Biml, Book Reviews, and Metadata-Driven Frameworks

I occasionally (rarely) read reviews at Amazon of books I’ve written. If I learn of a complaint regarding the book I often try to help. If a reader experiences difficulty with demos, I often offer to help, and sometimes I meet with readers to work through some difficulty related to the book (as I offered here). About half the time, there’s a problem with the way the book explains an example or the sample code; the other half the time the reader does not understand what is written.

I own both cases. As a writer it’s my job to provide good examples that are as easy to understand as possible. Sometimes I fail.

In very rare instances, I feel the review misrepresents the contents of a book –  enough to justify clarification. This review afforded one such opportunity. None of what I share below is new to regular readers of my blog. I chose to respond in a direct manner because I know and respect the author of the review, and believe he will receive my feedback in the manner in which it was intended – a manner (helpful feedback) very similar to the manner in which I believe his review was intended (also helpful feedback).

Enjoy.

My Reply to This Review of The Biml Book:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this review.

I maintain successful technology solutions are a combination of three factors:

  1. The problem we are trying to solve;
  2. The technology used to solve the problem; and
  3. The developer attempting to use a technology to solve the problem.

I believe any technologist, given enough time and what my mother refers to as “gumption” (a bias for action combined with a will – and the stubbornness, er… tenacity – to succeed), can solve any problem with any technology.

I find your statement, “It doesn’t really teach BIML but rather teaches a specific optional framework for those who want to do everything with BIML rather than increase productivity for repetitive patterns” inaccurate. Did you read the entire book? I ask that question because I most often encounter readers who state the precise opposite of the opinion expressed in this review (some of your fellow reviewers express the opposite opinion here, even). I disagree with your statement, but I understand your opinion in light of other opinions expressed to me by readers during my past decade+ of writing several books. I share one example in this blog post. The short version: we often get more – or different – things from reading than we realize.

There is a section in The Biml Book – made up of 3 of the 20 chapters and appendices – that proposes a basic metadata-driven Biml framework which is the basis of a metadata-driven Biml framework in production in several large enterprises. I wrote those 3 chapters and the basic metadata-driven Biml framework in question. Varigence has also produced a metadata-driven Biml framework called BimlFlex – based upon similar principles – which has been deployed at myriad enterprises. The enterprise architects at these organizations have been able to improve code quality and increase productivity, all while decreasing the amount of time required to bring data-related solutions to market. They do not share your opinion, although they share at least some of the problems (you mentioned ETL) you are trying to solve.

Am I saying Biml – or the framework about which I wrote or even BimlFlex – is the end-all-be-all for every SSIS development effort? Goodness no! In fact, you will find disclaimers included in my writings on Biml and SSIS frameworks. I know because I wrote the disclaimers.

Misalignment on any of the three factors for successful technology solutions – the problem, the technology, and/or the developer – can lead to impedance mismatches in application and implementation. For example, Biml is not a good solution for some classes of ETL or data integration (points 1 and 2). And learning Biml takes about 40 hours of tenacious commitment (which goes to point 3). This is all coupled with a simple fact: data integration is hard. SSIS does a good job as a generic, provider-driven solution – but most find SSIS challenging to learn and non-intuitive (I did when I first started using it). Does that mean SSIS is not worth the effort to learn? Goodness, no! It does mean complaints about simplifying the learning process are to be expected and somewhat rhetorical.

Architects disagree. We have varying amounts of experience. We have different kinds of experience. Some architects have worked only as lone-wolf consultants or as members of single-person teams. Others have worked only as leaders of small teams of ETL developers. Rarer still are enterprise architects who are cross-disciplined and experienced as both lone-wolf consultants and managers of large teams in independent consulting firms and large enterprises. Less-experienced architects sometimes believe they have solved “all the things” when they have merely solved “one of the things.” Does this make them bad people? Goodness, no. It makes them less-experienced, though, and helps identify them as such. Did the “one thing” need solving? Goodness, yes. But enterprise architecture is part science and part art. Understanding the value of a solution one does not prefer – or the value of a solution that does not apply to the problem one is trying to solve – lands squarely in the art portion of the gig.

Regarding the science portion of the gig: engineers are qualified to qualitatively pronounce any solution is “over-engineered.” Non-engineers are not qualified to make any such determination, in my opinion.

By way of example: I recently returned from the PASS Summit. Although I did not attend the session, I know an SSIS architect delivered a session in which he made dismissing statements regarding any and all metadata-driven frameworks related to ETL with SSIS. If I didn’t attend his session, how do I know about the content of the presentation? A number of people in attendance approached me after the session to share their opinion that the architect, though he shared some useful information, does not appreciate the problems faced by most enterprise architects – especially enterprise architects who lead teams of ETL developers.

My advice to all enterprise architects and would-be enterprise architects is: Don’t be that guy.

Instead, be the enterprise architect who continues to examine a solution until underlying constraints and drivers and reasons the solution was designed the way it was designed are understood. Realize and recognize the difference between “That’s wrong,” “I disagree,” and “I prefer a different solution.” One size does not fit all.

Finally, some of the demos and Biml platforms were not working at the time you wrote this review. Many have been addressed since that time. In the future, updates to SSIS, Biml, and ETL best practices will invalidate what this team of authors wrote during the first half of 2017. As such, the statements, “And much of the online information is outdated and no longer works. It’s a shame someone hasn’t found a way to simplify the learning process.” is a tautology that defines progress. Learning is part of the job of a technologist. I encourage us all – myself most of all – to continue learning.

Peace.

Presenting Moving Data with Azure Data Factory at SQL Saturday Charlotte!

I am honored to present Moving Data with Azure Data Factory at SQL Saturday 806 in Charlotte, NC 20 Oct 2018.

This is the first time I am delivering this session. It still has that new presentation smell!

Abstract

Azure Data Factory – ADF – is a cloud data engineering solution. ADF version 2 sports a snappy web GUI (graphical user interface) and supports the SSIS Integration Runtime (IR) – or “SSIS in the Cloud.”

Attend this session to learn:
– How to build a “native ADF” pipeline;
– How to lift and shift SSIS to the Azure Data Factory integration Runtime; and
– ADF Design Patterns to execute and monitor pipelines and packages.

I hope to see you there!

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On Data Engineering in 2018

A few years ago I had a conversation with Scott Currie, the CEO of Varigence and inventor of Biml. Scott is one of the smartest people I know and I know a lot of very smart people. Whenever I have the opportunity to communicate with the very smart people I know, I often ask them – based upon their knowledge of me and what I do and any plans I have shared – for advice on stuff I should focus upon moving forward. Scott’s monosyllabic reply to this question?

Spark

Over the course of the past couple years I’ve shared – on this blog, even – some of my experiences learning more about Apache Spark. While I expected a little resistance, I was a little surprised by the… intensity… of some of the private messages and emails I received. As I replied to the intense people (and there were only a few), I could stop learning stuff right now, today, and continue working with SSIS for the next decade or so. I believe the same goes for anyone working with SSIS today.

I’m not going to stop learning stuff.

Why SSIS?

I love SSIS. But I don’t use SSIS because I love it. I love SSIS because it solves a particularly difficult piece of the story of enterprise data: data integration and data engineering. I feel a similar way about writing (and I’ve blogged recently about writing). I write because I like to write, not for clicks or branding or any of the other benefits I glean from writing. I consider those benefits cool, but side-effects of my desire to write.

The same goes for SSIS: I love SSIS because it solves a problem that I want to solve. I hope that makes sense.

Why Spark?

Two reasons:

  1. Spark is taking a more prominent role in SQL Server 2019.
  2. Spark is the engine beneath Azure Data Factory Data Flows.

How can you learn more about Spark? There are bunches of videos out there on YouTube. YouTube is crowd-sourced and free, which makes it awesome. The quality of YouTube training is crowd-sourced and free, which is a challenge.

I learned a lot from edX. I’m a fan of how edX approaches MOOC (online education). They offer lots of courses for free, which means you can grow your knowledge by investing only time. It’s tough to beat $free. If you want, you can pay for a certificate which you can then add to your online resume or LinkedIn profile like I added this one.

Conclusion

My advice? Spend some time learning. Pick your favorite learning platform and jump in. If you have SQL Server and / or SSIS experience, you already know a lot about the problem enterprises are trying to solve with data engineering tools. That’s a good place to be, but not required.

Keep learning!

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Announcing the Fundamentals of Azure Data Factory Course!

I am excited to announce a brand new course (it still has that new course smell) from Brent Ozar Unlimited and honored to deliver it! This one-day, live, online course is titled Fundamentals of Azure Data Factory and it’s designed to introduce you to Azure Data Factory (ADF).

There will be demos.
Live demos.
Lots of live demos!

Abstract

Azure Data Factory, or ADF, is an Azure PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) that provides hybrid data integration at global scale. Use ADF to build fully managed ETL in the cloud – including SSIS. Join Andy Leonard – authorblogger, and Chief Data Engineer at Enterprise Data & Analytics – as he demonstrates practical Azure Data Factory use cases.

In this course, you’ll learn:

  • The essentials of Azure Data Factory (ADF)
  • Developing, testing, scheduling, monitoring, and managing ADF pipelines
  • Lifting and shifting SSIS to ADF SSIS Integration Runtime (Azure-SSIS)
  • ADF design patterns
  • Data Integration Lifecycle Management (DILM) for the cloud and hybrid data integration scenarios

To know if you’re ready for this class, look for “yes” answers to these questions:

  • Do you want to learn more about cloud data integration in Azure Data Factory?
  • Is your enterprise planning to migrate its data, databases, data warehouse(s), or some of them, to the cloud?
  • Do you currently use SSIS?

The next delivery is scheduled for 10 Dec 2018. Register today!

I hope to see you there.

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Anatomy of a Catalog Reference Script in SSIS Catalog Compare

A Catalog Reference script is automatically generated from several methods in SSIS Catalog Compare’s Catalog object named CatalogBase.

Header Documentation

The script begins with a header documentation similar to that shown here:

(click to enlarge)

When executed, the Project Reference script header documentation portion displays in the Messages output window of SQL Server management Studio (SSMS):

The statements returned in the Messages tab of SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) are designed to be copied and stored. The authors recommend enterprises use a ticketing system to manage and track the deployment of enterprise scripts. Before closing a ticket to create a Catalog Reference, the deploying agent is advised to copy the contents of the Messages tab and paste them into the Notes section of the ticket for auditing purposes.

Status and Conditions Checks

The next portion of the Catalog Reference script tests for the existence of prerequisite artifacts:

Prerequisites for a Project Reference include:
• Catalog Folder
• SSIS Project
• Catalog Environment

When executed, this portion of the script returns status messages for prerequisites similar to those shown below:

Create the Reference

The next portion of the Reference Script creates the Reference which is a relationship between an SSIS Catalog Environment and an SSIS Project (or Package). An example of this portion of the script is shown here:

Once this portion of the script is executed, a message similar to that shown in the figure above is returned if the reference is created:

If the script detects the reference already exists, a message similar to that shown below is returned:

Clear the Parameter Value

The next portion of the Reference script clears the parameter value:

The messages generated by this portion of the References script appear similar to those show below:

Set the Parameter Value

The final portion of the script builds the Reference Mapping – the relationship between a Catalog Environment Variable and a Parameter that the Environment Variable value will override at execution-time:

When executed, this portion of the script generates a message similar to that shown below:

After executing the Project Reference script in the target instance, click the Refresh button in SSIS Catalog Compare to observe the updated SSIS Catalog state of the target SSIS Catalog instance as shown here:

Conclusion

As you may glean from this analysis of one script generated for SSIS Catalog References management, the Transact-SQL for scripting SSIS Catalog artifacts in SSIS Catalog Compare is rigorous and includes several existence and error-condition checks prior to performing any updates. The script is designed to be idempotent, as well, meaning the script will succeed and the results will be repeatable and predictable each time the script is executed – and that the script itself is re-executable.

Learn more about SSIS Catalog Compare!

Honored to Present Faster SSIS at SQL Saturday Boston 22 Sep 2018!

I am honored to present Faster SSIS at SQL Saturday Boston 22 Sep 2018!

Check out this schedule – there are a bunch of smart people presenting – plus me!

Abstract

Ever wonder why SSIS runs so slow? Watch SSIS author Andy Leonard as he runs test loads using sample and real-world data and shows you how to tune SQL Server 2017 Integration Services (SSIS 2017) packages.

We’ll start by experimenting with SSIS design patterns to improve performance loading AdventureWorks data. We will implement different change detection patterns and compare execution performance for each. Then, we’ll explain a Data Flow Task’s bottleneck when loading binary large objects – or Blobs.

Finally, we’ll demonstrate a design pattern that uses a Script Component in a Data Flow to boost load performance to MySql, whether on-premises or in the cloud.
Prerequisites: None. Some SSIS and SQL knowledge will be helpful but is not required.

I hope to see you there! I’d love to meet you if you read this blog and attend – just walk up and introduce yourself, I’m the southern guy with the braided beard.

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Lift and Shift an SSIS Catalog…

… to a different instance on-premises.
… to Azure Data Factory SSIS Integration Runtime.

This screenshot is from the SSIS Catalog Compare documentation. You can script an entire SSIS Catalog using SSIS Catalog Compare!

This awesome functionality can save you hours (days, weeks, even!) when starting a new project or updating an existing project.

This awesome functionality supports DevOps with SSIS.

Learn more about SSIS Catalog Compare.

View the recording of Use SSIS Catalog Compare to Lift and Shift SSIS to Azure Data Factory (registration required).

I am a Product Manager (No, I’m Not… But I Can Explain)

I was about to click the Publish button for this post about my new role as a product manager when my friend and brother, Scott, called. I mentioned it and Scott said, “You’re not just a product manager. You’re a problem-solver.”

Scott is correct. Hence the parentheses in the title of this post.

“Is This The Best Use of Your Time?”

A friend used to ask me this question all the time. It’s a fantastic question. The question made me pause and think. Pausing and thinking is mostly good most of the time. When is pausing and thinking not good?

When it delays action you desperately need to take; action you are uniquely positioned to take.

Evolution of a Response

For a couple years my response to this question was to answer, “No,” and then I would feel silly for considering the thing I had wanted to do. But then a funny thing began to happen: I increasingly felt cornered by “the best use of my time.”

<TimeOut>

Let’s pause right here and consider a different perspective. I was being selfish. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, the consequences be damned.

</TimeOut>

This is an accurate description right up until the point where I didn’t do what I wanted to do – what I felt desperately needed to be done – to help people attempting DevOps with SSIS. Instead I stuffed the ideas back down inside, put my head down, and went back to doing what was a good use of my time.

Was I in any position to make this determination?
Was I qualified to make this call?

Yes. Yes I was.

Coming Out of the Corner

Over time, my response evolved. I stopped feeling silly about wanting to solve DevOps for SSIS and started feeling silly for placing myself into a position which offered more obstacles than opportunities.

The short version of a long story is: I extricated myself from that corner.

Before I did anything else – I am not making this up, I can produce witnesses – I started writing SSIS Catalog Compare. I started coding within minutes of announcing my decision.

I did not know what I was doing.
I am still learning.
I feel like I only recently worked my way up to being a n00b C# developer.
I didn’t know anything about designing a software product. I know more now but (still) not enough.
I didn’t know anything about marketing a software product.
I didn’t know anything about managing a software product.

I continue to learn. Here’s the latest thing I’ve learned:

I am not afraid.

I am not afraid of not knowing. Frank Herbert got it right (in Dune): Fear is the mind-killer. The only way to learn is by using my mind – the same mind battling fear of not knowing.

Was the question about the bet use of my time well-intentioned? Absolutely. My friend was watching out for me, he had my back. I learned from the experience and walked away more mature and with broader perspective. I learned. I grew. I would not be where I am now had I not.

I am a Problem-Solver

Scott reminded me I am a problem-solver. I always have been a problem-solver. Lord willing, I will continue to be a problem-solver.

Becoming a software product manager was required in order to solve a problem.

Next.

What’s the Best Book for Learning SSIS?

Best Book for Learning SSISI am often asked the question, “Andy, what’s the Best Book for Learning SSIS?” There are some really good books out there that will help you learn SSIS (and I am co-author of several).

The book from which I learned the most about SSIS is Extending SSIS 2005 with Script by Donald Farmer.

Why do I consider this book the best?

Donald Farmer (TreeHive Strategy | Interview on the Data Driven Podcast) is a data engineering industry expert. He led the team that developed Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services. He’s technical, a great communicator (speaking and writing), and fantastic at solving business problems.

In Extending SSIS 2005 with Script, Donald discusses and shares demo code that informs he reader of the problems SSIS is designed to solve, and how SSIS is designed to solve those problems. Best of all, you learn this from one of the minds that designed the product.

I consider the Data Flow task to be the heart of SSIS – and the SSIS Script Component of the Data Flow Task is arguably the most difficult and most flexible component in the SSIS Data Flow. If you get your mind around the Script Component, you have a pretty good handle on how the SSIS Data Flow works, in my humble opinion.

I am aware of SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) courses that are based on the material contained in this book. It’s that good.

“This book is over 10 years old, Andy…”

Yep. The information remains cogent. If I have to choose one book, Extending SSIS 2005 with Script remains the best book for learning SSIS in my opinion.

The Best Book for Learning SSIS

How serious am I in this recommendation? I just ordered a copy for one of the independent consultants at Enterprise Data & Analytics who is learning more about SSIS. I want her to become a senior SSIS developer in 2019 and I consider this book vital to accomplishing that goal.

Full disclosure: The links to the book above pass through the Amazon Affiliate Program. If that bugs you, please click here for a clean link to the book.

Enjoy.

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