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    Copyright © Nancy Hidy Wilson, 2010-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Hidy Wilson and nancyhidywilson.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

PASS 2015 Board of Directors Election

The PASS 2015 BoD election is now underway! There are 4 tremendous candidates this year, including two incumbents. But, there are only 3 positions available. By virtue of being the only EMEA candidate running this year, incumbent Jen Stirrup will by default win the EMEA seat, leaving the other 3 candidates competing for the US\Canada seat and the Open seat.

Ryan Adams, Argenis Fernandez, and Tim Ford (the other incumbent) have all contributed significantly to the SQL Server community over the past few years. They are all three very deserving candidates and if elected each will serve the PASS community well.

However, as the immediate past Chapter Leader of the Houston Area SQL Server User Group, I want to let you know why I’m specifically endorsing Ryan Adams.

Ryan Adams knows what it’s like to be a DBA with no access to help or training, so he has committed himself to helping others so they don’t have to struggle in their day to day jobs like he did. He has served in the SQL Server and PASS communities for over 10 years and in almost every capacity available including:

  • He has been in local user group leadership for 5 years with the North Texas SQL Server User Group.
  • He is in his third year as President of the PASS Performance Virtual Chapter and volunteered a year prior to that.
  • He has been a Regional Mentor for the PASS South Central Region for 4 years.
  • He has served on the PASS Summit Program Committee twice now.
  • He served on the 2013 PASS Nomination Committee (NomCom).
  • He was a SQLRally organizer and has helped organize 6 SQLSaturday events in Dallas.

It is in his role as a Regional Mentor to chapter leaders (me!) that I recognized Ryan’s passion for the community and the leadership capabilities that he brings. He set the standard for Regional Mentors by engaging on a regular basis with the South Central Region’s chapter leaders, learning about our struggles, ensuring we had the resources we need, and helping to us to find success in running our chapters.

I am confident that Ryan will continue his passionate commitment and leadership to the greater PASS community and make an excellent PASS Board member.

Voting closes on September 23rd at Noon Pacific Daylight Time, so research the candidates and login to your myPASS page. You’ll see an orange Vote Now button if you are eligible to vote.

Time For a Change

Shortly after the turn of the century (Y2K anyone?), I restarted the Houston Area SQL Server User Group (HASSUG) with the help of Tyler Chessman, who has been our local Microsoft liaison the entire time and without whom I couldn’t have run the group on my own for so long. I think the first meeting was in 2001, but I no longer have records going back that far to pinpoint the exact startup date. I know we met bi-monthly for the first year or so and then moved to monthly meetings in January 2003. We became a PASS affiliated Chapter when they began that program. In 2013, we combined the meetings for the Houston Area SQL Server User Group and the Houston BI User Group (which Tyler sporadically ran) into a single meeting with 2 topic presentations, one of which is always focused on the BI stack.

So, here we are some 14+ years later, having held 160+ meetings and having executed 4 SQLSaturdays, and it is time for me to hand over the reins of the group to some new leadership. Lynn McKee and Derek Wilson (no relation!) are now the official co-leaders of the group. Lynn and Derek have been shadowing me for the past few months as “chapter leaders in training” and I am more than satisfied that they are committed and ready to take the group to the next level.

I will still be around – attending meetings and presenting when needed (like in July and again in August!). I also promised Allen Kinsel (who took the lead on the past two SQLSaturday Houston events) that I’d help with the next SQLSaturday, too. And now he has it in writing, in public, for all to see! Leading the local chapter has given me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people in our SQL Server community (aka #SQLFamily) – and not just locally. Participating in the Chapter Leader meetings at PASS Summit every year I look forward to engaging with other leaders from around the world. Over the past 15 years that I’ve attended Summit, so many of them are #SQLFamily to me now, too. It has been a great run and part of me will miss it, but I’m excited to be passing the torch to Lynn and Derek. They have some great ideas for the future and I hope you will give them your full support. After all, this is a volunteer job – we all do it for the love of the community.

If you’d like to volunteer to speak, sponsor, or otherwise help with the group, you can continue to use the HASSUG@sqlpass.org email account to contact Lynn and Derek. Follow the @HASSUG and @SQLSatHou Twitter accounts for info and keep an eye on the website for upcoming meeting info.

See you at the next meeting!

SQLRally 2012 Dallas – Recap

PASS and NTSSUG (North Texas SQL Server User Group) hosted this year’s SQLRally. As the chapter leader for HASSUG (Houston Area SQL Server User Group), I was also part of the host team and volunteered on the program committee and served as a room monitor during the conference. Putting on a conference of this size with mostly volunteers (there is some paid staff from PASS HQ, but the majority of the work is by volunteers) is no small feat and the NTSSUG team did a great job of organizing.  

Sessions Attended

Based on the sessions offered at SQLRally, I set my focus on learning about SQL Server 2012 features, investigating areas outside my current area of expertise (enterprise deployments), and considering my future career development.

  • Bob Ward – What’s New for SQL Server 2012 Supportability
  • Craig Purnell – Upgrade Roadmap: Let’s Delve into SQL Server 2012
  • Kathi Kellenberger – SQL Server 2012 T-SQL
  • Denny Cherry – Using SQL Server 2012’s Always On
  • Suresh Kandoth – SQL Server 2012: Memory Manager Rebooted
  • Tim Mitchell – Introduction to Data Quality Services
  • Robert Davis – TempDB: Performance and Manageability
  • Erin Welker – So, You Want to Start a Career in BI
  • Andy Warren – Building Your Professional Development Plan

All of the sessions were top quality and I will definitely use what I learned in both my day-to-day work and overall career development.

Networking

SQLRally had lots of opportunities for networking, both informal and formal. The scheduled opportunities included:

  • Wednesday night’s “Meet the SQL Professionals”
  • Thursday night’s “SQLKaraoke”
  • Friday morning’s “SQLRally at Starbucks”

During lunch and between sessions provided ample opportunity for informal networking. And, I took time off during one session timeslot to continue networking and be available at the PASS Community Corner to promote local user groups (continuing the networking after attendees get home) and the virtual chapters. As several people have confessed (among them Andy Warren, Brian Moran, and Tim Mitchell), the networking aspect is actually probably the most important activity when attending a conference. This is how #SQLFamily is built.

Things Done Well

  • Guidebook – This mobile app is a great way to keep attendees up-to-date with speaker/session changes. Other than seeing that a printed agenda was in our attendee bag, I never looked at it and used Guidebook exclusively for checking where I needed to be next!
  • SQL Clinic – This was a “must-have” with the event in Dallas so near to the SQL CSS team’s home and didn’t disappoint with members of SQLCAT also in attendance.
  • Networking opportunities – already mentioned. Good job by the planners!
  • Bus – looping between convention center and SQLKaraoke site was a win!

Things to Improve

  • Guidebook (yes, it is on both the “done well” and the “to improve” list!)
    • Include room numbers along with the Session Title and Session Number in the main entry, if possible. You had to click the session to find the room number; simple once you knew to do this, but many people didn’t realize it.
    • Include all activities in the “schedule”:
      • Welcome Session 
      • Closing Session
      • WIT Luncheon
      • Include all “extracurricular” activities – from SQLKaraoke to Starbucks Networking.
  • Beverage choices during breaks – coffee or nothing – how about some water and sodas?
  • Ensure bottled water in the sessions rooms for each speaker.
  • Signage to A4 ballroom from the majority of session rooms could have been better. It was confusing to most attendees that one session room (A4) was far away from the majority of the session rooms and on a different floor level. 
  • Station volunteers at the top of the escalators and along the hallways, not just at the rooms to help attendees find their way. 
  • Where to find the speakers’ slide decks? I had several people ask me during the conference, but I had not personally looked for them yet and couldn’t answer. Now, I have looked and I can’t find them either!
  • Overall Event Evaluation form – I hear they will be done electronically after the event, but I would have liked to have it available to comment on as I experienced the conference real-time.

Event Format

Instead of 2 pre-con days, consider having only 1 pre-con day or splitting into a pre-con day and post-con day. Consider having the post-con session on Saturday. The success of SQLSaturday has already shown that many of us are willing to give up some of our personal time to improve our skills.  As part of the purpose of SQLRally (at least in my mind) is to provide a “taste” of Summit and at a lower price point, I don’t see many people justifying being out of the office 4 days (or 5 if Monday is a travel day); that would be practically the same as Summit (unless they are local).  By combining the SQLRally 2-day main event with a post-conference Saturday all-day seminar, maybe more people could convince their employers to pay for SQLRally and the post-con since in theory it isn’t all on “company time”.  Attendees can make the case that they and their employer have a joint investment in their training.

Personally, there was a pre-con on Tuesday that I probably could have justified, but not one on Wednesday which fit my development needs. Since I was coming from out-of-town, this just didn’t work for me logistically or financially. Consequently, I didn’t attend any pre-con. If I could have attended that all-day session on consecutive days with the main SQLRally days, then I would have done that – even if one of the days was a Saturday. However, I recognize that this format (especially using a Saturday) may not work for others and may not work with venue rental. I know PASS has tried the pre-con\post-con format in the past with Summit, but is back to two days of pre-cons for whatever reasons. I think the host team for the next SQLRally, however, should seriously reconsider this concept for maximum attendance.

Conclusion

Overall the event provided great technical content and networking opportunities to the SQL Server community. While many people who attended SQLRally have previously attended a PASS Summit, I talked to just as many people who have not attended a Summit, but now have it on their list of things to do! I think the event also did a good job of reinforcing the value of local user groups, and even encouraged some folks to consider starting a user group or hosting a SQLSaturday in their area.  This was only the second SQLRally event in the United States, so it will be interesting to see how this event evolves for 2013 filling the gap between Summit and SQLSaturdays.

Improving Speaker Rating Evaluations

I finished compiling all the individual session speaker ratings from SQLSaturday #107 held in Houston on April 21, 2012 and sent the results to the speakers this past weekend.  We used the default form provided on the SQLSaturday Admin site, which had two basic inputs.

1) Expectations:  Did Not Meet \ Met \ Exceeded. 

2) Overall Quality of the Presentation: rate 1-5 where 5=great.

Plus there was a request to write any other comments on the back of the form.  A few people did provide some constructive criticism which the speakers can use to improve; many people provided positive encouragement; but most wrote nothing.

Anybody have a problem with this form?  I do; and I’d like to make it more useful for both organizers and speakers.  But, how?

We’ve been conditioned since early childhood in school to receive a grade for our performance. Consequently, we tend to provide evaluations with number ratings so that we can come up with an average rating for each speaker.  The problem with this type of rating for speakers, in my opinion, is that there are no defined criteria for the students (e.g. graders) to use in their evaluation – it is purely subjective and purely based on the individual’s experiences which could vary wildly at an event like SQLSaturday.     

The “Expectations” rating to me is really not very useful – it is too general.  There are two things that I, personally, am gauging from an “expectations” basis when I attend a session: 1) the content to be delivered based on the abstract provided; 2) the quality of the speaker based on the presenter’s professional credentials.  However, what if I’m so new to a topic area that I really do not comprehend what the abstract means (although I think I do) and therefore my expectations of what I’m about to experience are very different than the reality?  Or, what if I have really high expectations of a well-known speaker and I feel like their presentation is just average? How do I handle this in my evaluation? Based on what I saw in our SQLSaturday evaluations, it seems to me that most people whose expectations were not met also rated the overall quality of the presentation low.  But, how can that be, when the majority of the other attendees at the same session believed that the session met or exceeded their expectations and gave a high rating on the overall quality?  I saw this anomaly several times.

One of the goals of SQLSaturday is to grow the speaker base. I don’t know about you, but “grow” to me doesn’t mean just numbers, it means providing experience and maturity. How do we get the necessary feedback to the speakers to enable them to improve their presentation skills in order to better train us?

Speakers, what input would you like from your audience?  If you were to redesign this simple evaluation form, what 2 or 3 questions would you ask? Do you derive value from a subjective numeric rating?

SQLSaturday organizers and User Group leaders, how would you like to see speakers evaluated to help you in selecting sessions for your next event?

Please post your comments here.

Have Your Say – SQLRally Pre-con Sessions up for Vote!

SQLRally is a PASS-sponsored 2-day training event scheduled May 10-11, 2012, in Dallas, Texas, and hosted by the North Texas SQL Server User Group with support from all the South Central Region PASS Chapters.  For additional in-depth learning opportunities, there will be 2 days of pre-conference sessions (aka pre-cons) offered on May 8 and May 9.  

6 pre-conference sessions have already been selected and the remaining 2 sessions will be decided by community vote. Voting will close on February 9, 2012, at 5pm Central time – so what are you waiting for – go vote now and plan to attend SQLRally Dallas 2012!

Register for the main 2-day event before March 15, 2012, for only $349!

PASS Summit 2011 – What I Learned

In prior posts, I reflected on the things that I think make the PASS Summit such a great value – content, volunteers, Microsoft support, and networking opportunities.  This post will concentrate on the content provided at this year’s Summit and basically what I learned over those 3 days. 

In no particular order – here’s the brain dump (from my notes, of course, with occasional commentary thrown in!):

  • SQL Server Code Name “Denali” will officially be SQL Server 2012 and released in the first half of 2012.
  • Project Crescent is now Power View.
  • Microsoft is now promoting both on-premise databases and cloud-based databases as co-existing for the foreseeable future; but the cloud is getting bigger for SQL Azure (150 GB databases supported by year-end).
  • Big Data has arrived and Microsoft has taken notice – and action – by releasing the Microsoft SQL Server Connector for Apache Hadoop … with more coming in this arena.
  • I run the Houston Area SQL Server User Group so these next items are of importance to me personally:
    • PASS may finally establish a speaker bureau to help local chapters find speakers
    • PASS will be increasing services to chapter leaders, providing DNN (DotNetNuke) training, etc.
  • At (Principal Architect Escalation Engineer in Microsoft CSS) Bob Ward’s “Inside Tempdb” half-day session:
    • The model database in Denali SQL Server 2012 will be 4MB up from the 2MB it has been forever. Why is this important? Well, recovery isn’t complete until tempdb is started and the default size for tempdb (if you don’t change it) is the size of model. 4MB isn’t much these days, but it is a change you should be aware of.
    • tempdb is the “garbage dump of the engine”. It is used for user objects such as temp tables, table variables, temp procs, user-defined objects and online index space. It is also used by internal objects – sorts, work tables, work files (used for hash joins) and version store. 
    • Consider moving tempdb to its own storage volume if it has heavy I/O. SSD is an option, but as expensive as that is ensure you can’t make better use of it somewhere else first.
    • Bob’s rule of thumb for how many data files to allocate for tempdb:
      • Less than 8 CPUs (cores), 1 file per CPU
      • 8 or more CPUs, start with 8 files and increase by sets of 4 until contention resides
      • Also see Paul Randal’s blog for a slight variation on this theme.
  • At the “What’s New in Manageability in Denali” Microsoft session:
    • Since SSMS is now built on Visual Studio 2010, you will get multi-monitor support! Hooray!
    • There is a new Database Recovery Advisor which will be able to build a restore plan for you based on available backup files (database, log, etc.) in a folder even if you don’t have any msdb backup history. It can also handle split backups.  I’d cheer for this too, but seriously – this should have been in the product years ago!
    • Log viewer will now work with offline instances and has improved performance.
    • SCOM Management Pack (will be released at the same time as SQL Server 2012)
      • Ability to discover Availability Groups
      • Detailed knowledge of AlwaysOn tasks
      • Performance counter collections for AlwaysOn
      • Policy-Based Management integration, yes, integration – it’ll pull your PBM policies right into SCOM and alert on failures
      • Enhanced mirroring support – discovers and diagrams
      • 20 new rules for replication
      • Support for mount points (another “hooray/finally!”)
  • At the “AlwaysOn: Active Secondaries” Microsoft Session:
    • You can offload backups to any replica so as to not impact production. The LSN is communicated back to the primary which then notifies all replicas so that all log backups in all replicas form a single log chain.
    • If that sounds like a nightmare for a restore, remember the Database Recovery Advisor mentioned previously and restore is simple!
    • Differential backups are not supported on secondaries.
    • Only “Copy Only” full backup is supported on secondaries.
    • Advisable to store backups centrally (so you can just point the Database Recovery Advisor to a single location to create the restore plan).
    • Declarative policy to determine where backups occur automatically. This is advisory only, not enforced. Implement via a system function which returns a Boolean indicating if this is the preferred backup location.
    • And, of course, probably the number one reason for multiple secondaries (besides general DBA paranoia) is to offload reporting workloads without having to use database snapshots.
  • In MVP Tim Ford’s “Periodic Table of DMOs” session:
    • Using the format of the Periodic Table of the Elements from general science, Tim gives us a creative way to organize all the DMOs (Dynamic Management Objects – views and functions) now available to DBAs for troubleshooting and general understanding of what is happening within a database engine instance. I might actually use this to remember when and what to use.
  • SQL Server guru Paul Randal (blog) busted more DBA Myths in a spotlight session. As usual, not all myths were blatantly true or false, there were a few “it depends”! This session lasted until 6:30pm and I think most would have stayed until 9:30pm to listen to Paul’s in-depth, but humorous explanations about why these myths were true/false or especially “it depends”.  
  • Allan Hirt, Clustering MVP, demonstrated “Denali on Windows Server Core”:
    • Currently Denali is only supported on W2K8R2 SP1, no Windows 8 support announced yet (as of October 14, 2011).
    • You’ll need to add .NET and Allan will post on his blog how to do this effectively
    • You’ll need to add PowerShell 2.0. See KB976736 and use option 2!
    • If installing a Windows Cluster, then all nodes must be Server Core or all must allow GUI.
  • Microsoft Senior Program Manager for the Database Engine Security features, Il-Sung Lee, presented “What’s New in Security for SQL Server Code Name Denali”:
    • Windows groups can now have a default schema. The first group with the lowest principal id will be chosen if a user belongs to more than one group.
    • User-defined schema roles
    • All SKUs will now have the ability to specify server audits; database audits still require Enterprise Edition or higher.
    • User-defined audit events (via sp_audit_write)
    • Database Authentication (for contained databases)
    • Lots of cryptography changes – deprecating older methods, supporting newer, more secure ones
    • Il-Sung’s team blogs at: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/sqlsecurity/
  • SQLCAT brought in speakers from 4 companies who are early adopters of Denali & AlwaysOn to discuss their HA/DR requirements and migration paths to AlwaysOn. I’ll definitely be revisiting their solutions in the future and suspect there will be some whitepapers posted on SQLCAT’s website soon.
  • In “Where should I be encrypting my data”, MVP Denny Cherry provided a good refresher on some encryption basics:
    • Encryption will almost always increase the size of stored data
    • Encryption will decrease the usefulness of data deduplication
    • Encryption will add CPU load
    • Enabling TDE for an application database will also enable it for tempdb
    • TDE is for “data at rest” including backups
    • For “data on the wire” use IPSEC or SSL
    • If your storage uses MPIO, then “data at rest” protection at the LUN level. If you copy a file to another server, it would be readable; if you detach and attach the LUN elsewhere it would not be readable.
  • I also attended one of the “Lightning Talk” sessions, where 8 speakers had 5 minutes each to convey their topic to the audience. Some were humorous, some were serious, and one was seriously humorous! Grant Fritchey’s “Backup Testing, The Rant” is not something any of us present will ever forget – nor will we ever forget the importance of actually testing your backup! I really wish that had been caught on video, because the audio on the DVD just won’t do the presentation justice. Two other speakers in the session covered topics near and dear to me – “Thinking of Hosting a SQLSaturday?” (John Sterett) and “Build Up” (Niko Neugebauer). Both encouraged attendees to get involved in their local SQL Server community activities – and if you don’t have a local group – start one!

Now to start making the list of all the interesting sessions I couldn’t get to that I’ll want to watch (or re-watch) as soon as the Conference DVDs arrive! I foresee team “lunch ‘n learns” being scheduled.

More Reflections on PASS Summit 2011

So, I did some more reflecting after my last post and I’ve come up with some more reasons why PASS Summit 2011, in particular, was so great.  Reason #4: Recognition of volunteers. I mentioned previously that volunteers are truly the life-blood of PASS. And if volunteering doesn’t totally suck the life out of you, then you may survive to be named the PASSion Award winner. This year’s recipient was Lori Edwards (twitter). Lori ran the Program Committee this year, so, yes, you have her to blame praise for the content at this year’s Summit. Next to being on the Board of Directors, running Program Committee is probably the most time-consuming task a volunteer could undertake. There were some 70 volunteers on Program Committee this year to review, select, schedule, and review again the hundreds of sessions submitted by hundreds of speakers in 6 different tracks this year. But someone is ultimately responsible for overseeing the coordination of all those volunteers and that was Lori. Thanks, Lori!

This year PASS also recognized additional “outstanding” volunteers: Jack Corbett (blog | twitter) and Tim Radney (blog | twitter).  Jack was recognized for his leadership and work with PASS SQLRally 2011 in Orlando, the PASS Nomination Committee, the 2010 PASS Program Committee, and leading SQLSaturday #49 and OPASS (Orlando PASS Chapter). Tim was recognized for his leadership as a Regional Mentor to PASS Chapters, for leading the Columbus, Georgia, SQL Server User Group to a 50% attendance increase, for organizing SQLSaturday #89 and for speaking at other SQLSaturday events.

Reason #5: Fresh blood First-timers! Beginning with the PASS Summit 2010 conference, “first timer” and “alumni” ribbons were handed out to attendees. If you’ve never been to a PASS Summit, then you’ve missed experiencing “ribbon envy”.  Attendees are provided ribbons to attach to their badges based on their various levels of involvement in the PASS community (that word again!). Board of Directors, Program Committee, MVP, Chapter Leader, Virtual Chapter Leader, etc. etc. etc. all designations get ribbons (each with its own color designation).  If you attend a pre-con then you get a different colored ribbon for each day of pre-cons; and it seemed to go on and on this year with some creative attendees and vendors devising their own ribbons (Dr. Data, etc.).

But, I digress, back to the first-timers. This year, PASS expanded the First-Timer experience and provided Big Brothers and Big Sisters (alumni) to help steer the First-Timers fully into the community of PASS Summit. First Timers were put in touch with their Big Brothers/Sisters ahead of Summit so that they could ask questions about what to expect. In addition to the traditional orientation session, the newcomers had a special networking session with Don Gabor (website) prior to the Welcome Reception. Then, they were introduced into the Welcome Reception with flashing lights, loud music, and dry ice…with apologies and kudos at the same time to Thomas LaRock (blog | twitter), they were SQLRockstars! And they kept coming and coming and coming until between 800-1000 “first timers” filled the reception area wall-to-wall along with “alumni” attendees! According to Tom’s recap blog there were glitches and he wants to continue to improve the first timer experience, but from where I stood it was truly awesome for this “old timer”.

I hope that even just a few of this year’s “first timers” caught the volunteer bug that I caught back when I was a “first timer” in 1999. PASS needs you and PASS wants you to volunteer to serve! Seriously, like any organization, PASS needs a continual infusion of fresh ideas. If you are interested in volunteering with PASS, go here to learn more.