Everything you need to know about Microsoft beta exams: invites, pricing, and availability

November 27, 2012 at 10:34 am | Posted in Kaplan IT Training news, Microsoft, Vendor news | Leave a comment

Curious to know how the beta exam process works behind the scenes at Microsoft? Eager to get your hands on a free invite code to a pre-released exam? Liberty Munson has posted a two-part series over in Born To Learn that’s titled Everything You Wanted to Know about Beta Exams: Part 1 (Beta Invites) and Everything You Wanted to Know about Beta Exams: Part 2 (Beta Availability).

Although I recommend you read both posts, the take-away points are:

  • Free seats are still available, but very limited.
  • Your best shot at a free seat is to keep your SME (subject matter expert) profile current with Microsoft.
  • Paid (not free) beta exams are available to anyone.
  • Paid (not free) beta exams will now stay in the market until the final exam is live.

This last point is a substantial policy change on the beta front, as these exams were typically only available for a few weeks before vanishing in a puff of psychometric smoke. With the extended availability of beta tests, anyone who needs to prove competency in a brand-new technology will be able to do so without having to wait for the final exam to come to market.

New to Oracle 11g: The Server Result Cache

November 5, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Posted in Oracle, Technical Tips | Leave a comment
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If you’ve been using the Oracle database for as many years as I have, I’m sure you’ve noticed how Oracle tends to tweak the contents of the SGA from one release to the next. Oracle release 11g is no exception to that trend, and starting with this release we now have two more caches in the Shared Pool: one called the SQL Query Result Cache and another called the PL/SQL Function Result Cache. These two caches differ from virtually all of the remaining memory areas of the SGA in that the data stored in these two buffers are NOT blocks of data. Rather, the data stored is stored in terms of returned rows from either a SQL or PL/SQL command.

Why might Oracle choose to store the results of a user’s SQL command or the return results of a user’s PL/SQL function? Simply put, if a request for a query comes along that is identical to a previous query request that Oracle had stored in one of these buffers, then it’s possible for Oracle to re-use that prior result set. This technique is even better than checking to see if the commands are identical, so you can potentially save reparsing. If the prior result set matches the new request, and the prior result set is stored in the buffer, then we can skip the effort of parsing as well as any logical or physical reads to bring blocks into the database buffer cache. Obviously, Oracle has to be sure that the result set is still accurate before deciding to use it based on a subsequent SQL statement.

Oracle has the overall responsibility for managing these two new memory areas, but you can influence the optimizer using hints such as RESULT_CACHE, the DBMS_RESULT_CACHE package, and the RESULT_CACHE_MODE init.ora parameter. The following link in the Oracle 11gR2 documentation set,
will take you to an overview explanation of these two buffer caches. It will also provide links to the details of the SQL Result Cache and another to the PL/SQL Function Result Cache.

Until next time,
— Bob the OrclTestGuy

Free resources to help you learn, master, and get certified on SQL Server 2012

November 1, 2012 at 10:27 am | Posted in Microsoft | 6 Comments
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I am always trying to gain more knowledge that will advance my career. However, I’m finding that keeping up with the leading edge of technology can be a bit pricey. I don’t want to find myself looking for loose change in parking lots or scuba diving at night for quarters in the wishing fountain at the mall to pay for training and materials on SQL Server 2012. Thankfully, Microsoft offers a lot of FREE resources to help you learn SQL Server 2012.

Virtual Labs

I highly recommend the SQL Server 2012 virtual labs (http://www.microsoft.com/sqlserver/en/us/learning-center/virtual-labs.aspx).  At the time of this post, there are 19 labs that are between 45 and 90 minutes each. They cover such topics as AlwaysOn Availability Groups and Upgrading to SQL Server 2012. Bang-for-the-buck-wise, this is the best way to gain experience with SQL Server 2012. With these virtual labs, you don’t have to invest money in SQL Server 2012 licenses or buy additional hardware to set up a multi-server configuration to prepare for certification; you just need a highspeed Internet connection and Internet Explorer. The labs consist of virtual machines running SQL Server 2012 with accompanying lab text in a sidebar. Not every feature of SQL Server 2012 is enabled in the VM, but there are enough features to play around with and get a feel for the controls.

The labs have step-by-step instructions. I actually recommend that you ignore them the first time around. The beauty of these VMs is that you do not have to perform the lab by the directions. You can use the lab to experiment with the software and test different features.

Free Books Online

The SQL Server 2012 Books Online resource contains everything that you wanted to know about SQL Server 2012 but were too clueless to ask. You can access it on the web at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms130214.aspx. If you are in a firewall or proxy-restricted environment, you can download the information directly from http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/confirmation.aspx?id=347. The downloaded version is nice to have on your mobile device if you’re stuck in an airport with no Internet connection and the airline can’t locate the plane that is supposed to take you home…totally hypothetical situation of course.

Microsoft Books Online allows you to search on any topic. The search results are pulled from TechNet and other authoritative sources.

The information is FREE and is generally used by technical writers to put together materials for SQL Server.

Microsoft Prep Guides

These are the classic pre-certification resource: the objectives and sub-objectives that you must master to pass the test.  For example, the prep guide for the 70-462 exam, Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases, can be located at http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/exam.aspx?id=70-462.  Here’s a tip:  you can change the last number in the URL to match, your specific Microsoft exam to find the prep guide for that exam.

The prep guide pages have four tabs: Overview, Skills Measured, Preparation Materials and Community. The Overview tab describes the audience profile for the exam and any certifications associated with the exam. The Skills Measured tab lists tasks that you must master to be successful on the exam. The tasks are broken down by objective and each objective’s weighting percentage for the exam. The Preparation Materials tab displays the officially Microsoft sanctioned training materials.  By now you might be reading along and saying, “Gee, George, I already checked there, and it was a dead end!” I feel your pain. Generally, there is not a lot of preparation information listed for a relatively new exam, and what is listed usually isn’t free. So I encourage you to check out the Community tab which has links to newsgroups that can give you a better perspective on training and possible offer some reviews on just-released instructional materials, so I find them a better resource for new technologies.

The Skills Measured tab lists the tasks Microsoft recommends that you know for the exam. I would suggest that you don’t limit your knowledge or experience to the items on this list. In my recent experience with Microsoft exams, the Skills Measured tab contains about 95% of what you will be asked on the exam. The other 5% will be the kinds of questions you can only answer from experience (which is where the virtual labs come in handy). Remember, Microsoft is moving away from the standard fact-based multiple choice question types, and weighing their exams more heavily toward question types that emphasize hands-on knowledge — such as Build List and Reorder, Extended Matching, and Case Studies. This is why you need to have a lot of practical knowledge of SQL Server 2012 to pass the exam.

Despite what is listed, there probably is a Transcender practice test available or SOON TO BE  AVAILABLE for most of these exams. Check the Transcender web site regularly over the next few months for the availability of the practice test.

Free e-book: Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2012

You should definitely obtain the free e-book on Microsoft SQL Server 2012. This e-book is an overview of SQL Server 2012 and will introduce you to some new features in SQL Server 2012. You can download the e-book from the link for the 70-462 Microsoft Prep Guide, http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/exam.aspx?id=70-462#tab2.

Again, this is where those virtual labs come in handy. I guarantee that the certification exam will expect you to be familiar with the functionality changes between previous versions of SQL Server and SQL Server 2012. Go through the e-book chapter by chapter, and use the virtual lab to poke around every new feature introduced in the book.

To successfully pass a Microsoft exam and not spend a dime on additional training is possible, and I have done it, but you have to dedicate some time to it. You should go through each task in the prep guide for the exam. Learn all you can by searching for the task in the books online, and then perform the task in the virtual labs. This will enable you to update your existing knowledge of administering older versions of SQL Server and translate those concepts into 2012.

It is not hard or expensive to learn SQL Server 2012, but it is time consuming. Block out some time in your schedule and use the free resources that are available to master the skills required to gain your SQL Server 2012 certification.

Happy studying!
–George Monsalvatge

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