Quest Spotlight on SQL ServerREVIEWER: Greg Denney, database administrator for NorthEast Medical Center.

BACKGROUND: NorthEast Medical Center is a 457-bed, not-for-profit medical center based in Concord, North Carolina, with a reputation for excellence built on advanced technology, medical staff talent and quality, compassionate care.

PLATFORMS: Multiprocessor systems running Windows 2000 Server.

PROBLEM SOLVED: My primary concerns are maintenance, backup, and performance and availability of all the relational databases in the hospital as well as monitoring multiple servers, most of which are SQL Server 2000. Because I was troubled by the amount of time spent on database monitoring and really needed a toolset to help me handle these challenges, I decided to take advantage of an evaluation copy of Quest Spotlight on SQL Server.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Spotlight on SQL Server has already proven to be a worthwhile investment at NorthEast Medical Center. On one occasion, the product prevented an employee time clock disruption. Our SQL Server database running our time clock application began to incur significant response time lags, which could have resulted in downtime and having to manually input thousands of time clock punches. I pointed Spotlight at the database server to diagnose the problem and immediately received an alert that one of the disk drives was almost full. Spotlight also showed some of the other performance counters and we were able to identify that we needed to add additional memory to the machine. Spotlight on SQL Server immediately solved our problem. Prior to Spotlight, it could have taken as many as 30 minutes to manually check the SQL Server console and determine exactly how much space was on those drives. With Spotlight, it took 30 seconds. On another occasion, alarms were occurring on a particular server, alerting of erratic physical memory changes. With the information from Spotlight on SQL Server, the system administrator ran low-level diagnostics and was able to determine that there was a memory chip issue. We quickly swapped out the chip and had the server running efficiently again within 30  minutes.

STRENGTHS: There are several important features that sold me on Spotlight on SQL Server including its ease of use, centralized information viewable on a single screen, drill-down capabilities and color-coding for immediate identification of specific issues. From a DBA standpoint, I essentially have all of the information I need right in front of me.

WEAKNESSES: Spotlight does have a lot of features and options and, as such, requires some skill and practice to master. The displays present a great deal of information in a small area and, ironically enough, sometimes it is more information than we want.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We evaluated native SQL Server tools and found them useful, but cumbersome. We also evaluated a proposal for an enterprise-scale installation of AppManager from NetIQ Corporation and Embarcadero Technologies' DBArtisan, but Spotlight hit the sweet spot by delivering the best performance for the price - an overall value.

DELIVERABLES: The responsibility for the management of databases in our organization rests entirely with me, and I currently only use the graphic interface of Spotlight. We have not utilized the reporting features of the product, but will do so in the future.

VENDOR SUPPORT: We have had an excellent pre- and post-sales relationship with Quest Software. Our sales representative is very responsive and willing to work with us. Client support is knowledgeable, friendly and easy to contact. Fortunately, we have had very little need for them. The most interesting and enjoyable part of working with Quest is their willingness to share evaluation copies of their products. This gives me an excellent method of comparing features and functionality, and has proven to be useful and informative.

DOCUMENTATION: The user documentation provided with the product is thorough and easy to read. The most important documentation is found in the help files that provide an explanation of the performance counters displayed on the GUI. For all DBAs, myself included, who have struggled to understand the information given by the "Explain" function of SQL Performance Monitor, these detailed help files are a gold mine.

Quest Spotlight on SQL Server
Quest Software, Inc.
8001 Irvine Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618

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