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Reflections on PASS Summit 2011

The annual PASS Summit was held in Seattle the week of Oct 10th. Originally, this event was called the PASS Community Summit. To rephrase a popular saying, “they can take Community out of the official event name, but they can’t take Community out of the event”. In other words, the state of the SQL Server community is so strong that to include the word “community” in the event title is somewhat redundant at this point.

This year’s Summit had another record attendance with approximately 3500 registrations for the 3-day conference and another 1500 registrants combined over two days of pre-conference sessions. Why? Reason #1, in my opinion, is that it is due to 13+ years of tremendous volunteer effort.  Many people may not realize that while PASS does have a “management company” to handle logistics, the majority of the work in providing PASS events is done by volunteers. Everything from Board of Directors to Program Committee to Quiz Bowl is done by volunteers. As volunteers get more involved, the deeper their roots are developed within the community; and the stronger the community grows.  When you volunteer your time to the community, you get so much back in return. (Although you may not get much rest!)

So, what else influences the success of the PASS Summit?  My second and third reasons (I can’t decide which is which) are the content (combination of sessions & speakers) and the support of the Microsoft SQL Server Product Group – from the CSS team members who sit in the SQL Clinic all day to the SQLCAT team members presenting case studies to SQL Server Dev team members presenting details of the portion of the product for which they are responsible.

The value derived from Summit is sometimes difficult to nail down immediately, as sometimes it may be months after the event when you realize that something you learned at Summit just enabled you to solve a pressing issue.  On the other hand, sometimes you learn something that you can immediately use. Along those lines, however, one of the most important aspects of Summit is the networking and making contacts and sharing of expertise, so that you develop colleagues within the community to turn to as resources.  Wow, there is that word again – community.

I’ve attended every PASS Summit US-based event since the very first one held in Chicago in 1999. The PASS organization has come a long way since then – incorporating local user groups as PASS chapters providing them with a brand, creating virtual chapters which provide online training, supporting SQLSaturday for local training, and starting SQL Rally and 24 Hours of PASS for additional training opportunities throughout the year. For all of those activities to be successful, it comes back to content. If the content wasn’t there and people were not finding value in the educational opportunities provided by PASS, then Summit would cease to exist not continue to set record attendance in a down economy.

It is something of a paradox that I’m totally worn out at the end of Summit week, but at the same time come back to work re-energized after spending so much time learning as much as I can about the current features and future features of the SQL Server product and database world in general. Thanks PASS (that means all you volunteers out there) for making this happen every year!

Oh, and as a final thought – I vote for Dr. David DeWitt to be the keynote speaker forever! I confess to skipping keynotes back in the early years, but wouldn’t dream of missing a DeWitt keynote! Who’s with me?

See you in Seattle at PASS Summit 2012!


PASS Community Summit 2010 Recap

A little slow on writing up my recap of my 12th PASS Community Summit, but I guess “better late than never”.  As usual there were several highlights and one major lowlight.  Highlights included a record number of registrations – it was amazing how many people were in line to check-in on Sunday night when the booths opened.  This truly speaks to the value provided to the SQL Server professional community by this conference.  Over the past 12 years I have periodically had the opportunity to attend an additional conference during the year, but continue to find that the best value for my training time and dollars is provided at the PASS Community Summit.  So, I’ll go ahead and get my biggest disappointment of the conference out of the way – the Tina Turner impersonator at the opening.  I think the “Simply the Best” theme was good, but the choice of execution for the opening of the conference did not present a very professional image of PASS, especially considering the strong support for WIT (Women In Technology) that exists in the community.  I attended the Board of Directors Q&A later in the week, and I believe that additional scrutiny will be applied in the future as to how “performances” may come across to the diversity in our community (not just differences in gender, but also cultural differences in a global community).  OK – enough said about that subject.

The technical highlight from the keynotes (which are available in full here, including the WIT luncheon) was obviously the CTP1 announcement and demos of “Denali” aka “SQL Next” aka “SQL 11”.  The demo by Amir Netz of project “Crescent” which provides data visualization really got everyone pumped up.  In case you missed it, check the keynote video from Wednesday and an additional video from the Reporting Services Dev Team is also here.  Attendees were provided with a CTP1 DVD of Denali and it is now also available for download.  Interestingly, it is available in both a 32-bit and 64-bit platform. I don’t know about you, but I was really counting on this version being 64-bit only.  If you only want to start reading up on it, then the Denali BOL is also available here

The Thursday keynote by Dr. David Dewitt just reminded me once more of why I fell in love with database technology.  His presentation on query optimization almost made me want to go back to school again!  I love this stuff!  You can find his slide deck on the Microsoft Jim Gray Research Lab’s Facebook Links tab.  How cool is that? But, seriously, you have to watch the keynote video, too.

There are so many great speakers and presentation topics to attend in person that you really do need to get the DVD set of the conference to have the chance to hear the ones where you couldn’t be in two (or even three or four) places at one time.  Or for that matter, to re-watch ones that you did attend!  If you were not able to attend PASS at all, then you can also now order the Summit 2010 DVDs here. If you did attend the Summit, but didn’t order the DVDs and want to now, then go here to email or call Shannon Cunningham to purchase at a reduced rate.  

Over the years, I’ve learned to change my plans for session attendance on the fly.  This year was no exception. Many of the Microsoft sessions which were to be about “future” features could not actually be promoted as such until Denali was announced in Tuesday’s keynote.  Thus, I found myself immediately changing session plans for the very first session following the keynote in order to attend Paul Mestemaker’s and Bob Ward’s session on “Atlanta” – a new configuration assessment service from the cloud.  Basically, Atlanta is a checklist of best practices/configurations as compiled by Microsoft’s SQL Server CSS team.  It is planned to be refreshed as needed and based in the cloud.  The goal is to help you prevent problems (not detect them), thus it is complimentary to SCOM (or other real-time monitoring tools).  It will require an agent to be deployed on your server to collect and of course would require internet access, so it remains to be seen how useful it will be for production environments as most I’m aware of do not allow their SQL Servers to have internet access.  You don’t have to wait for Denali to try out Atlanta, but it does require Windows 2008+ and SQL 2008+. You can try it out today at https://www.microsoftatlanta.com/. If you get the DVDs, then this was session DBA-226M.

I’ll just quickly mention two other sessions which I attended and picked up nuggets to be researched further.  The first was Bill Ramos’ DBA-450M session entitled “Advanced Data Collection & Reporting with the MDW” (or something to that effect).  If you are doing Data Collection, then Bill has published several very useful report definitions to his blog in an ongoing series. The second session was Joe Yong’s DBA-353M “Upcoming SQL Server Upgrade Planning”. Key learning from this session is to watch out for increased lockdown in W2K8R2 (if you haven’t moved here already) and there will be a distributed replay feature available in the CTP1 for Denali to help analyze upgrade impacts.

Besides the great sessions, one of the biggest reasons for attending conferences such as the PASS Community Summit is the networking.  Multiple opportunities exist for mingling with your peers – from the Opening Night reception (with the now infamous annual Quiz Bowl event) to lunch which is also geared around networking each day (BOF – Birds of a Feather, WIT Luncheon, Regional\Local User Groups).  I was able to speak with several people from the Houston area (and some planning to move to the Houston area) about our local user group (Houston Area SQL Server User Group) and upcoming SQL Saturday 57 planned for January 29, 2011. By the way, registration is still open for attendees, speakers, and sponsors for SQL Saturday 57!

Next year’s conference will be in Seattle again, but a month earlier than usual – October 10-14.  I’m hoping to experience slightly better weather in that timeframe, although we did see a significant amount of sunshine this year.  So, start your planning now!  There is a really good rate offered through the end of the year which includes the pre-conference seminars – – $1295 for the full bundle, including 3 days plus 2 Pre-Cons until Dec. 31; $995 (for 3 days) until Jan. 15 – check it out at: www.PASSSummit.com. If you need to plan your training for earlier in the year or don’t have quite the budget for the full-blown conference, then you should check out SQL Rally.  This shorter 2-day conference with a 1-day pre-con will be held in Orlando from May 11-13 – details are at: www.SQLRally.com

And, finally, if those dates and prices don’t work for you, did I mention that there is a SQLSaturday on January 29, 2011 in Houston?  SQLSaturday events are “free” training days (with usually a nominal lunch fee charge). If Houston isn’t in your travel plans, then there is likely to be another event scheduled close to you – check out the main website: www.SQLSaturday.com for places and dates.