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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.

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.

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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.

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!

Community – Near and Far

This is beginning one of my favorite times of the year – the PASS Community Summit starts this week and so does the college basketball season!  My Baylor Lady Bears have a pre-season ranking of #2 in the country and after an Elite 8 run last year, the Baylor men’s basketball team is expected to do well again this year. But, for me, the #1 ranked conference for SQL Server is the PASS Community Summit.  In terms of coverage of the various disciplines within the product line for the DBA (or data professional), the developer, and BI professional, you can’t beat the breadth and depth of sessions available.

Having attended every Community Summit since the inaugural meeting in Chicago in 1999, I’ve developed some wonderful friendships over the years that I always look forward to renewing each year at the Summit. The networking aspect of attending a conference of this nature is perhaps more important than the specific knowledge gained from attending sessions. I’ve utilized many of the contacts I’ve made with PASS speakers, volunteers, and general attendees over the years when I’ve hit a puzzling problem.  And, similarly I’ve helped out people who met me and remembered my area of expertise when they were “stuck”.  This is the COMMUNITY part of the Summit in action!

However, I know that not everyone can travel to attend “the” main event.  This is where the local community comes in. In the interest of full disclosure – I have been the Chapter Leader for the Houston Area SQL Server User Group for several years; I have also been a volunteer and speaker with PASS (Professional Association for SQL Server – www.sqlpass.org) since that first Community Summit in 1999. And before that….well, that is ancient history now!

While there are a plethora of networked, online user groups, my preference is for the local face-to-face group.  Within the local community, you establish relationships over pizza waiting for the presenter to set-up.  Within the local community, you discover kindred spirits who also lose sleep wondering how often they should rebuild or reorg indexes…and which is better anyway.  Within the local community, you develop yourself in ways you may not have time for “at work” – listen to a topic outside your normal area of focus; give a short technical presentation on an area of interest; develop and deliver a full-length conference-style presentation. Within the local community, you may have a casual conversation with a colleague that can lead to a breakthrough on a project you are currently working on now – or in the future. The list goes on.

So, are you involved in your local user group?  If not, I encourage you to check it out. PASS maintains a list of regional chapters (http://www.sqlpass.org/PASSChapters.aspx). There are hundreds all over the world. If there is not one in your area – why not start one?  PASS will even help you to get started. Similarly, INETA (www.ineta.org) – the umbrella organization for Microsoft .NET User Groups is also a good resource for finding groups in your locale.

If you are currently attending your local user group – I encourage you to step forward and get more involved.  Volunteer for small or large tasks – whatever fits your comfort zone and availability. Volunteer to present – pick a topic you are passionate about.  Maybe start with a small “tips” session of 10-15 minutes and build from there.  Be clear when volunteering your topic as to the expected length, so that your speaker coordinator knows whether you will be filling the entire time or additional speakers will be needed.