The time to sit on the fence is almost over

It's almost here!! I am already in Seattle and the wonderful folks from PASS HQ are due to arrive in Seattle today to oversee the final onsite preparations. Tomorrow morning, the eco-friendly canvas bags will start getting stuffed with goodies and on Sunday the actual signs and registration booths will be put up. The various staff members will have their pep talk and briefings and will be all ready - just in time for the first attendee to arrive at 4:00pm and register.

I had already mentioned that this was going to be the greatest PASS summit yet. It will also be the largest summit in terms of attendees and registration. I have been watching the registration numbers grow rapidly in the last few weeks. You will hear all the actual numbers and statistics in Wayne's keynote, but suffice to say - we have far exceeded all previous registration numbers by a huge margin. I believe that Kevin is going to mention something about it in his blog. Keep an eye out. You can truly expect one of the best summit experiences till date. Even the level of excitement around this summit within Microsoft is tremendous. The entire SQL Server Product group is prepping to make this summit a truly memorable experience. If you are attending the summit, you can be rest assured that you will leave on Friday with a lot more knowledge, information and new friends and great memories. If you have not yet decided remember that we still have the $1595 rate through the 18th for online registrations and a couple of our summit hotels are still honoring the discounted PASS rate.

Yesterday, we had a board meeting where we voted on the election slate to fill the 3 board positions that are up for elections. We have a very strong slate of candidates this year. I am truly excited at the skills each of these candidates will bring to the PASS board and the organization. Check out the PASS site for more information. The information will get posted today and if you are an eligible voting member, you will get your ballot by email. Watch out for the ballots.

Lastly, if you are packing for the summit, remember your umbrellas and warm jackets. Late last night when I got to my car which was sitting in an open parking lot on Microsoft campus, there was frost on my car!

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SQL Server Heroes Unite

You probably already know all about the theme that we have for the upcoming PASS Summit - next week! This is our first true summit with a unique theme. The theme will be a prominent part of the Summit experience. I quickly wanted to give you a sneak peek at the registration area that will welcome attendees to the summit. Expect a Heroes welcome and see you at the summit next week.

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Getting ready for a great PASS Summit

Of late, I have been witnessing an absolutely un-precedented flurry of activities at PASS HQ, signaling the arrival of the Summit. All the months of planning, preparation, conference calls, pouring over budgets and late nights all lead to what will be the largest and best SQL Server Event in PASS history! I cannot share the numbers just yet - you will probably need to wait to witness it first hand at the summit or read my blog posting during the summit :) I am getting in on Saturday and my calendar has already been filling up. I have heard from so many of you who are attending the summit - I can hardly wait to meet you!

There are just so many exciting things planned for the summit. All the way from all the new announcements that PASS will make at the summit (hint: some are related to technology!), to things we intend to do during the summit to enhance summit goers experience. You are sure to witness a new PASS! Oh - don't forget to wake up early on Thursday morning and get to the keynote in time - least you miss my debut on the big stage! I am still debating on whether I will keep my beard or shave it for the keynote! http://picasaweb.google.com/v.renuka/SQLSATURDAYEventPictures#5256669173615220882 - what do you think?

I also just completed my slides for a case study that I am presenting during Erik Veerman's keynote on Designing, Planning, and Tuning a Scalable BI Solution. I will be talking about a scale-out SSIS solution that I built at Microsoft recently.The session I am most looking forward to, is the volunteer session on Tuesday morning. This is an opportunity to get valuable input from all the wonderful and dedicated PASS volunteers to help drive the direction of PASS. I also heard through the grapevines that the SIG Bowl preparations are going very well. You will have to be at the welcome reception to be part of the action. I have thoroughly enjoyed the SIG bowl in the past. I am sure that you have heard of the Thursday evening Heroes party - I was reviewing some of the plans for that event and I must say - I am very excited and looking forward to it. Don't miss it.

Talking of activities, we will also have elections happening at the summit for open board positions. Look out for your ballot in your email. I assure you that this election process is much less stressful than the recent presidential elections - unless of course the candidates try to BLOCK the others - but then I am sure that our SQL experts know how to deal with it! 

Oh - another bit of news - PASS recently hired a full-time IT  person - David Yang and Monday was his first day! His first task - ... oh I can't tell you just yet. Stay tuned...

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The value of good education during tough economic times

As companies look at the events of the past 3 weeks on Wall Street and in Washington, they have to be reasonably concerned about the future, but more importantly about how to ride out the current economic challenges. Innovation and a strong vision are the key factors to survival in these tough times. South West Airline is a company that has over the past few years done better that most of its competitors in customer satisfaction and growth mainly due to a culture of innovation and good foresight.
 
It got me thinking about how most companies, in touch economic times, cut back on probably the most vital need in IT - and that is quality training / education. I say that this is vital because technology changes rapidly, both software and hardware and more and more organizations rely on IT to provide them the competitive business edge, one that is even more critical in tough economic times. Good training is one where you learn the skills far beyond the basics. You learn not just the different ways to implement a technology, but you learn the best way to implement it. You are able to draw from the experiences of people who have spent years finding the best way to implement a technology and also learnt of ways not to do it. The risk of not learning these best practices and techniques is that developers often learn by trial and error over long periods of time. This impacts IT productivity and can also often lead to solutions that fail to meet business needs. To give an example, SQL Server Integration Services is a relatively new technology that has been widely adopted by a large number of organizations. Most organizations that have implemented it have used it in the most basic form. This means that there is no good framework that has been implemented to centrally manage and monitor these packages and the underlying configurations. As a result, when something fails, it often takes up a good percent of someone's time to troubleshoot and manage. A good framework can mitigate that. Unfortunately, a good ETL framework is something that takes significant amount of experience and knowledge to design and implement correctly. Wouldn't it be great if you could go to a session where you learnt about how to implement that framework? Done right, you would end up freeing up support resources and simplify development of packages - all leading to lower IT cost. Also, equally important in this era of compliance, companies cannot afford to have lax processes and security that can compromise their systems and data. For consulting organizations, the upside to a well educated team that can understand and implement best practices is that it leads to better customer satisfaction and a competitive edge with new customers.
 
This is where a conference like the upcoming PASS Summit can play a vital role in providing that competitive edge. This is a once a year opportunity to learn from over 100 expert speakers who have an average of 8 - 10 years of experience in SQL Server product. The price you pay for this education is very small when compared to the price of hiring and managing additional resources to build and support IT. The other advantage of the PASS summit is the networking. Begin able to network with peers in the industry means that you have someone to reach out to outside your organization to ask questions rather than spending countless hours trying to figure out the answer. At PASS, you also have the opportunity to discuss specific problems with top industry experts and get solutions. I am sure that a number of you have had to call into your premier support to identify and fix some problems. At PASS, the same team (CSS Team) will be onsite not only teaching how to troubleshoot, but will also for the first time, host a CSS First Aid area where you can bring in your specific problems and get them solved at no extra cost!
 
When you consider the cost of the summit, the travel and expenses and the lost opportunity costs, I truly believe that it would pale in comparison to the value and the longer-term savings that your organization would derive from the summit. Also, the learning and education does not stop when the convention center lights turn off. Most of the regular conference sessions are recorded and made available to attendees - that's access to over 150 hours of deep technical training. So, attendees can revisit sessions they attended, or look at the sessions that they could not attend. Don't miss the opportunity to participate in this unique conference and gain a competitive edge.

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Winds of Change

Welcome to the new site! The site is part of a large transformation that PASS undertook just over 2 years back to change the way in which we facilitate sharing of thoughts, ideas and support among the community. Since the first conference in 1998, the PASS summit has been the largest global summit put together by the community to facilitate high quality education and networking. Many many members of the SQL Server community have contributed to our successes and ultimately, you, the community are the benefactors of the efforts of your peers. PASS now has a robust and a rapidly growing network of chapters around the world and is now poised to support a lot more educational events in your local communities.

Our new website now allows PASS to be a true year-round community to connect people from different parts of the globe to benefit from each others knowledge, ideas and experience. This is our first major release and we are looking forward to putting more tools at your disposal that will allow you to get information and share knowledge.

So, check out everything that we have already posted on the site including many of the articles that were published in SQL Server Standard managazine, read and contribute to our Wiki White Papers and also check out PASSTips. There are also over 200 hours of recorded summit sessions posted on this site under Summit On Demand that you can access.

One of the biggest changes we have made at PASS with the launch of the new site, is suspending paid membership so that we can allow the entire community to participate in sharing knowledge. I encourage you to start participating in the site, write articles and submit recorded PASSTips, check out the different events happening across our community as well as provide us feedback on new features and changes you would like to see on this site to better support you in using Microsoft SQL Server. Keep returning back to the site to see new information and functionality that will continue to be released and also please encourage your collegues to sign up for their free membership to your organization.

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Test-driving SQL Server 2008 features

Over the past few months, in partnership with MaximumASP and DELL, PASS has provided a public beta environment that has allowed thousands of people from the community to try out features of the latest SQL Server 2008 CTP's in a secure online environment without the overhead of creating personal environments to test drive these features. This beta site also has the advantage of staying updated with the latest versions of the product and is currently using the RTM build of SQL Server.

If you have not already tried SQL Server 2008 features, I encourage you to visit http://www.sqlserverbeta.com and try out SQL Server 2008 features for free. On the site, you will also find valuable resources that allow you to learn how to use some of those new features.

SQL Server Beta is one of the many free resources that PASS is committed to providing to the SQL Server community.

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Something to Look Forward to: A Unique SQL Server Conference

A short while back Mosha wrote an interesting blog entry putting together a comparison between the upcoming MS BI conference and the 2008 PASS Summit. This comparison was based on the information that was publicly available at the time.  It got me thinking about the upcoming 2008 PASS Summit and the attendee experience planned. I realize that there is a lot of the summit experience that is still under planning or not fully confirmed and so, not communicated out. So, I am going to try in this blog.

When I look at my own reasons for attending conferences in the past, 3 things come to mind - Networking, experience and education, in that order, although, I can see why most companies tend to decide on which conference to send employees to based on mainly the education aspect of a conference. So, I will talk about that aspect of the PASS summit first.

The Education

The PASS summit has over 150 deep technical session (including 14 deep dive pre-conference seminars) dedicated to SQL Server. There is something (or a lot) for everyone to learn. You will have a chance to learn from the experience of your peers in the community based on real facts and implementations – not the marketing spin. You will learn what works and what doesn’t work in a real-life implementation and you will learn best-practices. No other conference can claim to offer that depth of technical training. The summit also features a complete track (12 sessions) dedicated to best practices and implementation that is being delivered by the SQL CAT team. The PASS summit is also quite unique from any other conference that you may attend, in the diversity of speakers. Most other conferences generally have just a few expert speakers delivering multiple sessions. PASS has, at last count, 104 speakers delivering over 150 sessions! These speakers are not only industry experts and Microsoft product group members, but also our peers who have learnt in the trenches and are willing to share their experiences. This is one summit where you can come in and not only learn from others, but share your own experiences.

Speaking of education, the PASS summit also features a Lounge which will contain a theater where experts will conduct chalk-talks in an interactive environment. Additionally, there will be hands-on labs where you will be able to learn how to use new features in SQL Server 2008, including Business Intelligence.

All this great educational opportunity at the PASS summit certainly begs the question for Business Intelligence professionals about which conference to attend. If Mosha’s full day pre-conference session on Deep dive into MDX is not enough of a reason to attend the PASS summit, you should make PASS your summit choice if you are a BI professional that interacts with the SQL Server product stack or manages and administers Business Intelligence components in your organization. Some of the sessions we have include “Building a 100TB+ Scientific Data Warehouse” by Michael Thomassy, “Collecting Analysis Services Performance Data by using Management Data Warehouse, SQL Profiler, and AS DMVs in SSAS 2008” by Carl Rabeler, “Integrating Predictive Analysis throughout the Data Lifecycle” by Donald Farmer and “High Performance Data Warehouses in SQL Server 2008” by Erin Welker. I have in the past 2 weeks spoken to a number of Business Intelligence professionals and colleagues and a large number of them are planning on attending the PASS summit and many have also indicated interest in Mosha’s pre conference seminar! So, register before space fills up.

The Experience

This is the official Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Re-Launch Event! A target attendance of over 3000 professionals makes the upcoming PASS summit the largest global gathering of SQL Server professionals under one roof and a high-energy event you wouldn’t want to miss. Attendees will include a few hundred members of the SQL Server product development team from Microsoft who will not only be interacting and speaking with attendees, but also attending the sessions and in some cases providing perspective on the design aspects of certain features. More importantly they will be listening to your experiences and pain points so that they can enhance the product.

Also attending will be top experts from the community including SQL Server MVP’s who will be delighted to spend time answering your technical questions and helping solve those problems that have been plaguing you, at our Ask the Experts lounge. In fact, I am sure that many of your favorite bloggers will be at the summit looking forward to meeting you in person. One of the frequent feedbacks we have received from attendees in the past is that a few minutes of face-to-face time with one of the experts helping them solve their persistent problems have paid for the summit costs many times over. How’s that for value! We are also expecting over 200 Microsoft employees who design, build and manage SQL Server solutions and databases within Microsoft. So, this is an opportunity to find out how they “eat their own dog food”!

Speaking of designing, building and managing solutions and databases, the summit will also feature the largest gathering of vendors dedicated to making products and solutions that allow you to extend your investments in the SQL Server product. You can learn about all these different (and some new) offerings and also compare them under one roof! One of our Platinum Sponsor this year is DELL and I am certain that you will hear about some of their Database solutions for SQL Server. This year, PASS will also (potentially) feature a new and exciting Lounge experience which I cannot talk about yet as details are not finalized – but you can expect to hear about it soon. You surely don’t want to miss finding out all about them!

Part of the summit experience also includes discounted onsite certification exams where you can get certified in SQL Server 2008 product, participate in Microsoft focus groups and buy books at a discount from the book store.

There will also be some very exciting announcements from Microsoft during keynotes featuring top Microsoft SQL Server Management executives, Ted Kummert, Tom Casey and David DeWitt. Ted will provide a sneak peek at the future of SQL Server and Microsoft’s data platform and discuss the latest release of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and new technologies debuting in the short-term, as well as reveal plans for long-term technology developments that will change the data platform landscape. Tom will discuss the overall strategy, design, development and delivery of the Microsoft business intelligence platform with SQL Server 2008 and beyond, while David is expected to discuss his vision for the evolution of the database and Microsoft’s role in changing the face of data management.

For many of us, who are managing mission critical systems back at work, being disconnected from the office is not an option, the venue features a number of internet stations and free wireless connectivity throughout the summit venue so that you can check on your emails and the health of your servers while on-site.

This PASS summit also provides you some opportunity for relaxation and fun. Starting from our Heroes Unite theme, which will enhance your onsite experience, to the parties that we have planned for you (the Welcome reception on Tuesday, Expo Hall reception on Wednesday and a “signature” evening event on Thursday that you don’t want to miss), you are sure to have a blast! We are also hosting the SQL Heroes contest that you have an opportunity to participate in. Additionally, there might be opportunities to attend other vendor sponsored parties. Be sure to walk through the Expo hall and talk to vendors to find out more.

The Networking

Now, this is why I attend the PASS summit. This is my opportunity to get to meet and know my peers and make friends, getting to know people who I can reach out to long after the summit. PASS is where I first met Kevin Kline, Wayne Snyder, Peter DeBetta, Fernando Guerrero, Kirk Haselden and a host of other community leaders who I now consider good friends. These networking opportunities are everywhere at the PASS summit starting from the welcome reception and stretching all throughout the summit, whether at the Lounge, trade-show floor, at one of the various parties or just out in the halls. I encourage all of you to take maximum advantage of this great opportunity to get to know your peers.

It all adds up to real Value!

The education and experience I described above is just a small part of the overall summit experience. The value that this summit provides you reaches far beyond the on-site experience. For example, many of the break-out sessions are recorded and available to all attendees online after the summit. This allows you to review those sessions that you could not personally attend because of the sheer amount of session choices in each time slot. You also have the opportunity to purchase a DVD of the sessions so that you can watch it at your leisure. Many of our speakers are also readily accessible to you. So, you can contact them with specific questions on their sessions even after the summit.

You should register now to reserve your seat at the summit before it potentially sells out due to on-site capacity constraints this year. To make your registration even more valuable, you should be able to find discount codes on some of the community sites that you regularly visit, like SQLBlog.com or SQLTeam.com. Check this link to find even more valuable discount offers from Solid Quality Mentors that you can take advantage of. They will certainly extend the value of your registration $’s.

I would love to hear from you, if you are planning to attend. If you are a speaker or an MVP, please consider writing a short blog about what you are planning on speaking about at PASS or what you are most looking forward to at the PASS Summit.

Consider this your call to action to register now! And oh – be sure to make on-site plans ahead of time using our online scheduler (going live in a couple of weeks) to make the most of your summit experience. See you in Seattle this November!

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