Feb 06 2014

Thank You!

I am humbled and honored (and more than a little horrified) to be on this list of the Best of PASS Summit 2013. I mean look at those names. Every single one is a person I look up to and respect and learn from constantly. How I made a list like this… well, thanks. I appreciate the support and kindness that was shown at the PASS Summit when you filled out your evals.

Oh, and while I realize intellectually and SQL skill-wise he totally kicks my behind… Neener, neener Conor. You’re in the DBA track and I’m the only one in the top 10 in the Cloud track.

By the gods, I’m going to pay for that, but it’ll be worth it.

Oct 17 2013

PASS Summit 2013: Women In Technology Luncheon

This year I was invited to attend the Women In Technology luncheon as a blogger. So I’ll be live-blogging it through it in the same way as I did the keynote.

The WIT lunches are a fascinating, and let’s face it, unique PASS-style event, that have been taking place for years at the PASS Summit. It’s about growth and empowerment for women within technology. But, it’s not some crazy man-bashing event. It’s just another, special, way to network (that thing that PASS does so well).

Panelists are Cindy Gross, Gail Shaw, Kevin Kline, Rob Farley and Erin Stellato.

Mickey Steuwe is acting as moderator.

The theme is Beyond Stereotypes: Equality, Gender Neutrality, and Valuing Diversity is the theme.

The first question: “Do you have to make an effort to fit in?”

It goes to Gail, and in true Gail-fashion, she says, “No I bloody well don’t because I couldn’t be bothered.” She’s awesome.

“Have you experienced more subtle cultural forms of prejudice?”

Rob Farley gets this one. So he goes on to talk about his Christianity as a weird way he’s been affected. For example, a friend wouldn’t come out as gay because he knew Rob was Christian. Interesting point of view.

“Outside of the obvious reasons, how can you tell you’re being treated differently?”

Cindy Gross tells us how she figures that out by talking to friends to get their point of view. But, she correctly says, she has friends who’ll say that “Of course you’re treated differently as a woman” or “Of course it’s not about you being a woman” as knee-jerk positions. She suggests keeping a good thing in mind, of course we’re all prejudiced. Not badly, but on purpose. You assume that a person who is an adult will act like an adult and a child will act like a child. These assumptions are prejudices and judgements we make every day because you can’t start from a clean slate.

Kevin adds that the concepts of stereotypes are, at least in part, based on reality because they act as short-cuts. Indexes if you will. It was pretty cool. He also went on to talk about the differences between introverts and extroverts.

Ooops. Too much typing. I missed the question.

Kevin is talking about how we, as DBAs or data pros, frequently will spend more time trying to figure out how to tune indexes, etc., instead of trying to figure out our co-workers. I don’t disagree with that at all. I actually did get a set of tools for doing this at my previous job. They were occasionally crazy to work for, but they really did think through how work is supposed to be done and done right. Kevin goes on to discussing the interesting differences between ethical and moral.

12:36

Rob adds to this, in a nutshell, if you see something, say something. And, the fact is, this is true. We, all of us, need to be willing, and able, to stand up and make noise if we think things are wrong. It’s a must.

However, I’m not so sure about where the discussion went then. A piece of advice was given that said “If your friends are trying to get you to change who you are, maybe they are not your friends.” Well…. Can I use a DBA phrase here? It depends. What if they’re trying to get you to change for real and positive reasons? You’re doing drugs, smoking, terribly overweight, out of shape, in a destructive relationship… Anyway.

Cindy then talks about how, because she advocates for people of various styles, she has been associated with them. In short, because she supported gay people, others thought she was gay.

Erin is FINALLY asked a question.

She talks about how, regardless of who you’re working with, you need to find some type of common ground with others. That you can do that, even though it may be somewhat painful or difficult. But, once you’ve done it you really can make a difference in how you work with people.  Mainly because, you have to work with people. It just makes sense.

So, Erin not only got a question, but she knocked the answer out of the park.

12:50

next up, how to get things working with teams. Oh nuts. Good luck. This is a horribly hard situation for ANYONE in ANY situation. Male/female or other negative or unhelpful prejudices. Cindy Gross also did racing on dirt bikes in Texas. She tells the story of getting a bunch of girls together, calling them dirt chicks, and giving them popcicles at the end of the race. Why? Because in school the girls who raced would get ostracized at school because they were beat up from the races (and yes, dirt bike riding can mess you up good, it’s a blast).

I have to leave early for another event.

Thanks PASS, panelists and Mickey. Great Job!

Oct 17 2013

PASS Summit 2013 Day 2 Key Note

KILT DAY!

Today we have to eat our vegetables and then get lots and lots of sweet desert.

Or.

Today we hear about PASS Finances as a part of the official annual meeting and then we get to hear Dr. David Dewitt speak (completely and utterly getting our nerd on and squeeing like teenage girls at a Bieber concert).

I will be live-blogging this event, so watch this space.

8:20: Douglas McDowell kicks off the key note today.  the vast majority of the money that runs PASS comes from the Summit. That’s right, by attending the Summit you’re also supporting the organization. The Business Analytics Conference, which kicked off this year also provides quite a bit more money to the organization.

8:25: PASS has changed its budgeting process. At this point, there is about 1 million dollars (American) in the bank. That means they’ve got a cushion should an event go south. That’s very important.

The amount of money spent on the community last year was $7.6 million. 30% of that is focused specifically for international audiences (which begs the question, how much money comes FROM the international audiences). The money is spent on Summit, BA Conferences, Chapters, SQL Saturday, 24 Hours of PASS and 520 web sites (woof).

8:31: Bill Graziano, PASS President, takes the stage to say goodbye to PASS Board members leaving the board. Douglas McDowell, who was just talking, is leaving the board after six years and being a volunteer since 2001. Rob Farley is also leaving the board. Rushabh Mehta comes on stage after eight years on the board. He’s the Immediate Past President, a role that automatically rolls off the board after a couple of years.

Next up, Thomas LaRock, the currrent vice-president of Marketing and the incoming PASS President. We had about 3000 unique viewers online at the live PASS TV (which I launched this morning, talking about KILT DAY!). The new board positions are Adam Jorgensen, Executive Vice President, Denise Mcinerney Vice President Marketing. Jen Stirrup, Tim Ford and Amy Lewis are coming onto the board.

In 1999, the Summit started. That’s 14 years. I’ve made 9 of them in a row.

8:38: PASS Summit 2014 will be in November 4-7 in Seattle next year. The PASS BA Conference will be in San Jose, CA May 7-9 in 2014.

Remember there are tons of networking opportunities.

8:41: What, Why, How Hekaton with Dr. David DeWitt

Let’s get our nerd on.

Dr. DeWitt is one of the things that makes the Summit.

WHAT:
Hekaton is memory optimized but durable, very high performance OLTP engine, fully integrated into SQL Server 2014, Architected for modern CPUs. It really is a wicked cool technology. I still don’t by the concept that you don’t need new hardware for this, but that’s not questioning the utility of the functionality.

WHY:
OLTP performance has started to plateau with current technology. The increases in CPU just aren’t going fast enough any more, so they have to find something to figure out how to improve performance. The goal for Hekaton was a 100x improvement. They didn’t make that, but they got between 10x and 30x improvement, which is pretty amazing.

You can’t just pin all tables in performance. Latches for shared data structures are going to hurt. they hit locks for control mechanisms and the execution plans generated won’t be improved.

The implications of a buffer pool are that you get storage over time.

You’ll need to track down the slides to understand some of what I’m saying in this live blogging. It won’t make sense without them.

I found it here

So a query needs a page. It checks for the page. The query gets blocked until the page gets allocated and then it continues from there. But, another query can be blocked by the process coming in. So, they added latches to the pages in the buffer pool. He shows how the latches allow multiple queries to find objects in the pool, but mark them as being used. But this ultimately runs into performance because the shared data structures need latches and they consume time to maintain.

8:55:

You also have to have concurrency control, in short, locking and blocking (you know, the stuff that NOLOCK “fixes”). Jim Gray, mentor to Dr. DeWitt, came up with two phase locking. So a query gets the lock type from the manager and then when a query releases locks, they can be reused. This basically sets up the idea of serial locking to get things done correctly.

When the database lives on disk, the processing time to get a query and create a plan, can be trivial (not always), but if the data is in memory, that becomes way to expensive.

All this is the reason you can’t pin stuff in memory.

Shared data structures have latches. Concurrency control uses two-phase locking. Query plans are through interpretation.

Hekaton, on the other hand, uses Lock-free data structures, meaning no latches. They’ve stopped using locking for concurrency control. They use versions with timestamps + optimistic concurrency control for Hekaton. And queries are actually, literally, compiled into a DLL. That’s right. COMPILED. Queries have been “compiled” into an interpretation layer all this time. Not literally compiled. But, with this, they’re getting turned into DLLs.

There are now three query engines in SQL Server. Relational, Column Store and Hekaton. These are three distinct stacks. Queries can span all three.

9:06: First, you create a “memory optimized” table. That table does have limits (look them up) in structure and data types supported

Second, populate the table, but, you have to make sure that data will absolutely fit in memory. You can put 5gb of data into a system with 2gb of memory. NO PAGING TO DISK. It’s in-memory, right?

Third, run queries, but there are some language restrictions.

9:12: HOW:

Lock Free Data structures. the data structures are truly rocket science. They make query optimization look simple (OW!). These were invented by Maurice Herlihy at Brown University. It’s not really lock-free, but since it’s not about concurrency, it’s about being latch-free. Dr. DeWitt tells us he could explain it in about 30 minutes, but instead we get a demo.

he’s showing that latches slow down more and more as the number of threads hit the system. Yet the lock-free approach actually increases. Then, when updates occur, everything stops until the update completes. The lock-free mechanism doesn’t stop at all. It doesn’t even slow. The lock-free mechanisms took 5 years alone.

Multi version, optimistic, time-stamped concurrency control: The assumption is that conflicts are rare. Transactions are run to “completion” with no locks. Then conflicts are resolved later. Multiversion means that updates create a new version of the row. Each row version has a time range. Transactions use ther being timestamp too select correct version. Timestamps are used to create a total order for transactions to obtain equivalent of a serial order. This reduces the number of threads and that reduction rediuces the likelihood of locking.

Read committed versions start. Updates create new “tentative” vversions and then the DB tracks the rows read, written and scanned. Then updates go through a pre-commit step which gives you validation and then the concurrency control goes through it’s work in post processing.

Timestamps are just counters. So you get begin and end times so you know how to track mechanisms. End times are always unique and that’s how you can manage who goes first in terms of concerency.

So a row gets tagged with a begginning ts and then when it completes a unique end time time stamp. When it starts, you get a new version of the row, with pointers linking the versions of the row. There will be a “magic identifier” assigned from the transaction to the versions of the row. An end time stamp to the older row and now end at all, but a begginning time stampe on the second row. So, this means no latches were used and there were no locks set and there were no blocks of other transactions. This creates the basis of multiversion concurrency control.

So if you have two transactions running concurrently, you’ll see the first transaction create a version of a row with copies and versions. Then a second transaction tries to read the row. If it’s timestamp of the second version which was earlier than the first transaction, it’ll use the older version, because the time stamp of the end time of the second transaction must be later than the current time, because it’s not complete yet.

Yeah, that sounds confusing, but looking at the slides you’ll get it.

Then, a clean up process has to occur. When the begin time stamp of the oldest version in the system ticks past a more recent version, then the older version will get removed. This clean up is cooperative, non-blocking, incremental, parallel and self-throttling.

Each version contains a valid time stamp range. You get transactions through time stamps and versions. Then a transaction will read only versions of rows that valid when time overalps the beginning of the range for a transaction.

THEN, we have to go through Validation.

1. Transaction obtains a unique end time stamp
2. Determine if the transaction can be safely committted
3. Validation steps depend on isolation level (and check the slides for details).

Each version read is checked to see if they’re still “visible” or “valid” at the end of a transaction. This also helps with phantom avoidance. But, everything is in memory and we’re not getting locks, so while expensive, it’s actually still cheaper than the old versions of latching and locking.

Post-processing goes through three phases. You get a log record with all versions of the row and the primary keys of all deleted rows. A single i/o is written to the log. For all rows in the transaction writeset the transaction id is replaced with the end time stamp.

I sort of understand all this. The trick will be to remember it and then learn how to explain it to others.

But, you have to have checkpoints and recovery. Data is stored in the logs during checkpoint operations, roughly the same as normal. Recovery loads the know checkpoints and scans logs to recover all work since then. It has full integration with High Availability.

9:43

Then we got to queries and quer plans. You can run regular queries in what they call interop but you sacrifice performance. Instead, you want to compile it. You get physical plans, kind of the same way as you used to (not quite the same, but I was hitting a snag when he explained that part, check the slides), but then it goes through a translator which generates c code. Evidently, really ugly c code. But then the compilers is called and then you get a DLL. This is 100% totally specific with no functions. Then you get a DLL loaded and invoked. You never recompile that query again.

The number of instructions is interesting. A classic table can take 700 instructions to find a row. With Hekaton, 332 and with a native qp, 75. Even if you don’t find a row, it’s 300, 110 and 31.

Interop can get up to 3x improvement, but there are still language limits. Same issues with native mode, but you 10-30x improvements with that.

Finally, he’s going through a whole bunch of performance improvements by various, REAL, companies using it now.

The whole thing is that memory prices have been declining. We’re seeing lots of CPU cores designed for concurrency, but we’re still hurting from CPUs through the lack of compiled code. But, it’s supported by the hardware trends.

Oct 16 2013

PASS Summit 2013 Day 1 Keynote

I am liveblogging the keynote from the bloggers table at the PASS Summit again this year. Just keep scrolling.

Watching the introduction video as people trickle in. All the other bloggers are setting up. I get in early. I didn’t rearrange the seats this year. I see others doing it now.

8:11: Watching the videos of all the attendees registering and meeting people at the start of the event and last night’s welcome reception is awesome and fun.

8:21: The lights go down and the videos of what everyone is looking forward to at the Summit. In keeping with our location, right next to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, we’ve got a bit of a race theme going on. We’re seeing current PASS President, Bill Graziano having a dream about driving a car. He’s starting off with the list of PASS Board members, just so you know who it is that’s doing the most of the work for this fantastic volunteer run organization.

We’re also getting a listing of the 700K hours of training that have been put together by the PASS Organization.

8:30: We get to find out who the PASSion award winner is. Amy Lewis, who is absolutely an amazing person, is the winner this year. Ryan Adams, sitting right behind me blogging away, was an Honorable Mention Volunteer. Well done Ryan. They also ask you to nominate outstanding volunteers for the year too. Make sure you do. This really is a volunteer run organization, so you need to support the volunteers.

8:37: Quentin Clark takes the stage with a listing of companies that have adopted Azure technologies. If you read my blog, you know it’s one of my passions (although I’m still a query tuning freak). You need to get going with it.

Quentin is starting with the concept of “A story about transformation.” He’s showing how Brick and Mortar and Internet are helping each other, not hurting each other. Integration between the stores and the internet made things better. The comparison is of course aimed at telling the story between on-premises computing and cloud computing. It’s a compelling story. We’re seeing how they’re rolling out a series of software that is available now, or in the very near future, which is different than past key notes where we saw stuff that was coming out “next year” or “real soon.” That’s an awesome approach.

8:49: We’re seeing all kinds of new technology in 2014. They’re not fundamental changes causing a rewrite of technology. Instead they’re additional technologies, updateable column store index and in-memory tables and indexes for OLTP. It’s awesome. It makes it possible to do more, when you need to, rather than only after rewriting your entire app. I think the work they’re doing in Azure is making it possible for them to release more frequently to the on-premises versions without causing breaking changes. It’s a great way to get things done.

8:54: I love the demos when they are more realistic. We can see a 10% improvement on queries, just by using Memory Optimization. They’re also introducing the Native Compilation, which means a true compilation, turning a proc into code on the structure of the SQL Server instance, not simply a query plan stored and accessed in cache. That resulted in another 11X improvement in performance. The issues around this though is that most of this technology is very hardware intensive. You’ll have to have big boxes for this to really help you. So yes, we’re getting great new technology, but you’re only going to be able to really blow it out of the water with other great new technology.

The main points they want to tell us is that it’s built into SQL, which is 100% true. They also want us to know that there is no new hardware needed, which doesn’t make sense. You can’t put stuff in memory without using more memory. It has to impact existing hardware. However, I see the utility of it.

8:59: They’re expanding on the abilities for availability and recovery. Sorry people, but this means taking advantage of additional functionality in Windows Azure. But it works. I’ve seen it in action in production environments. You can set up AlwaysOn secondaries in Windows Azure. You can backup to Windows Azure. It’s not a requirement to migrate your systems out of your environment, but to use the Azure system as your backup and recovery mechanisms.

9:05: They new backup tools are great. From 2014 we get backups that are encrypted without requiring the database to be encrypted. That’s great. They’re also making it so that you get backups that you can automate based on data changes, not just a timing thing. That opens up whole new ways to protect your systems. I’m excited by this stuff. I’m also interested to see that they’re releasing a tool that will let you incorporate backups to the cloud from your 2005, 2008 and 2008 R2 systems, not just 2012 and 2014. That’s great, but it hurts companies like Red Gate that have been offering this as a product to people for years. Ah well.

9:17: Microsoft continues to expand it’s Hadoop offerings supporting it through the desktop and through Azure in HDInsight. Most of this stuff is in preview, but they have people using it in their production environments, so it must be relatively solid. The point is being able to query everything. Not simply this type of query from structured data and this type from nonstructured.

9:28: Mostly talking about BI stuff. I’m glad we’re serving out the data in better and more interesting ways. I just can’t get too excited about it. In the mean time I’m actively configuring a CTP2 of SQL Server 2014 in an Azure VM while the event is going on. People are trying to download it instead of setting up a VM. They’re crazy.

9:45: That was a good key note.

Aug 26 2013

Make the PASS Summit Work For Your Employer

logo_headerIt was pointed out to me that since PASS is such a huge networking event, any employer would be crazy to send a good employee to the event. They’ll just come back and hand in their two weeks notice. You know, that’s entirely possible. But, let’s not confuse networking with job hunting. Funny enough, while I did get my latest job while at the PASS Summit, it wasn’t through the personal network that I had built up over the years of going to, and speaking at, the Summit.

I use that network as an extensive knowledge base. If I have a question about Availability Groups, I have at least three different people I can reach out to. If I get stuck on some internals question, I have other individuals I speak with. I know who to talk to if I get stuck in PowerShell. Think about it. How much more valuable does that make me to an employer? They’re not just hiring me. They’re hiring my network. But that’s only part of how you want to convince your boss to send you to the PASS Summit. Let’s go over a few items that will make it easier for you to convince your employer it absolutely is in their best interest to send you to the PASS Summit.

My Knowledge Base

Maybe this one is obvious, but you should talk to your boss about the addition of more skills to your skill set, an improvement of your overall knowledge and your worth to the company. There is a ton of excellent learning opportunities at the Summit covering the entire length, breadth and depth of SQL Server and it’s attendant products. These sessions are lead by some of the most knowledgeable and skilled people in the industry. Further, they’re practically slavering at the bit to have you ask your difficult question so that they can exercise their skills and expand their knowledge. You can learn more, faster, at the PASS Summit than almost anywhere. That’s going too help your employer because you will be a better employee

Our Current Problem

Just about every year in the 6-8 weeks leading up to the PASS Summit, I would start collecting questions. What particular pain points are we experiencing with the products that I need to grab 10 minutes with a Microsoft engineer to talk about. Oh, didn’t I mention that fact? Yeah, the guys who built the product are frequently at the Summit (although more are there when it’s in Seattle). You can take your immediate problems straight to these people. Further, there’s likely to be an MVP or MCM standing near by who might be able to help out too. Or, you can try the Customer Advisory Team (CAT) who always have a number of representatives there. In short, you can get pretty close to premier support without wasting a premier support ticket.

Our Future Direction

Your company needs to make decisions about future direction. You’ve seen the marketing hype. Now, what do the people who are working with the newest stuff every day have to say? Can you get more information by attending sessions that are not put on by Microsoft on emerging technologies? Yes, frequently, but not always, you can. The PASS Summit is the place to see this. Microsoft doesn’t just develop things and then toss them over the fence to see what works (mostly). Instead, they have companies and individuals working with them all the time to develop new directions for the product. Those people and organizations are frequently at the Summit, displaying new stuff on the vendor floor or giving presentations about the new directions they’re taking the technology. You can get a better understanding if your company’s plans are going to work well going into the future. Even if the plan is best summed up as “We’ll sit on SQL Server 2000 until it rots around our ears.” Others are doing it too. Find out how it’s working out for them.

Our Team Skill Set

Most companies are not going to want to send all of the database development team or DBA team, or development team away for a week. Instead, they’ll send one or two people from each team (maybe less). So your team loses out, right? Wrong. Two things. First, coordinate. Make sure that you cover as many sessions as you possible can. Don’t overlap. When I was working on a team heading to the Summit we would divide up sessions to make sure things got covered that the company needed or that we needed as individuals. While I may want to see speaker X do her session on indexing again, my co-worker has yet to see it, so I’ll send them. And make sure you have a couple of sessions picked for a time period because the session you’re in could be a bad choice. If a session isn’t for you, for any reason, just walk out. Second, teach. You just spent a week getting data dumped into your brain. Teach it to your team. We made a pact that anyone who went off to an event had to present 2-3 sessions to the team from that event. You can even purchase the event DVD and show sessions to your team in meetings.

NOTE: This is not to say, steal these slide decks to become your internal training resource, unattributed to the original presenter. That is a bad thing.

My Retention

Who do you want to work for? The employer that says, “Heck no you can’t go to the PASS Summit. You’ll meet people and figure out that our company stinks and you’ll try to get a new job, or you’ll learn more and be more valuable and we’re not about to raise your pay.” Or, the employer who says, “Yeah, sure you can go this year. Let’s document what you’re going to learn and how it’ll help the company.” OK, it’s not going to be that easy. You may have to agree not to leave the company for a year or something afterwards. Be cautious about exactly what kind of strings get attached, but also be aware of the fact that the company is investing in you and would probably expect to get something for that investment. Just be sure it’s fair to both you and them.

I get it that some employers are smaller and just can’t foot the bill for this. See if they’ll meet you part way. You pay for the trip and lodging and they pay for the Summit, or vice versa. It can also be about timing. You’ve got a major software release that’s going to prevent you from going. I almost missed a Summit myself because of this. It’s just not always possible, but a good employer will find a way to make it possible, occasionally. If there is literally no support, of any kind, ever, you’re either working for a not-for-profit or, maybe, the wrong company.

I’ll Be On Call

Be on call. Carry the laptop with you. Keep your phone charged (ABC = Always be charging). Don’t enjoy the evening festivities too much (and yes, there are parties at the PASS Summit). Be a responsible employee. I’ve had to walk out of great sessions because of calls from the office. I missed half a day because of a failed deployment. But I was online and available, not falling off the face of the planet just because I was at the Summit. Make the commitment to be available as needed by your employer.

My Notes

Take lots and lots and lots of notes. You can type them into OneNote or EverNote or whatever. Or you can scribble them into your tablet or onto notepads. Anything that works. But write stuff down. Write lots of stuff down. Write down what you’re thinking about the information as well as details said by the speaker that may not be visible on slides or in code. Write down what you talked about with that lady from that vendor on the back of their card. Take notes while talking to the Microsoft engineer or CAT member. Then, turn the notes over to your employer. They act as an additional knowledge base about the event. It’s one more resource that you’re bringing back to your team.

Our Swag

Bring home a t-shirt or two for those people who couldn’t go. If there’s a particularly cool piece of swag, give it to the boss or have it as a raffle at the team training event for the best question. Share the stuff you get as well as the information you get. A friend of mine and I once collected 56 t-shirts and a stack of other swag (and had a heck of a time getting it all back on the plane) which we then spent almost two weeks handing out in the office to our team, development teams, managers and systems people, etc. It made us look good and cost us nothing but a little time on the vendor floor. It’s silly, but it works. If nothing else, it shows the boss that you’re thinking about your team and the company while you’re away.

My/Our Network

I talked about it at the beginning of this blog post. Network. That means not being “that person.” That person is the one who comes to the event, shows up for all the sessions, doesn’t ask questions or talk to a single person all day, then leaves and goes to their hotel room (and then usually goes home saying “Wow, that was a waste of my time”). There are large numbers of opportunities to network. Waiting in line to register, turn and talk to someone. Ask questions of the presenter during their session AND follow-up afterwards (although, let them get unplugged and out of the way of the next speaker). Go to the vendor floor where you should talk to the vendors as well as others. Attend the First-Timers event. Go to the Birds of a Feather lunch. Wear a kilt on Day 2 of the Summit (SQL Kilt Day, you’re reading the words of the founder of the event). Attend the Women in Technology Luncheon. Look up and track down all the places where people are getting together and talking. Go to them. Get together. Talk.

I’m an introvert (people laugh when I say it, but it’s true). I recharge with alone time, not at parties. I get it. But the PASS Summit is not recharge time. If you’re not almost literally crawling into the venue on Friday, you’re doing it wrong. The flight home should be the most relaxing plane flight you’ve ever had because you’ll pass out before take-off and wake up when the wheels touch down.

Take the time and trouble to begin to build your network. And remember, a network is not a series of authors or MCMs or MVPs that you can call. It’s a collection of people, some may be presenters/authors/etc., but the best are probably doing the same job you do but for a different organization. Talk to everyone. Build that network.

Conclusion

And that’s all I’ve got. Here is a different view from the PASS organization and another from Steve Jones. Yes, the learning and the networking should be enough for any employer, but these things aren’t always immediately valuable. So, try out some of the other strategies and approaches I mentioned. Explain to the boss this is what you’ll be doing. Come up with a written plan. Then execute that plan at the Summit. Your career is in your hands. You have to decide how and where you’re going to expand it. The PASS Summit is a unique opportunity to do just that, but you may need to convince the boss.

In case it worked, here’s where you go to register. And don’t forget about the free event SQL in the City taking place in Charlotte before the Summit starts.

Aug 19 2013

Azure Changes, While I’m Working

SignInMy laptop is out for repair. I’m working currently on a Surface Pro instead. It’s spurred me to do something I’ve been meaning to do anyway. I’ve started setting up a full demo & testing VM on Azure. I already had the VM up and running (it takes 5 minutes for crying out loud), but I hadn’t bothered setting up Red Gate software on it and getting it fully prepped to support my work, demos, or whatever else I might need. But, I finally did. It’s working out surprisingly well. I just have to remember to shut the silly thing down when I’m done with it or it does start to bite into my MSDN credit. Anyway…

I was working on the VM for a big chunk of the day yesterday. I decided to shut down, so I opened the Management Portal tab on my browser when I saw a message I had never seen before. I didn’t think ahead far enough to get a screen capture, but paraphrasing and probably misquoting, it went something like this:

The Management Portal has been updated. To use the new Management Portal you must refresh your browser

COOL! I thought and clicked the button (then thought of my faithful blog readers, all six of you, Hi Mom!). But too late. I got a new portal that looked… Just like the old one. Luckily for me, Scott Guthrie posted the updates to his blog (subscribe if you haven’t).

Exciting stuff (assuming you read Scott’s blog), especially if you’re looking at Azure VMs as a mechanism for setting up Availability Groups with your on-premises machines. And if you’re not a giant shop that can afford to pay for multiple co-lo hosting systems, why would you not be? But, the really cool bit for me is that I think that’s the first time, that I know of, when I was online, connected, working, and they released an update. It demo’ed for me, in a really small way, how the release of these updates is a rolling thing. Meaning, if I were to immediately go and create a new VM, the functionality described by Scott would be available. But, while I was working, my VM was online, therefore not updated yet. One of two things will happen here. If I had left my server online, when I went back to it, it might be offline, or, have had a reboot event while I was gone because they updated it. Or, while it was offline it would get updated and when I bring it back online, it may need to get rebooted after the updates are applied (a lot like a local machine). Here, I thought ahead. I left the machine off until this morning so I could see if the update was put in place.

The new login screen is WAY too cheery for 6:30AM. Microsoft. Please fix that.

And nothing. No new updates. No indications that any have been applied. Hmmm… Maybe the machine where my server is hosted hasn’t been updated yet. I’ll have to keep an eye on it.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, I need to rebuild my demos and some of my slide deck (again) in preparation for the PASS Summit. Setting up Availability Groups between a local system and an Azure VM is one of the things we’ll be covering in the full day pre-conference seminar. If you’re interested and want to learn about this and a whole lot more about Azure Infrastructure and Platform services as they relate specifically to relational data storage, go here to register.

Let’s just hope there are no more changes to SQL Server in VMs or Windows Azure SQL Database between now and the Summit. Ha! Who am I kidding? They’re updating this platform all the time.

Aug 12 2013

You should NOT attend the PASS Summit

logo_headerIf you asked me, prior to today, if I would type or say those words, I would have laughed right at you.

But then, I saw this question on Ask SQL Server Central. It’s from a college student, not yet twenty-one, who was considering paying his (assuming it’s a guy since their handle is ’Eagle Scout’) own way to the Summit and wondered if it would be worth it. It pains me to say that I suggested that he not do it.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the PASS Summit is probably the single greatest resource you have to advance your career. Where else can you go to get that broad a choice in training? Where else can you go to get that many of the leaders of our industry, specializing in all aspects of SQL Server and the Microsoft stack, sharing their knowledge? Where else can you expect to have extended networking opportunities with those same leaders and all our peers? Easy answer right? Nowhere. It’s a unique place and a unique opportunity. So I’m nuts for telling this guy not to go, right? I don’t think so.

This case is unique. We’re talking about someone who is not yet employed in this industry, still in school, paying their own way out to this event. Not just paying for the event, but for the travel, the lodging, the food… It’s not a small expenditure. In fact, it carries a pretty hefty price tag. Someone in his situation, I couldn’t, in good conscience, recommend it.

What about the rest of you? I’ve heard people say that it costs too much, that it’s not worth it, that you can get the same information for free online, that there are better teachers elsewhere. So you don’t really need to spend the money either, right?

Right. Don’t go. Don’t spend that money. Seriously…

That way, those of us who recognize the unique value this conference offers will have a major leg-up on the rest of you in the job market. Not that there aren’t jobs enough for everyone. But the better jobs, the exciting and interesting jobs, those are going to go to people who are investing in their future by learning more, networking more and striving to achieve more. In short, the PASS Summit attendees who show up and take part. I can’t tell you how many people I know that are currently working at what they consider to be their dream job that point to the PASS Summit as the single biggest factor in landing that job. I do.

Stay home. Read a few blog posts. Don’t bother networking through events like SQL Saturday or your local user group. Certainly don’t travel to Charlotte and sit through sessions by industry leaders in order to ask them engaging and pertinent questions that will immediately help you improve on your company’s bottom line by improving the speed, safety or accessibility of its data. Save that money. Save that time. After all, you’re already in your dream job. Right?

Jul 01 2013

Getting Started With SQL Server 2014 the Easy Way

You know you want to at least take a look at the new Client Technology Preview (CTP) of SQL Server 2014. I don’t blame you either. I want to spend hours swimming through it too. But, you’re thinking to yourself, “Heck, I’d have to download the silly thing, provision a new VM, walk through the install… Nah. Too much work.” I don’t blame you. I found myself on the road the day the software was released, so I was going to attempt to do all that work on a hotel wireless system. In short, I was going to have to wait, no options. Or were there? Actually, there is a much easier option. Azure Virtual Machines.

And no, it’s not that I can simply get a Windows Azure VM ready to go faster than I can a local one (and, depending on just how I set up and maintain my local servers, that might be true). No, it’s that I can immediately get a copy of SQL Server 2014, no download required. It’s that I can, within about five (5) minutes have a server up and running with SQL Server 2014 installed and ready to go. How? Microsoft maintains a gallery of images for quick setups of Azure Virtual Machines. A couple of those images include SQL Server 2014.

VMIcon

To get started on this, and not pay a penny, you need to make sure that you pass the MSDN permissions listed at that link. I know that some people won’t, and I’m sorry. However, get your MSDN subscription set up and link it to an Azure account, then you’re ready to go. Throughout this post, I’ll refer to paying for Azure, if you’re running through MSDN, just insert, “using up my credits” for “paying” and it should all make sense.

First, click on the Virtual Machines icon.

VMNewThis will show a list of VMs on your account, if any. We’re going to add one, so we’ll click on the little plus sign in the lower left corner of your screen.

Clicking on the New button gives you options. Reading the screen you can tell that you have a list of different services that you can add; Compute, Data Services, App Services, Networks and Store. By default, if you’ve opened this listing from the VM list, you’re going to already have Compute selected. That provides a second list of options; Web Site, Virtual Machine, Mobile Service and Cloud Service. Again, if you’ve opened these options from the VM list you’re going to have the Virtual Machine selected. If not, make sure that is what gets selected. The final two options you have are Quick Create and From Gallery. For our purposes we’re going to use the Gallery, but let me first tell you what the difference here is. Your licenses for SQL Server, Windows Server, and most Microsoft products (so far as I know) are transferable between Azure and your on-premises machines. This means you can create an empty virtual machine on Azure and then load your software on to it. You don’t pay additional licensing fees. But, you can also use the images on the Gallery. Here you can set up a VM for whatever is listed and you get those machines and their software for additional cost, but no additional license required. In short, you can pay a little bit more to get access to SQL Server or what have you without having to buy an additional license. It’s a great deal.

VMOptions

Worry about paying for it all later. We’re going to click on the From Gallery selection. This opens up a new window showing all the different possibilities you have for your VMs. You can install anything from Ubuntu to Sharepoint to several different flavors of SQL Server. You can even add your own HyperV images to this listing (although that does mean paying for licensing on any created VMs). Scroll down until you see SQL Server 2014 CTP1. On my listing currently, there are two copies. One that runs on Wndows Server 2012 and one that runs on Windows Server 2012 R2. If you want a Start button on your screen, pick the second one. You’ll then be walked through the wizard to get this thing created. Click on the right arrow at the bottom of the screen after selecting a VM.

VMGallery

Now you need to supply a machine name. It needs to unique within your account. You’ll also have to pick the size of machine you want. This, and the size of the data you store, is what you pay for. You’ll need to decide how you want to test 2014, small or large. For my simple purposes, exploring 2014, I’m going with Medium. That currently means 2 cores and 3.5gb of memory. You can go all the way up to 8 cores and 56gb of memory, but you will be paying for that, just so we’re clear. You also have to create a user and password for the system. Strict password rules are enforced, so you’ll need a special character and a number in addition to your string.

vmStep2

You need to configure how this machine will behave on the network. You need to supply it with a DNS name, your storage account, and your region. I would strongly recommend making sure that your servers and your storage are all configured for exactly the same region. Otherwise, you pay extra for that extra processing power. Also, you may see somewhat slower performance.

VMStep3

Finally you have to, if you want to, add this server to an Availability Group. For our test purposes we’ll just leave that set to None. But, you can make this a part of an AG in Azure or with a mixed hybrid approach as an async secondary with your on-premises servers. Oh yes, the capabilities are pretty slick. I would suggest also leaving PowerShell remoting enabled so that you can take advantage of all that will offer to you in terms of managing your VMs and the processes running within them.

VMStep4

VMCreatingClick on the check mark and you’re done. You’ll go back to the VM window and at the bottom of the screen you’ll see a little green icon indicating activity. It will take about five minutes for your VM to complete. While it’s running, you can, if you choose, watch the process, but it’s a bit like watching paint dry. You’ll see the steps it takes to create your machine and provision it with the OS and SQL Server version you chose.

Once it’s completed, you’ll have a VM with a single disk, ready to go. But, you need to connect to it. Remember that user name and password? We’re going to use that to create a Remote Desktop connection to the server. When the process is completed, the server will be in a Running state. Click on that server in the Management Portal and click on the Dashboard selection at the top of the screen. This will show you some performance metrics about the machine and, at the bottom, give you some control over what is happening. The main thing we’re looking for is the Connect button.

VMConnectClick on that button. You will download an RDP file from the Azure server. Open that file (and yes, your system may give you security warnings, click past them) and you’ll arrive at a login screen, configured for your Azure account. That’s not what you want. Instead, you’re going to click on “Use another account.” Then, in that window type in your machine name and user name along with the password. Once you click OK, you’ll be in an RDP session on your SQL Server 2014 CTP1 VM. Have fun!

VMRDP

Remember, you can stop the VM when you’re not using and you stop paying for it (or, using up your MSDN credits). Just go to the dashboard and use the “Shut Down” option at the bottom of your screen.

If you found this useful and you’d like to learn a lot more about the capabilities of using Azure within your environment, I’d like to recommend you sign up for my all day pre-conference seminar at PASS 2013 in Charlotte. I’ll cover this sort of thing and one heck of a lot more about the future of being a DBA working in the hybrid environment of Azure and on-premises servers.

May 22 2013

PASS Summit 2013 is Looking Cloudy

No, this isn’t some complaint about PASS or the Summit. This is an announcement that not only will I be speaking at the PASS Summit, but I’m speaking about Azure… a lot.

First up, I’m going to be doing an all-day pre-conference seminar specifically aimed at getting you into Azure. No, I don’t want you to drop your on-premise databases and infrastructure. Are you nuts? No, wait, you think I am. OK, fair point. But what I actually want you to realize is that some pieces of your work are better done in the cloud. There are all kinds of terribly fun and cool things you can get done there, as an addition to your existing infrastructure. There are way, way too many things that are better done locally to ever think you’d move it all away from the iron that you control. No, I want you to learn how to be a better DBA/database developer/developer/architect. That’s what this session is all about. The title is: Thriving as a DBA in the World of Cloud & On-Premise Data.

Then, in a spotlight session, I’ll show how to get into query tuning when you’re working with Windows Azure SQL Database. Things there are just a little different. But, here’s the coolest thing, query tuning is more important than ever. You can literally save your company money by tuning queries. This session is: Query Performance Tuning for Azure SQL Database.

In addition to that, I’m going to co-present with Dandy Weyn in a regular session to try, again, to show you that the hybrid approach is absolutely the best choice for the future. Dandy and I will be having a good time presenting: Being the DBA of the future – a world of on-premise and cloud.

Finally, I’m taking part in a professional development session all about working from home. As cool and wonderful as it sounds, it’s actually not that easy to do and do well. Not only do you have to keep your boss happy and deliver what’s needed to keep your job, but you have to keep your spouse and family happy. You might also want to try to keep yourself (mostly) sane.  Best of all, I’m part of a great team presenting this: Thomas LaRockKaren LopezSteve JonesErin StellatoKevin KlineAndy LeonardAaron Bertrand

Check out the full listing of sessions for the PASS Summit. It’s going to be a fantastic event. And, we’re going to be on the East Coast this time, so if you’ve been hesitant to go in the past because of the cost & time to travel, this is your opportunity to go in your own back yard.