Just one of the reasons I like working with CapTech is our agnostic approach to technologies. Our Data Management and Business Intelligence Practice Area includes many consultants certified with their favorite technologies. At our internal meetings, we hear some variation of "my BI technology is better than your BI technology." Whether the topic is database platforms, data integration tools or data presentation capabilities, well-informed suggestions are freely shared only to be countered by alternative viewpoints. That sort of friendly competition keeps us on our toes.

Over the years, I personally have had the good fortune to work with many database, ETL, and presentation tools. Each of those tools impressed me in some fashion and disappointed me in some other way. No tool was perfect. Most importantly, each tool was at the mercy of the design attempting to leverage the tool.

Lately I have focused on Microsoft's Business Intelligence tools. Some of my colleagues opine that Microsoft BI is not really an enterprise solution. Those colleagues continue to suggest Microsoft BI tools are only considered a low-cost alternative to the preferred mega-vendors. For the last couple of years, I countered my challenges with a one-word answer: integration. What BI mega-vendor better integrates with Excel (i.e., the mostly widely used data analytical tool) than Microsoft?

Now I realize integration is no longer the number one reason for seriously considering the Microsoft BI stack including the SQL Server database engine, Integration Services for ETL, Reporting Services for presenting data and Analysis Services for data cubing and data mining analytics. Beyond the capabilities of the Microsoft BI stack, the best one-word reason for adopting that stack is: community.

The Microsoft BI stack has the most actively engaged community.

Would you like a free online tutorial? SSIS (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms141091.aspx), SSRS (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb522683.aspx) or SSAS (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb500183.aspx)?

Maybe you prefer webinars where you can watch someone teach you online. How about Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS)? Once you register for free, you can find webinars and more at http://www.sqlpass.org/.

After spending so much time facing a computer screen, perhaps a free, all day event interacting with your peers is the proper training fit. Check out SQL Saturday (http://sqlsaturday.com/default.aspx) for a series of 1-day events throughout the world. SQL Saturday events are organized by local volunteers committed to sharing SQL Server experiences. With just a bit of luck, you could find yourself in an interactive session with the author of that book you just read. Go ahead, ask them questions. The authors really do love that sort of thing.

If you cannot find an available SQL Saturday, maybe a Code Camp will suffice. Code Camps offer a full day of typically free SQL Server training from local, regional and national developers. Both organizers and presenters are volunteers. Richmond's next Code Camp takes place in May 2011 (http://richmondcodecamp.org/).

Are you looking for something on a recurring basis? How about a local user group? In Virginia alone, there are SQL Server User Groups in Richmond (http://richmondsql.org/cs2007/), Hampton Roads (http://www.hrssug.org/default.aspx), Northern Virginia (http://www.novasql.com/) and Roanoke Valley (http://rvsqlug.sqlpass.org/). Those user groups typically meet on a monthly basis. Sometimes those book authors make an appearance. Even without the big named authors, the user groups give local members the opportunity to share their experiences with their peers.

What mega-vendor comes close to competing with this sort of community support? Even open source tools which take pride in their low-cost, community-supported approach are unable to best the broad-based, volunteer-supported community backing of the Microsoft BI stack.

I cannot explain the broad, grassroots support for the Microsoft BI stack. I do appreciate the support from the community I receive every time I am in a bind. I also appreciate the opportunities I have to share with others. Nothing gives me a training opportunity like explaining a topic to my peers.

I am proud to be a part of this supportive community and I look forward to seeing you at one of the upcoming events.