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Merrill Aldrich

Technical content about Microsoft data technologies. All opinions expressed are purely my own and do not reflect positions of my employer or associates.

Unorthodox DBA Kits

I get some strange looks from people when they see what machines I use in my DBA life. First it was because I was using a personal MacBook Pro. In the past few days, it’s because I’m not using it any longer. I still love the MBP, but so does my wife, and she, rightfully, didn’t love the idea that I was hogging it all the time. Now the MBP has returned to its quiet life at home, and I have a new Tablet with a touch UI for work. That was a huge change for me, because it’s the first PC I’ve ever bought. Yes, ever.

Whacky Setup 1

For two years I happily ran SQL things from a unibody MacBook Pro. There are a number of people in the SQL community who have used or switched over to the Mac with one of several Windows virtualization solutions, and the combination works great. The build quality and design of the Mac is excellent, and in my experience they are both reliable and a joy to use. Parallels, Vmware Fusion and even VirtualBox are all working, solid solutions to make Windows run on the Mac alongside OSX. Personally I’ve used the Vmware solution most, and tested with the VirtualBox solution. For work we have remote access using SSL VPN through the browser, so there’s really no need to worry about what operating system is on the client, as long as that works. From a security perspective, all work stays at work – literally inside the datacenter.

After I had this machine for a while, my friend Aaron Bertrand, through his blog, convinced me to try Apple’s Magic Trackpad. While I was skeptical at first, that thing has completely won me over. The name is corny, but what a fantastic device.

My Mac would drive a big external monitor, but just one – and with a mini Displayport Adapter to convert to DVI

Kit 1


13 Inch MacBook Pro, 8GB RAM, Core 2 Duo (this is a couple years old now)

DVI Adapter

Any Big Monitor (with a small adapter, the Mac can drive just about any external monitor – but only one). Mine is a work-supplied 24” HP LCD.

Apple external Bluetooth keyboard and Trackpad

Vmware Fusion for Macintosh

Legit Windows 7 license from Microsoft Store, legit SQL Server installed for learning/test/demo purposes

Samsung Android phone, with the Mac’s calendar and address book set to sync automatically through Google services

Various cross-platform utilities including Dropbox, 1Password (together), Xmarks, Evernote, that hook Mac to Windows to Android

The exchange with many of my co-workers and friends:

Startled co-worker: “Wha? That works?”

Me: “Yep.”

Alas, when it came time to yield my much-loved Mac back to my family, I had to buy a new machine. In the intervening time, I have really become enamored of the touch interface on both my phone and on my kids’ Nook. But most tablets don’t have the horsepower or the OS to do everything I needed, and I really didn’t want another device to lug – having a tablet and a phone and a laptop has no appeal. 8GB of memory and either Mac OSX or Windows 7 was a requirement. It was a random tweet from Buck Woody that turned me. Solution? Lenovo x220 ThinkPad Tablet.

Whacky Setup 2

The “convertible tablet” design goes back a ways – when I was designing buildings in the early-mid 2000’s, the firm I worked for did a collaboration with Microsoft to help with the early implementation of XP’s tablet features on early convertible tablets. They had the same basic design as my new Lenovo. But back then it sucked, and there was no market.

Fast forward to 2012 – now that touch interfaces have matured, tablets have become popular and useful, I think that the this time around this idea may work. This machine is a really fast laptop in its own right, and the touch interface is working for me as a tablet substitute. It seems strange, perhaps already antiquated, but I love the combination of touch screen, stylus, power of a full-on laptop, and good keyboard when I want it. It’s fantastic.

Kit 2


x220 Convertible Tablet with i7, 8GB RAM, 160GB SSD

Display Port to the same 24 inch LCD monitor

Apple (yes!) bluetooth keyboard and trackpad (the Apple trackpad is far, far better than the Lenovo one)

A ridiculous number of pointing options, including ten fingers, the stylus, the ThinkPad eraser thingy, the built in trackpad and the external one

VirtualBox for experimenting with SQL Servers on a virtual network

Same Android phone and features, but without the elegant Google sync (sad face)

Same toolbox of syncing apps: Dropbox, 1Password (together), Xmarks, Evernote, etc.

Same conversation with my co-workers.

I just have a week and a half in with my new Frankenstein of a workstation, but it’s working for me. Next installment here – a comparative review of the two setups, and some tips about the flakier stuff, like how to make the Apple accessories and the ThinkPad talk, and what to expect if you are considering the switch to Mac / OSX as a SQL Server DBA.

Published Tuesday, February 28, 2012 6:08 PM by merrillaldrich

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datatao said:

once you go mac, youll never go back!

March 6, 2012 11:52 AM

Chuck said:

I have the same kits! I love my x220t - just wished it had an option to drive two U3011's. One DP is not enough in my opinion.

May 25, 2012 1:50 PM

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