Having been getting down and dirty with SQL Server since version 6.5 was released at the turn of the century, Leeds-based entrepreneur Phil Grayson knows a thing or two about database management.
After working for tech companies in Yorkshire including healthcare software developer TPP, before founding SQL Server specialist xTEN, Grayson founded Aireforge in 2016 with cofounder Drew Littler to help companies with their SQL-related problems.
Used by customers including the US Navy and members of the Japanese insurance group Tokio Marine, it can be used by everyone from startups to enterprises to manage the health of (and fine-tune) SQL Server and Azure SQL databases.
Grayson and Littler developed Aireforge to be particularly valuable for teams who “dabble” in web development or database management, but lack a qualified database administrator (or DBA) in the team.
We spoke to Grayson to find out more.
What gave you the idea for Aireforge?
Phil Grayson: My background lies in making databases faster. I also run a consultancy where we specialise in high-availability systems and come up against the same issues time and time again. We had a customer that had a large amount of scaled out servers that were doing a lot of transactions. Developers and infrastructure teams would test on them but not always put them back to how they were before. Unless everything is identical with servers, you’re not looking at the same problem all of the time.
Drew and I worked together before (at TPP) where we went through the pain of being part of growing a startup. In the year 2000, we had hardware slower than most people’s phones, and if we had something like Aireforge back then then we wouldn’t have had half the problems we did. We’ve built a lot of our knowledge into the application.
What advice would you give to startups interested in trying it?
We have a free trial that lasts 14 days. As it’s very lightweight, that gives you enough time to download and run it against your database and detect issues.
How does it work?
When you first use Aireforge, you import or add details of your SQL Server or Azure DB estate. Once you’ve done that you can use all of the other features to check server health, look for differences and check for optimisations.
What are some of its typical use cases?
Our health checks are something that you would typically run once a day, in a morning, to check your entire server estate. They check for potentially critical issues that you might not be aware of, like running out of disk space.
Then there are issues that you can encounter when upgrading from older software like SQL Server 2000, which means that you don’t always get the latest features, like improvements in protecting against data corruption. And if people don’t do their backups properly, they can lose 24 hours’ worth of data or more. We add little checks for all of these things into the software.
Additionally, people need to make checks when migrating to new servers. They think they have the server built how they want it, but then realise they’ve made a mistake – like forgetting to add users. It makes a good last minute check.
Another is when people are on distributed systems and they’re all supposed to use the same settings, which will become more important now that SQL Server works on containers and Linux, which we support.
How can Aireforge help companies that lack database skills?
There are many tools of its kind out there – but most of them are made for people with a lot of experience. Experienced people will still get value from Aireforge – we use it all the time and I’ve been messing around with servers for 20 years. Its simplicity is unique!
This means the tool will helps a huge number of people out there, especially in startups where everybody is trying to chip in and anyone in the team could have set up the web server or database that they are using. Our application will tell you where things are wrong (or might be wrong), before explaining why and then directing you to resources and generating suggested scripts to resolve the issue.
How much does it cost?
You only need one license if there’s only one person checking your database. After the free trial it’s $499 (approx £430) a year. Most people would get that return on investment within a couple of days of following Aireforge’s advice.
Can it save money on consultancy fees?
It’s good to run Aireforge before you get a consultant involved. By doing that you can get a head start and be confident that you can do some of the work yourself before the consultant digs into some of the really tricky stuff. If you get rid of the easy stuff then they have to work a bit harder for their money, so they’ll start looking at some of your other problems. We’re all about teaching people things we’ve learnt over the years so they don’t have to go through the pain themselves.
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