Before I discuss those services, let me provide an overview of steps involved in a typical RDBMS upgrade:
By mentoring you will provide temporary staffing services to work with and educate onsite customer employees in best practices. The mentor should be a highly experienced and possibly certified individual who will guide less-experienced staff in day-to-day operations. At its essence it's a consulting service that provides extensive training or knowledge transfer, so the staff can take over after the mentor leaves. Mentoring relationships tend to last longer than a typical consulting assignment, but involve much fewer billable hours than a consulting assignment. A mentor's role may involve training the client's staff on how to conduct an upgrade, assisting with the initial upgrade planning, taking a role in upgrading the first wave of servers, or even troubleshooting upgrade blockers and issues.
Upgrade training services can be tailored to SQL development, RDBMS administration, upgraded feature development or basic upgrade how-tos. There is always a time lag between the release of a new RDBMS version and users becoming functionally aware of it. The more complex the release, the longer it will take for users to adjust. New releases also bring considerable confusion about how to use the product; you will see implementations that are not scalable and do not follow best practices. Training can help developers and administrators get up to speed quickly and help them do things right the first time.
In most environments the DBA staff is already stretched thin and would welcome an outside team to come in and provide specialized technical services in upgrading. The consulting services provided can take many forms: performing the upgrade, upgrading client applications and database code for optimal performance in the new environment, validating plans, and providing architectural services to ensure the client is designing the correct solution.
In one of my company's engagements our team was tasked with validating a client's plan to redesign a main application around the new SQL Server 2005 XML data type. We were quickly able to show them that this data type would not be optimal for the heavy update operations they would be doing. We saved them hours of costly development time that would have been lost had they not run a stress test.
Upgrading is clearly a labor-intensive, high-skill operation. Clients frequently require help with the logistical aspects of upgrading the RDBMS and may outsource the project to a VAR providing services for initial investigation, project planning and upgrade deployment. As a VAR specializing in project management services, you'll find that a skill set in upgrade technologies will be in high demand.
About the author: Hilary Cotter has been involved in IT for more than 20 years as a Web and database consultant. Microsoft first awarded Cotter the Microsoft SQL Server MVP award in 2001. Cotter received his bachelor of applied science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Toronto and subsequently studied economics at the University of Calgary and computer science at UC Berkeley. He is the author of a book on SQL Server transactional replication and is currently working on books on merge replication and Microsoft search technologies.