hours Saved * 52 Weeks. You might find that a product saves a significant amount of time and can justify itself over a reasonable period of time.
- Features - Once you have a clear understanding of the needs and budget, then outline the features in terms of needs and wants. This might be a good time to build an Excel spreadsheet to start to manage the process and prioritize the features.
- Priority - Meet with your team to determine the priority of the product selection project versus the remainder of your responsibilities. Be sure to have support from your management and your team to be able to spend the time needed to properly make a product selection. If the time is not available, then now might not be the right time to evaluate a new product.
- Time Commitment - Once your priorities are in place and you have for example 4 hours a week to work on the product selection project, be sure to actually set aside time to research, evaluate, test and deploy the overall solution. Communicate the time to your team and make sure you actually set aside the time by scheduling the time on your calendar rather than just trying to fit it in when you have time.
- Research - With the product features and budget identified, research the products available on the market that could meet your needs. Check out the white papers, web casts, tutorials, etc available from the product vendors to educate yourself on the options available.
- Registration and Download - Register and download the products. Then update the Excel spreadsheet that has your features list and indicate if the product exceeds, meets, partially meets or does not meet the feature request. This is a simple way to take the emotion out of the purchase and see which product will truly meet the needs.
- Reality Check - Depending on the budget and product you are looking to purchase, perform a reality check to determine how much effort really needs to go into the process. If you are evaluating a product that is going to cost a few hundred dollars then it does not make sense to spend weeks evaluating and testing it. Make the credit card purchase and move forward. On the other hand, if you are looking at an enterprise solution that will be in production for years to come then make sure you due your due diligence to select the correct product.
- Product Price vs. Budget - When you download the product also find out the price of the product. Be sure the product price matches your budget. If not, see if it is close to your budget or if the product can be justified by time savings.
- Sales Person - Talk to the sales person assigned to your company, let them know your needs, the process you plan on following and the overall time frame. Set expectations with them and have them help you with product information, technical support, etc. Hopefully it will be a positive experience and the vendor can provide additional best practices to assist you optimize and manage your SQL Server environment.
- Testing - Once you have identified a product or two that can meet the needs, then get the product setup in a test environment and put the product through the paces. Think about how you are going to be using the product day in and day out and make sure it will meet your needs.
- Team Demo - Once you are confident that a product or two will meet your needs, then open it up to the team to get some additional feedback to be sure you are not missing some sort of functionality that would benefit your other team members, application, future needs, etc. This might also be a good way to get support from your team and validate your assessment of the product is accurate.
- Credentials - As you narrow your search, make sure the application you are looking to purchase is from a reputable company with references. What are the companies credentials? Are they and Microsoft Certified ISV or Microsoft Gold Certified partner? Have they been in business for a reasonable amount of time? Do they offer installation and training services to help your team get up to speed? In addition, be sure to spend some time learning from the existing customers (references) on what worked well, what did not work well and ask about any lessons learned from their environment.
- Return on Investment - As a justification to your management on the product selection, identify the tangible and intangible benefits then how they equate to a return on investment (ROI). The ROI may be time savings, less downtime, higher performance, extend the life of your hardware platform, better user experience, etc. Regardless of the root ROI try to measure it and show a no-nonsense benefit.
- Purchase Recommendation and Decision - Pull together the options available in the market, findings from your testing, feedback from the team, ROI, etc. and notify your management of the product recommendation. The best way to do this may be in a meeting and obtain feedback from management for a final decision. Be sure to get a decision whether it is 'Yes', 'No' or re-evaluate next quarter. Just be sure to come to a decision and move forward.
- Vendor Notification - Contact the vendors that you have been working with to let them know your decision and if you like provide feedback to them on the overall product.
- Implementation - By this point in time you should know the product in and out in order to implement it and begin to reap the benefits from the product.
- The next time you have the need to check out a new product in the SQL Server market consider following the process outlined in this tip. Hopefully it will be a good time saver, get you organized and also have a pleasant experience along the way.
- How you handle the details on many of these steps is really up to you, but be sure to perform a realty check as you work through each step and make sure the process is moving forward as you expect it to go.
- Another item to keep in mind is that this process could be consider fairly linear, so if you have no budget or no support from management to spend the time on the project, it is probably not worth moving past those steps. When that changes in the new budget year or when the problem has bubbled up to the surface, then be sure to pick up the pieces where you have left off and continue down the path.
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