January 2013 Spotlight: Mark Broadbent

What’s clustering expert and new member of the PASS UK Regional Mentor team Mark Broadbent most excited about in the world of data, user groups, SQLSaturdays, and gadgets? His answers might surprise you.

Tell us about your life with SQL Server – what are you doing now, and what path did you take to your current position?
Database technology and, in particular, SQL Server have played a very big part of my life. In 1992, I had my first real introduction to relational database systems. Back then, I was exposed to dBASE and Oracle, and in 1994 implemented the former as a high-speed, low-cost staging area for reporting.

The original source system, running on a Siemens Mainframe, would process the company’s reporting batch jobs overnight, spooling them onto the printers. Not only was this system very slow and prone to serious hiccups should a queued job get stuck, the report writing was an absolute nightmare, requiring a detailed knowledge of the underlying storage structures and relationships – including an excellent grip of the BASIC report writing language. The staging implementation took daily incremental loads from this source system, and all reports were rewritten in dBASE, reducing report generation exponentially and, since they could now be viewed electronically, improving productivity and slashing costs.

By 1997, while working at the headquarters of a large FTSE 100 company, I was using SQL Server (6.5) for the first time and inherited a document archiving and retrieval system known as PCDocs Open, which stored electronic scans of the entire corporate documentation. About a year later, I managed to sneak myself onto a beta-release training course for SQL Server 7.0 and was blown away by its improvements (essentially a product rewrite) and realized that this product was going to have a very big future in the industry – and hopefully in my life.

Unfortunately, by 1999 I had inherited yet another SQL Server 6.5 system at another company, except this time, SQL Server was clustered on NT 4.0. My experience with that system really laid the foundation for my strong clustering skills today. I have gone on to install many failover clusters of various types and sizes through all versions of SQL Server and Windows and am very passionate (and at times defensive :) about the technology.

I’m now an independent consultant for my company, SQLCloud, which provides many different services and solutions, including AlwaysOn failover clustering and Availability Group implementations, migrations, mentoring, and support.

What excites you in today’s data world?
Having read the above, you may expect me to say AlwaysOn Availability Groups. And whilst it is an exciting development, I believe the technology has a ways to go before I'll be totally happy with its implementation. That said, with AGs being a V1 release, Microsoft has done a good job.

However, looking at the present and toward the future, there are several areas I’m very keen on. First, Microsoft's adoption and integration with (and support of) Hadoop really excites me. I think big data solutions are still in their infancy, and with the exponential growth of data, even more efficient solutions need to be found – which can only be exciting for us all.

Of late, I’ve also been looking at Parallel Data Warehouse. I’ve been very skeptical about PDW until recently, but I’m impressed with what PDW is starting to deliver and what is coming. The PolyBase technology slated for release in the next version of PDW, for instance, allows the integration of data stored in Hadoop's Distributed File System to be queried using T-SQL and even joined with native relational tables, providing a far more efficient use of Hadoop integration. PDW also marks the arrival of “updatable” columnstore indexes, addressing what was a massive limitation of the technology. Still, there are several key areas Microsoft needs to address to improve PDW adoption – and let’s face it, adoption will ultimately dictate its survival.

I’m also starting to warm to Microsoft's cloud-based database offerings and think a huge amount of progress has been made over the last few years. Yes, it’s true, I’m a convert. But I think professionals and end users alike are still confused by Microsoft’s re-branding, multiple offerings, and a slight lack of clarity in several areas. Without a doubt, Azure will become a huge success, but Microsoft needs to address some of these issues to accelerate adoption.
 
And this reply wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the very exciting new Hekaton in-memory database technology. I'm excited about what it could mean for existing underused database technologies such as StreamInsight, but more importantly, I'm intrigued by the way it changes SQL Server concurrency control, another subject I am hugely interested in.

As leader of SQLCambs – the Cambridgeshire SQL Server User Group – what’s on your wish list for 2013?
Without a doubt, at the top of my 2013 wish list is ensuring that we forward plan and implement meetings far more efficiently – at least 6 months out. Setting up our meetings often seems like a last-minute affair, which isn’t good for anyone. There are some challenges to address for us to make this happen, but once we’re working ahead, I’m confident the group can go from strength to strength.

I also would love to get a couple of my favorite UK speakers who haven't yet spoken at the user group. We are very lucky in the UK that we have a large number of SQL Server experts, many of whom are some of the best in the world. Having such fantastic speakers regularly at our user groups and events is a great benefit. So if you’re reading this, please keep your calendars open, guys and gals!

You served as event lead of the successful SQLSaturday #162 Cambridge in September, the UK's first and only SQLSaturday to date. What’s one thing you’d definitely do again?
Running SQLSaturday Cambridge was probably one of the most amazing, challenging, tiring, and rewarding experiences of my entire SQL community involvement. Not only was it unclear to many people whether a SQLSaturday in the UK could really work, but with a million and one other things that could go wrong, through the efforts of a great team, I think we managed to pull off an absolutely amazing and unforgettable event. The UK now has two SQLSaturdays already scheduled for 2013 in Exeter and Edinburgh – and Cambridge is hopefully joining the mix very soon.

It’s hard to put my finger on the one thing I would definitely do again, because I feel that organizing a SQLSaturday needs to be slightly elastic. Although something worked really well one time, the dynamics of a different event may preclude you from repeating it, and just because an idea worked really well the first time doesn't guarantee it will again. It’s a bit like organizing your cupboards: the perfect configuration can never be achieved, but we will have fun trying different ways. :)

That said, I will try persuade my wife, Lorraine, to project manage the event again. She did an excellent job, and having somebody in close proximity who you talk to daily – and who isn’t afraid to argue or discuss issues with you – is incredibly useful. Assembling a really strong team for the event is also key to success. Without the help of Mark Pryce-Maher, John Martin, Kevin Chant, Gavin Campbell, and of course Lorraine, we could not have achieved what we did.

One of the greatest things about SQLSaturdays is that whilst PASS (or should say “Karla and Niko”? ) provides support and guidance, you are essentially in charge of what you deliver in the event. This means every event is its own unique brand and has its own unique character.

You’re an avid blogger and Twitter (@retracement) and LinkedIn user – what would you tell database pros who aren’t on social media?
It’s difficult for someone who isn’t blogging or using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Yammer, or many other forms of social media to really understand this until they actually start using them, but my statement is this: If you don't see the point of using social media, then you don't know what you are missing. If you ARE using social media and you still don't see the point, then you are doing it wrong!

Let me just qualify that statement by saying that each social media platform has its own “personality” and purposes and different people use them differently. Just because you use one social platform doesn't mean you have to use (or have a need to use) another, but you should keep an open mind about each one.

For example, for a long time, I didn't see the point of making 144- character status updates to a handful of Twitter followers – which let’s face it, is probably how we all start off using it. Then as you start to talk to like-minded tweeps, share ideas, help with questions, etc. (and do so a very high speed), you start to see its usefulness. You can go to any SQL Server conference and get talking to someone for 5 minutes; it takes a matter of seconds to "get connected" by following them on Twitter. It is a modern-day address book without the uncomfortable rejection. :)

Facebook was a similar experience for me. I really hated Facebook, having done the usual “getting connected to old school friends who I hadn’t seen for 30 years and had nothing in common with” thing. Then one day I decided to use Facebook as another professional social media platform and started connecting with SQL friends and acquaintances. Suddenly I saw the light... I was now connected to people who I was actually interested in and who I saw on a regular basis. And I get to see all the photos people take at various SQL and technical events – even once in a while, pics of Jason Strate dressed up as a unicorn.

Congratulations on your new role as a PASS Regional Mentor for the UK. What’s on your “first things to do” list in support of SQL Server communities your region?
Thank you very much! As an avid PASS follower since the early days of the organization, it is a very proud moment for me. In 2010, I finally fulfilled my ambition to visit the Summit and was blown away with it all. Now you guys won’t be able to get rid of me.

One of the first things for me to do in the RM role is to take a good look at what is really needed in our region. But there are a couple of things I’m currently interested in. The first is promoting PASS in our region. I suspect that if a survey was taken of the entire population of SQL Server professionals in the UK, only a small percentage would have even heard of PASS as an organization (as amazing as that may seem to some of us). How can we reach these people, what does PASS offer them, and for the user groups, why should they become PASS chapters? These are all questions that need to be answered.

Secondly, I am passionate about the SQLSaturday concept. But here in the UK, we also have a very vibrant community putting on non-PASS affiliated SQL events. As someone who is also a big supporter of our excellent SQLBits conference and several other SQL events, I think it’s important that we are able to support each other’s efforts and help each other grow. This is obviously challenging due to the finite sponsor pot and number of days in a year, but I think we can all live together, and I would love to see even more SQLSaturdays in the UK over time.

As a 2011 Microsoft Community Contributor and a frequent event speaker, what are the hottest topics/most frequent questions in the SQL Server community right now?
With the advent of SQL Server 2012, I am starting to see and receive more and more questions about Availability Groups and its pre-requisite, Windows Clustering. There is an awful lot of misunderstanding about this technology, and I worry that companies are going to start implementing it in the wrong fashion for the wrong reasons. But the interest is most certainly there.

I’ve also been doing my bit to promote SQL Server running on Windows Server Core, having presented on the subject at multiple places around the world, and now with the release of Windows 2012, I’m seeing strong interest in the subject. I suspect that the year ahead is going to see an even greater demand in that topic, since many companies will be planning and executing their upgrade strategies to SQL Server 2012.

What’s your favorite resource at work? How about your must-have gadget?
That's a difficult one, but I would have to say my favorite resource is a fantastic product called VirtualBox, which I’ve used for a very long time for virtualization. Having the ability to implement pretty much nearly any database and operating system configuration within a safe virtualized environment (which isn't going to take down my primary operating system) is absolutely priceless. Did I mention the product is free?

As for my favorite gadget, I nearly said my original-design Samsung S2 Android phone, which not only looks beautiful but has absolutely everything I could ever possibly want in a mobile phone (and serves as a wireless access point when I’m consulting). But then I remembered my Leatherman Wave knife and realized that my S2 cannot uncork a bottle of red wine or take the tops off bottles of Cider. Without a doubt, my Leatherman wins this battle hands down.

What you like to do when you're not working or focused on the SQL Server community?
Outside the world of SQL Server, I have two amazing children who I regard as my greatest ever achievement – although my wife would probably suggest she played a bigger part in their creation. I love Andy Leonard's introduction to his presentations, where he gives his children and grandchildren version numbers. In those terms, I would definitely say Version 2.1 and 2.2 are big improvements on Version 1.2 (me :). I love listening to many different types of music but am partial to Classic Rock and the Blues and love discovering new artists and albums. I also love traveling and seeing new places, and presenting around the world gives me a great excuse to do so.

“If I weren’t a technologist, I would be…”
Formula One World Champion (you never know!).

What does community mean to you?
Community is probably one of the most important assets we have in the world of SQL Server. It provides us with not only a chance to share and learn but also to socially connect with like-minded people and make friends around the world. Community does not grow overnight, and I believe the more you contribute, the more you receive and the more difference you can make. You cannot put a value on real friendships, and in those terms, the community has made me very rich. 


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