From Zero to SSIS – Course Review

by Greg M Lucas on 12 March 2012

I’ve used SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) for a number of years, although not with any regularity so I wanted to find a course to help me build on that experience and take my skills to the next level. The course I chose was “From Zero to SSIS” presented by Andy Leonard (blog | twitter) courtesy of TechniTrain in London and this post is about my experiences on that course.

As you may guess from the title, the course starts off pretty basic and then moves onto more advanced topics. In fact, participants can elect to do the just the basics in the first three days, the advanced stuff in the last two days or everything over all five days. I chose the latter option.

The venue was easy to find, close to Southwark station on the Jubilee line with good directions provided by TechniTrain. The usual tea and coffee etc. were available on arrival and throughout the day plus, and more to the point, a nice (hot) lunch at a local eatery is included in the price. I wasn’t aware of this when I booked so my first suggestion to TechniTrain would be to make more of this as a selling point when advertising the course.  The food in itself isn’t a big thing but such attention to detail bodes well for the quality of the instruction.

The room was a good size, with space for up to 12 students although as the class wasn’t quite full, Andy had plenty of time to answer all questions and even throw in some additional tips and tricks. Attendees need to bring laptops with SQL Server etc. installed and this makes sense as you end up taking home everything you’ve done for future reference.

Days 1 – 3

Day 1 is supposed to be made up with the usual introductions and expectations, creating an SSIS package and an introduction to the dataflow task. It was as expected, quite basic but I still found enough new information to keep my interest piqued. The least experienced member of the class was only just getting started with SSIS and when I spoke to them towards the end of the day, they seemed really happy with the pace. So given that both a novice and someone with reasonable but intermittent experience of SSIS both gained something from the first day, I would say that it was pitched just about right. What I particularly liked was the mix of instruction, demos and labs. Instruction and demo would cover a particular area then the lab would involve us working on our own putting that information to use in implementing something similar. Andy was on hand in case of problems or questions. I am a big believer in the view that people learn and retain more by “doing” so this approach really worked for me.

Days 2 and 3 continued in the same vein. The advantage of this not being a Microsoft curriculum course became apparent as the course progressed, Andy focussed on ensuring that we became thoroughly conversant with the aspects of SSIS that we would use on a daily basis rather than touching on every single feature but not in enough detail to be able to do anything useful.  It is Andy’s real-world asides that made the first three days valuable even for developers with some experience of SSIS.  The stories are interesting enough in themselves so that complete novices don’t get lost but also carry important messages for more practiced SSIS people.

Days 4 & 5

This is where things really began to ramp up, diving deep into the internal workings of error logging, event handling, data pumps and precedence constraints as well as several undocumented features. Of particular use were the discussions about a number of design patterns and frameworks, knowledge of which are the beginnings of the difference between an SSIS Developer and an ETL Architect. There was the same mixture of instruction, demo’s and labs and the final lab involved us building the bare bones of an SSIS framework that we would be able to re-use back in the workplace. You will not end up building a complete framework in these few days, but you will have personally implemented examples of all the patterns that you will need to create a solid, scalable SSIS framework in your workplace.

In summary

If you have absolutely no SSIS experience, you should definitely consider doing the three-day basics course, which in reality is anything but elementary so you will very quickly get up to speed. However, with little or no practical exposure to SSIS prior to completing this course, you might be better gaining a few months real-world familiarity with this tool set before coming back for the two advanced days.

For those with mid-level exposure to SSIS, I would definitely recommend doing the full five days. The first three days will re-enforce your low-level knowledge and form a platform for the more advanced lessons – and you will still learn lots from Andy’s frequent real-world digressions.  As far as SSIS is concerned, before doing this course, I would put myself in that mid-level bracket and the full five days worked well for me.  I think that if you already have extensive practical experience with SSIS, you would benefit most from doing just the last two, advanced days.

So in conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed all five days of this course, learning something new every day and more so on the last couple of days. Andy is obviously both an experienced educator and knowledgeable ETL Architect and this shone through both in terms of course content, delivery and his stories from the trenches. I thought the course was excellent value for money and was exactly as advertised in terms of content. If you are looking for a good SSIS training course, I would recommend that you do either or both parts of this course depending on your experience and what you want to learn.

UPDATE

Andy Leonard (blog | twitter) tells me that he is planning to run another SSIS course in September this year at TechniTrain in London. I understand that the format is a little different and over three days will cover Data Flow Tasks and the Control Flow plus Security, Execution, Logging, Deployment, and Troubleshooting with a focus on new SSIS 2012 features. If  you want to get to grips with real-world SSIS I strongly recommend you get yourself on this course as places are limited. Details here. For the record, I have no affiliation to TechniTrain or Linchpin People, Andy’s company.  Nor do I receive payment if you follow these links to the course, this is purely a personal recommendation for some really great SSIS training.

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