What is SQL Server?

When asked what I do for a living my answer befuddles many. Outside of the information technology realms most people have not heard of SQL Server. If they have they don’t know what it is or what it does. “I’m a SQL Server developer” causes many to cock their head sideways like dog presented with a new noise. I used to give a vague answer that I work in computers or information technology but I decided I wanted to be more specific. You never know when the next guy you talk to is going to introduce you to a great opportunity. And I admit that I sometimes enjoy the befuddled looks. I don’t have a dog right now.

An amusing exercise is to try to get the answer to this from Microsoft’s web site. You might think that if you Google or Bing the question, “What is SQL Server” the top result would be a link to Microsoft with a fantastic explanation of what it is. You might be wrong. It is the fourth result on Google and the third result on Bing.

If a prize existed for the most obfuscated way to describe your products Microsoft would be a top contender. By visiting the SQL Server site at Microsoft I learn that SQL Server will “unlock breakthrough insights across the organization” and that it will provide me with “data warehousing and analytical solutions backed by IT management and insights.” That’s two uses of insight in two paragraphs. Word offers this nifty feature for suggesting synonyms. That would have been a great feature to have for just about every paper I wrote in college. I suppose there is a remote possibility the people who wrote the marketing literature for this have ever heard of Word. At any rate, at least the word data does appear on the page…once. The product page is filled with a lot of “why” and not a lot of “what”.

The following is a compilation of many of the conversations I’ve had with people when the topic comes up.
What is SQL Server?

It is used to store data.

You mean my grocery list or phone numbers?

Well it can be used for that but…not exactly.

Does it store Sea Quills?

You know that when you fill out a form online that includes your name, address and other information the company you send that to has to put that information somewhere.

I never really thought about it.

Yeah, I used to tell people that the Submit button was actually a Print button in disguise that caused the form to print at company headquarters but too many people believed me.

I would never have believed that (he says with a sideways glance and face askew).

You figure that there are thousand if not tens of thousands of people who are filling out that form. Not only does the company have to store that information they have to do so in a way that makes it easy to get back. If I wrote 10,000 names, addresses and other information about each customer into a Word document it would be very cumbersome to manage. SQL Server allows a company to store the information in a way that makes it easier to manage and easier to retrieve if they need to view it.

So it goes into SQL Server?

SQL Server is one of the many types of products that can be used to manage this data. It is made by Microsoft. There are other products by other companies.

So why SQL Server

I guess it has to be because of the insight.

9 thoughts on “What is SQL Server?

  1. If people would say the letters “S” “Q” “L” instead of the ridiculous word “sequel” then maybe there would be less confusion. Why “sequel” anyway? There are other words containing the same sequence of letters – my favourite being “squirrel”. Perhaps more appropriate given said creatures’ habit of hiding things and forgetting where they put them.

  2. I tell people SQL is a database where we store information in tables. Tables have rows and columns.
    We use queries to retrieve information from the table. We use reports to show us the information.
    Usually if the person is not in the technology field their eyes have glassed over before I get to the part about queries. They generally don’t ask the SQL question more than once.

  3. If you really want to get a SQL Server professional’s ire call it “SQueaL” (which is what the IT manager does when a new version of SQL Server is announced).

  4. Nice article. I tell people that Relational database engines like MS SQL, et al, are simply an electronic version of a big filing cabinate. DB are the drawers, tables are the folders on those rails in each drawer. Each folder has a little plastic tab containing the name, what can be written on the pieces of paper in it (columns) and a list of how many pieces of paper are in the folder (indexes). Rows are the pieces of paper with your data on it in each folder.

  5. If pressed for details, which almost never happens, I go to an MS Excel example. Almost everyone has used Excel and the row/column format is great for people visualizing a table. Each sheet is a different table you can relate rows from one sheet to rows in another with some numbers. That usually satisfies.

    I then go to great pains to make sure they understand that this is only a way to visualize it and the details are actually much more complicated, lest they think I’m an Excel jockey (no offence to Excel professionals…I just don’t want to be known as one.)

  6. JKeefe, My very first day on my very first job as a SQL profession the PM called it Squeal Server. Fifteen years later and I still think it’s funny.

  7. In fact, I had to try to explain just recently. The corporate powers wouldn’t approve my request for travel funds to upcoming PASS Summit without a brief explanation (and no acronyms). After the usual game of “telephone” between finance and admin, the request (approved, yaay!) was for “Sequel Server Conference”. Last year, I hope to go to the “Prequel Server Conference”. And I hear that J.J. Abrams will be doing a reboot next year 8)

Comments are closed.