dbForge Studio for SQL Server Product Review

dbForge Studio for SQL Server is an awesome addition to any SQL tool set. Even though my profession is not a DBA, my SQL skillset is far above novice. My passion in the SQL world is more about data analysis and presentation than general database administration. At times though I find myself in an administrative role if only in a consulting capacity. In my opinion, Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio is superior to other database management tools. I had only ventured off into 3rd party management studios when working with an older version of DB2′s management studio.

After reading stellar reviews about Devart’s database tools, I decided to give their dbForge Studio for SQL Server a test drive. They provide a 30 day preview of their professional edition with no feature set limitations. Devart also has a free Express edition as well as a standard and data edition. The Devart website has a nice matrix describing the functionality of each edition. I should also mention Devart has studios and other bundles available for MySQL, PostgreSQL and Oracle.

It’s always amazed me that SQL Server does not have native search utility. dbForge has a very in depth search utility allowing searches in objects names and DDL as well as searching in table data. The search scope can be set to search one or many databases. The search can be filtered based on the object types. Search options include case match, whole word match and wildcards. The search results are displayed in a grid with object drill down capability. If you have ever been in a quandary about how many times a column been used in views or stored procedures, a utility of this nature is worth its weight in gold.

If you are like me, you start developing a stored procedure with the goal of making it work and then back track to make it efficient. Modifications happen over time and it becomes rather messy and time consuming to keep up with changes. Many time I have wondered about how something used to work before I made the last few mods. DbForge has a nice integration to version control. It can be used with either an SVN or TFS version control. Setup is a breeze and getting your schema snapshots committed is just as easy. Now I have all my development in a version control system.

Compared to MS Management Studio, dbForge SQL really shines in the area of coding assistance. The interface is more intuitive in regards to code completion and provides more information about each object. The command and function intellisense really boost productivity. Being able to use the intellisense with linked servers is beyond incredible. In the past, I have created queries to obtain linked servers object types and then built scripts in Python to automate creating queries. Not anymore, the linked server info is right at my fingertips.

Another feature with a lot of “wow”, is their master-detail browser which is extremely helpful in analyzing datasets. Even though I don’t often edit data on a row basis, dbForge provides an optional editable grid on data returns. Setup allows you to choose whether to prompt for editable or read only returns with the option to set as the default choice. Devart has provided a visual drag and drop UI to create a pivot table which then creates the SQL code.

If you are like me, there is always an engagement where the client wants the data in an Excel spreadsheet and dbForge has an excellent data pump to assist with these request. Besides Excel the system provides for 10 other requested formats including HTML and XML. The Excel export includes formatting options in regards to header and detail text and background. The detail can have alternating row background colors. You can set the destination cell format which overcomes that nasty problem of string numeric values auto truncating leading zeroes after moving to Excel. Just because of my clientele, the export is more important in my toolset but dbForge data import facilitation is also very nice. In my opinion, the import and export functions are superior to MS Management Studio.

About 13 years ago, I started using Redgate’s product line when it could be purchased for $99. Great tool set back then and remains an industry leader. As an independent consultant in need of different tool sets, Redgate’s pricing has exceeded my budget thus my seeking out other solutions providing similar feature sets in my budget range.

Features described in regards to schema and data compare for the professional version appeared to rival Redgate. To my delight, I found the compare tools very easy to use and completely wizard driven. If you have ever been tasked with comparing the deltas between two like named databases, it can be rather daunting. As I mentioned before, if you have not been using version control for stored procedures, database comparison tools become a way of life. Obviously you can only compare current version to previous version without any clue what happened in the time between but this is the next best thing to version control. When comparing schema objects, the wizard allows you to create a script that will get both databases objects identical. If you do application development and deployment, the scripts can be used for update purposes on your client’s database servers.

The bulk of my services revolves around data ETL, reporting, conversion and integration. Integrating an application database where you are not the author of the software is challenging. Outside of the scope of dbForge, you have the software provider who has an entire litany of reasons why you shouldn’t insert anything in their database. It behooves me to be very careful or suffer the “I told you so syndrome”. By using the data compare utility I am able to better understand what an application is doing. As example, take a snapshot of a database and then go into the application and add records. Take another snapshot of the database and then compare the snapshots. I now know what tables are affected when a record is added via the application. Obviously, this process takes time but with dbForge part of the drudgery is replaced with simplicity.

I don’t know about most but I learn by debugging. That’s right, let me find a good example on the web and then tweak it for my dataset then fire off the debugger and step thru the code. dbForge has an excellent debugger and it works out of the box. No settings to tweak or other software to install.

My 30 day evaluation copy is almost over and I have to say that I am extremely pleased with the Devart product. It provides a very nice user interface with the majority of functionality that I use in Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio. As mentioned previous, the most valuable feature for myself is the code completion for linked servers which is not available in MS SQL Server Management Studio. In summary, because of functionality and affordability, dbForge Studio for SQL Server is fast becoming part of my standard SQL tool set.

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