How to Learn SQL Server For Free Starter Pack

Do you want to learn SQL Server but don’t have any money? Are you thinking about working more seriously with SQL Server? Do you wonder what you need to do to get ahead or become a SQL Server DBA or developer?

I can help. You need a SQL Server Starter Pack. Read on for how to learn it on your own, on your own time, and all for free!

Learn SQL Server Starter Pack

You’ll need to get some software to start. Also assumed is that you have a desktop or laptop with >1 core (hopefully 4+ cores) and some memory (hopefully 8GB+). Once you get access to that hardware you can start downloading the programs you need.

The Starter Pack

The basics of the “Learn SQL Server Starter Pack”:

  1. SQL Server 2016 DE
    1. You can get the Developer Edition (DE) for…wait for it…FREE!
    2. Out in the wild you’ll see mostly Standard Edition (SE) or Enterprise Edition (EE). The great thing about DE is that it is identical to EE (it has all the features) in every aspect except that it cannot be licensed on a production machine. It must only be used for TEST or DEV environments. For home lab purposes you can use it as your development environment and have access to all the features to learn on!
    3. Download it here – SQL Server Downloads
    4. While you are here get used to reading the release notes and what is new in the version. You don’t need to understand everything in here right away but get used to the jargon and how Microsoft describes their features.
  2. Windows Server 2016 Evaluation Edition
    1. Download Windows Server 2016 Evaluation Edition
    2. You can evaluate the software for 180 days then will need to activate it. Then you can try to register for another eval and try again
  3. Virtual Box
    1. Virtual Box is a free, simple, and reliable virtualization tool. You’ll be able to do a lot to get started and build up your virtualization knowledge with this.
    2. Download the latest version of Virtual Box
    3. You don’t need to know very much about hypervisors and such – Virtual Box is very easy to learn with good documentation.

Evaluation versions are good for learning because they force you to tear down and rebuild your environment!

I’ve prepared a spreadsheet to illustrate your costs:

Learn SQL Server Cost Spreadsheet

The above free products will stack like this:

Pyramid of SQL Server, Windows Server, Virtual Box

Putting It All Together

Install Virtual box first. Coupled with that installation you will be prompted to install the operating system. Once you have Windows Server up and running you can install SQL Server on it. Then you are ready to rock!

Don’t let this intimidate you – there is a lot of learning you will do here. Still mostly administrative but every SQL Server professional needs to know a little. The whole point of building a lab is to experiment in a safe place.

Once you have a working SQL environment you are ready for the next steps.

Learning at the Next Level

Once you make it here you are well on your way. There’s a lot that you can pursue from here but I will just enumerate a few basic things:

  • Load sample database
  • Have a look at SSIS, SSRS, and SSAS if you are interested in Business Intelligence (BI)
  • Experiment
    • Play with different features
    • Automate scripts to perform tasks
    • Get familiar with the environment and learn

Experiment and hands-on work – that’s the best way to learn

When you eval is over this is a good opportunity to practice your backup and restore skills! You’ll need to generate another VM, load a new version of Windows Server, install SQL Server, and port over all of the data, user accounts, etc. to your new lab. This repetition is important to learn SQL Server. Don’t look at it as repetitive work but rather as learning by doing. Later you can start to automate it some and build on your previous work.

Free Resources to Learn SQL Server

There are many different sites on the web to learn SQL Server. If you’re new then it would benefit you to know what are the good ones.
Here is a list of generally speaking solid sites:
  • Microsoft Books Online – the technical documentation from Microsoft about SQL Server. It has an extensive set of tutorials.
  • Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) – free online training courses.
  • Twitter – be polite and ask on #sqlhelp to get answers to your questions from experts in the field who love to help people
  • SQL PASS – the Professional Association for SQL Server.
    • This is a large global community of SQL Server users. Free to join and good learning resources
    • SQL Saturdays – free all day technical training in cities around the world! Definitely attend one – it will up your game no matter your position or skill.
    • Join your wonderful!
  • StackOverflow – good for database developers
  • ServerFault – good for database administrators
  • SQL Server Central – sign up for the newsletter. Also go through the SQL Server Stairways series
 Microsoft Books Online is the man page, get-help, /? you need

What Not to Do

There is no shortage of available information on the internet just a keyword search away. You need to know the good stuff so you know the bad stuff. Until you gain some proficiency it is important to stay away from bad advice. When in doubt it is best to either go to the source (Microsoft) or well known experts. It won’t take long querying online before you find out who they are.
Learning is hard work – stay with it. Remember this is a marathon and not a sprint.
Be careful with content posted in blogs, forums, and open source. Just because it is published online doesn’t mean it is accurate.
This is an example of what you don’t want. It is watered down, grossly over-simplistic, and not going to help you learn the meaning of much. Stick to the sources I have above.

What Lies Beyond?

There are plenty of things you can focus on once you’ve got the basics down.

  • Take it to the cloud with Azure
    • Get yourself an Azure account and play in the Microsoft data center
  • Get a job as a DBA / DB Developer / BI Developer, or some other kind of position that let’s you work with SQL Server
    • Nobody is going to hand the keys over to a n00b so understand you’ll be shadowing for some time.
    • Whether you want to be a DBA by choice or find yourself becoming an accidental DBA you’ll want to gain some experience – the suggestions here will help you do that.
  • vNext
    • As of this writing, SQL Server 2017 is on RC2. You can download it for free and start working with the latest release to be ahead of your peers.

For a lot of us SQL Server professionals this isn’t just a job for us. You need to constantly work on your craft to stay ahead. Having a simple lab environment is a good primary step to do that. Besides – what could be better than the price of free!

 


 

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