The Budget Process

Every fiscal year PASS creates a detailed budget.  This helps us set priorities and communicate to our members what we’re going to do in the upcoming year.  You can review the current budget on the PASS Governance page.  That page currently requires you to login but I’m talking with HQ to see if there are any legal issues with opening that up.

The Accounting Team

The PASS accounting team is two people.  The Executive Vice-President of Finance (“EVP”) and the PASS Accounting Manager.  Sandy Cherry is the accounting manager and works at PASS HQ.  Sandy has been with PASS since we switched management companies in 2007.  Throughout this document when I talk about any actual work related to the budget that’s all Sandy :)  She’s the glue that gets us through this process.  Last year we went through 32 iterations of the budget before the Board approved so it’s a pretty busy time for her us – well, mostly her.

Fiscal Year

The PASS fiscal year runs from July 1st through June 30th the following year.  Right now we’re in fiscal year 2011.  Our 2010 Summit actually occurred in FY2011.  We switched to this schedule from a calendar year in 2006.  Our goal was to have the Summit occur early in our fiscal year.  That gives us the rest of the year to handle any significant financial impact from the Summit.  If registrations are down we can reduce spending.  If registrations are up we can decide how much to increase our reserves and how much to spend.  Keep in mind that the Summit is budgeted to generate 82% of our revenue this year.  How it performs has a significant impact on our financials. 

The other benefit of this fiscal year is that it matches the Microsoft fiscal year.  We sign an annual sponsorship agreement with Microsoft and it’s very helpful that our fiscal years match.

This year our budget process will probably start in earnest in March or April.  I’d like to be done in early June so we can publish before July 1st.  I was late publishing it this year and I’m trying not to repeat that.

Our Budget

Our actual budget is an Excel spreadsheet with 36 sheets.  We remove some of those when we publish it since they include salary information.  The budget is broken up into various portfolios or departments.  We have 20 portfolios.  They include chapters, marketing, virtual chapters, marketing, etc.  Ideally each portfolio is assigned to a Board member.  Each portfolio also typically has a staff person assigned to it.  Portfolios that aren’t assigned to a Board member are monitored by HQ and the ExecVP-Finance (me).  These are typically smaller portfolios such as deferred membership or Summit futures.  (More on those in a later post.)  All portfolios are reviewed by all Board members during the budget approval process, when interim financials are released internally and at year-end.

The Process

Our first step is to budget revenues.  The Board determines a target attendee number.  We have formulas based on historical performance that convert that to an overall attendee revenue number.  Other revenue projections (such as vendor sponsorships) come from different parts of the organization.  I hope to have another post with more details on how we project revenues.

The next step is to budget expenses.  Board members fill out a sample spreadsheet with their budget for the year.  They can add line items and notes describing what the amounts are for.  Each Board portfolio typically has from 10 to 30 line items.  Any new initiatives they want to pursue needs to be budgeted.  The Summit operations budget is managed by HQ.  It includes the cost for food, electrical, internet, etc.  Most of these come from our estimate of attendees and our contract with the convention center.  During this process the Board can ask for more or less to be spent on various line items.  For example, if we weren’t happy with the Internet at the last Summit we can ask them to look into different options and/or increasing the budget.  HQ will also make adjustments to these numbers based on what they see at the events and the feedback we receive on the surveys.

After we have all the initial estimates we start reviewing the entire budget.  It is sent out to the Board and we can see what each portfolio requested and what the overall profit and loss number is.  We usually start with too much in expenses and need to cut.  In years past the Board started haggling over these numbers as a group.  This past year they decided I should take a first cut and present them with a reasonable budget and a list of what I changed.  That worked well and I think we’ll continue to do that in the future.

We go through a number of iterations on the budget.  If I remember correctly, we went through 32 iterations before we passed the budget.  At each iteration various revenue and expense numbers can change.  Keep in mind that the PASS budget has 200+ line items spread over 20 portfolios.  Many of these depend on other numbers.  For example, if we decide increase the projected attendees that cascades through our budget.  At each iteration we list what changed and the impact. 

Ideally these discussions will take place at a face-to-face Board meeting.  Many of them also take place over the phone.  Board members explain any increase they are asking for while performing due diligence on other budget requests.  Eventually a budget emerges and is passed.


After the budget is passed we create a version without the formulas and salaries for posting on the web site.  Sandy also creates some charts to help our members understand the budget.  The EVP writes a nice little letter describing some of the changes from last year’s budget.  You can see my letter and our budget on the PASS Governance page.

And then, eight months later, we start all over again.

Help make the next Summit even better

[cross-posted from Bill Graziano's blog at]

After the Summit we send out a survey to capture feedback.  We ask a consistent set of questions so we get good year over year results.  I’ve watched blog posts and email threads with ideas for a better Summit.  I got to sit with Denny and crew again on Saturday night and talk about what worked and what didn’t.  We’d like to capture those ideas in a way that you can vote on what’s important to you. 

Please take a second and visit  You can make suggestions, vote on the ideas already posted and add your own comments.  Help PASS make next year’s Summit “The Best Summit Ever!”

PASS FY2011 Budget Posted

We published our FY2011 budget at  We have the budget details, my summary of our budget and some graphs to highlight our revenue and spending.  You can also view our financials all the way back to 2004.  If you have any questions about our budget please ask them here and we'll try to get them answered.


Interact with the PASS Board at the Summit

This blog post comes from an email I sent to the Board about this.  I left in some of the thoughts around it in addition to just what we’re doing.  Plus we’re still working out some details.  But here's what we know...

This year at the Summit we want to give the community a chance to ask questions of the Board and provide feedback.  We also want to capture any suggestions people have.

First, The PASS Board of Directors will hold an open Q&A session Wednesday from 4:30PM until 6:15PM.  It will be in room 6E.  This overlaps with the last session but also runs 15 minutes past the end of the last spotlight.  This means that everyone should be able to attend for at least 15 minutes if they’d like.  There just aren’t any other scheduling options except before the keynotes.  Hopefully not too many of you will be double-booked.

We’ll try to record it.  Depends on what A/V is already in the room and what costs are.  I’m leaning toward spending the cash but we’ll see.  Cameras are welcome.  Everyone in the community is welcome to record it, stream it, whatever.  We’ll definitely take good notes.  We expect people to come and go during this.  If we get the same question three times that’s fine.

The session will probably be moderated.  All the Board members will be answering questions.  In cases where there are a variety of Board opinions on issues we’ll make sure everyone gets a chance to answer or ruminate.  I think we’ll get very few questions in areas where PASS has an official policy so it will mostly be Board member’s opinions.  We expect the community to drive the topics and we just make sure everyone gets heard.

Second, we’ve asked each Board member to spend one (or maybe even two hours) in the PASS Booth.  We’re hoping to list all the Board members and their schedule during Wayne’s keynote.  If not, they will be posted in the PASS Booth. This will give people a chance to speak with the Board in a relaxed setting and answer questions about PASS. 

Finally, we’re going to have a suggestion box at the booth.  Yes, pen and paper.  Old school I know.  We looked into an email alias.  The only downside right now is that we don’t have a good process on the other end of that to deal with the feedback we get.  HQ is completely swamped getting ready for Summit and doesn’t have any extra time at Summit.  I don’t want us in a position of accepting suggestions we can’t process or even respond to.

Whatever we have in the box by Wednesday we’ll go through at the Q&A -- time permitting.  We can probably find a volunteer to sort them for us.  Any received after Wednesday will be processed by HQ when they get back up to speed following Summit.  I expect we’ll get quite a few about Summit logistics.  We’ll just have to see if we have time to address those.  Otherwise the HQ logistics group can look through them as they have time.  This is a stop gap measure for this Summit only.  The post-Summit survey that goes out will also be a way to capture Summit specific feedback.

Going forward we’ll either setup an email alias or forums.  I’m leaning toward forums but we’ll have to see what works logistically.  Brent Ozar made some good comments about that the other day.  That gives people a way to give feedback on ideas and add more information.  And a way for the community to give feedback on the fly on various ideas.  We’ll see if we can keep up with them :)  It also gives us a way to ask them questions.  That’s an area we’ve been sorely lacking (or at least I have). 

See you all soon!


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PASS Summit Sessions for New DBAs

I was recently asked if I thought the PASS Summit was appropriate for new database administrators.  My answer was a resounding YES!  But I wanted to add some specific reasons.  If I was a new DBA here are the 12 sessions I’d try to attend at PASS:

Proactive DBA: Manage SQL Server Better
Ross LoForte (Microsoft Corp.)

The Ultimate Free SQL Server Toolkit
Kevin Kline (Quest Software)

DRP101: Learn The Difference Between Your Log And Your Cluster
Brent Ozar (Quest Software)

Practical Performance Monitoring and Troubleshooting for the graduated beginner but not yet expert.
Joe Yong (Scalability Experts)

Securing and Hardening a SQL Server Implementation - Notes from the Field
Ross Mistry (Convergent Computing)

Insight into Indexes
Gail Shaw (XpertEase)

SQL Server Execution Plans From Compilation To Caching To Reuse
Maciej Pilecki (Project Botticelli Ltd.)

DBAs Behaving Badly... Worst Practices for Database Administrators
Rod Colledge (Independant Consultant)

Storage for the DBA
Denny Cherry (Awareness Technologies)

Understanding Logging and Recovery in SQL Server
Paul Randal (

SQL Server 2008 Manageability Features
Peter Ward (WARDY IT Solutions)

Troubleshooting applications accessing SQL Server
Abirami Iyer (Microsoft CSS)
Lakshmi Jonnakuti (Microsoft CSS)

There’s a little bit of everything thrown in.  You’ll learn about backup, security, disaster recovery and performance.  I threw in Kevin Kline’s session on free tools which will help with all of those. 

There are also some pre-conference sessions that are appropriate for new DBAs.  Either one of the following sessions on Monday would be helpful:

Care and Feeding of the Transaction Log (DBA Track)
Kalen Delaney (SQLearning)
Speaker Q&A: The Biggest Transaction Log Myth

SQL Server 2005/2008: Indexing for Performance (DBA Track)
Kimberly Tripp (
Paul Randal (

Friday also brings two great choices:

Practical Performance Monitoring and Troubleshooting (DBA Track)
Andrew Kelly (Solid Quality Mentors)
Speaker Q&A: Wait Stats Can't Wait

Disaster Recovery: Tips, Tricks, and Techniques (DBA Track)
Paul Randal (
Kimberly Tripp (

In addition I think one of the biggest benefits of PASS is the people you’ll meet.  You’ll find people like yourself in all these sessions.  Knowing other new DBAs that you can share problems and solutions with is very valuable.  Many of the people I ask for help with problems today are people I met through PASS.

I’d also encourage you to buy the Summit DVD.  The price is very reasonable and you’ll get access to the other 150+ sessions that you didn’t have time to attend.

Bill Graziano

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PASS Bylaws Updated for 2009

Last week PASS voted to update the bylaws by which we govern ourselves.  Changing the bylaws requires a two-thirds vote of the Board of Directors.  This is the first bylaw update since I started on the Board in 2006.  This update was focused on members and elections.  You can find our bylaws on the Governance page of our web site (

Our previous bylaws defined various classes of members including paid and free.  They only gave voting rights to paying members.  As part of the Summit registration process all Summit attendees automatically became paying members.  Once the Board eliminated the paying membership we were left with only Summit attendees voting in elections.  This didn’t match our stated goal of making PASS more than a Summit.

The new bylaws define a “member in good standing”.  The specific definition of this is not in the bylaws however.  We expect this definition to grow as we create better ways of interacting with the community.  A separate document will be approved by the Board and published that defines who can vote in the upcoming election.  We expect this will be the basis for future elections as well.  As the committee creates this document they are trying to balance broad inclusion with limiting to people that are invested in the organization.  Our overall goal is that the population of people that can vote grows beyond what it has been.  Hopefully this will keep us from updating the bylaws in the future if we add new classes of members.

We also worked on the sections around elections.  We added more structure to the Nominations Committee and the process for selecting the head of the committee. This is the process that Directors at Large go through to be elected to the Board.

The President, Executive Vice President and Vice President of Marketing make up the Executive Committee (or ExecCo) along with the Executive Director and the Immediate Past President.  These people are defined as the Officers of PASS and “exercise the authority of the Board between meetings”.

In the past it had been somewhat opaque how the candidates were selected to run for the officer positions.  The bylaws now define an Officer Appointment Committee that is separate from the Nominations Committee.  This group determines the slate of officer candidates from those people currently serving on the Board.  This group is presented to the Board and approved by Board vote.  Our goal here was to make explicit how these roles were filled in practice.

I encourage you to take a look at the bylaws.  They are rules that govern how PASS is run in our mission to serve the SQL Server community.

Bill Graziano
Vice President of Marketing

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Still more TBTILAPS entries

Ok, the acronym is a little unwieldy.  The entries are still coming in for The Best Thing I Learned at PASS Summit (TBTILAPS) contest.  I know Fridays can be kind of slow so I suggest you take some time and enter our contest. It’s either that or rewrite that horrible stored procedure you’ve been meaning to get to. 

Here are some snippets from some of our recent entries:

  • Grant Fritchey writes “I’ve attended technical sessions that blew my socks off and made me twitch in my seat, fighting the urge to start writing TSQL code, immediately.”  And that isn’t even the best thing he learned!  You can read the full post on his blog.
  • Brian L. wrote about choosing “sessions that had ‘lessons learned’ or ‘capitalizing on’ to benefit from others’ experience in MS SQL 2008. Sometimes the lesson taught was what Microsoft had learned to improve their process. These breakout sessions helped to meet my goal of learning what is new in SQL 2008.”  He also wrote about the Summit DVDs saying “The recordings of the conference sessions which I purchased have been extremely beneficial. Not only can I 'refresh' my memory about the sessions I attended, but I can also see what I missed and hope to learn at future Summits. With PASS, it’s 'What you See is What you Get!'".  Don’t forget that when you register you can purchase a set of DVDs with the recordings of all the sessions for $95.  After the Summit the price goes up.
  • Thomas L. stopped by the CSS First-Aid Station to ask about a problem he was having.  “The PASS First-Aid station had a Sr. Escalation Engineer with Cluster Environments. The gentleman had done a cluster presentation at PASS2007 I attended, so this was a good start.  He started by explaining in detail about a Cluster Environment. The tip that helped us was Possible Owners on a cluster resource.  This is where the SP & Hot Fix installation program determines what servers to update.  Again, our company sponsored trip to PASS pays off. One thing I have discovered about going to a conference is always come back with something valuable for management. Instead of attending the 'here is what’s new' sessions, I have become determined to learn 1-2 more valuable tools for what we are doing today.”  The CSS First-Aid station is staffed by Microsoft’s top support engineers.  Stop by and ask them your hardest questions!
  • K. Brian Kelley writes in his blog about a session from the late Ken Henderson that helped him solve a problem a couple of years later.  The one thing that jumped out at me was in the discussion he and Steve Jones had in the comments section of this blog post.  Brian wrote “Also, it got me away for a week to really focus on SQL Server.”  I find the that’s true also.  Getting away in a place where I can think about SQL Server but not be at work makes all kinds of interesting ideas pop into my head.  I usually come back with a big list of things I want to work on.
  • Simon D. writes “At the 2008 PASS conference in Seattle, I learned that a DBA’s most valuable resource is the SQL Server community. The engagement of the community at PASS transformed my problems to projects, and my tools to solutions.”  He concludes with “Impromptu sessions with peers at PASS … helped bring my project to production. My superiors at work couldn’t have been more impressed that I had accomplished so much in such a short time-frame, at such a low cost.” Simon hits on one of our key goals for this competition: helping you cost-justify the Summit.  Hopefully stories like this will convince management that PASS is an investment rather than an expense.

The contest runs through Tuesday, July 1st.  We’ve received some great responses so far.  Since we’re giving away prizes to the top ten entries you’ve got a great chance to win!

-Bill Graziano
PASS Board of Directors – VP Marketing

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What have you learned at the PASS Summit?

In many of the PASS Conferences I’ve attended I can usually point to one thing I learned that was the most valuable.  Usually this was enough to justify the cost of the entire conference.  I learned something that would save me so much time or money it would “pay” for the conference.  This made it pretty easy for me to justify to myself (or my boss) that it was money well spent.  Here's my story...

Quite a few years back I was sitting in a session on performance tuning.  The speaker demonstrated a little utility named Read80Trace that I’d never seen before.  At the time I was working to improve performance on a client’s database server.  This mostly involved hearing anecdotal stories about what was slow and running Profiler to catch queries with long durations, high reads or high CPU usage.  We were making progress but nothing dramatic.  Profiler was only catching those queries that rarely ran but where huge consumers of resources.  I could make those faster but it didn’t have that much of an impact on overall performance.

Read80Trace would capture all the activity and group identical statements together.  I could see in aggregate what was consuming the most disk and the most CPU.  We spent a week working through those queries and stored procedures.  Many weren’t very slow individually but would run 5,000 times an hour.  Even a small improvement helped.  We spent a week working on it – mostly adding indexes and occasionally rewriting queries.  After a week we’d cut our disk and CPU usage in half and eliminated the need to buy a new high-end server.  

Read80Trace completely changed my approach to performance tuning and has helped every client since then.  I liked the tool so much I wrote my own version of it when Microsoft didn’t release the 2005 version in a timely manner.  And that is the Best Thing I Learned at PASS.

PASS would like to get more stories like this.  I know they’re out there.  I’ve heard many of them in the years I’ve been attending the conference.  Tell the story of what you learned and how it helped you.  We’re running a contest through July 1st to capture these stories.  Post your entry on your blog and email us the link.  If you don’t have a blog, just email us your entry.

We’re limiting entries to 250 words or less.  Mine clocked in at a svelte 244 words.  Of course, I’m not eligible to win since I’m on the Board but our volunteers are and so is most everyone reading this.  We’re giving away a number of prizes for this including a free registration or paying your hotel costs.  And if you win one of these prizes you can give it to someone else.  (The rules as published while I’m writing this say that you can’t transfer your prize to another winner.  That’s being updated and should be corrected by the end of the day.)  

We want to take these stories and add them to our ROI page.  We think that having concrete examples of how people get value from the conference will help justify it in these tough economic times.  We’re giving away ten prizes that include the free registration/hotel, free pre-conference session and free set of our DVDs from last year.

Take a second and write something up.  Tell us the Best Thing you Learned at PASS.

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PASS Europe 2009

Our European SQL Server Conference kicked off yesterday with pre-conference sessions by Bob Ward, Allan Mitchell and Chris Webb.  The event is in Dusseldorf, Germany again this year.  Our attendance is up 35% from last year to over 250 attendees.  Today was the first full day of sessions and the rooms were packed!  The program committee did a fantastic job choosing speakers this year.  Tonight is our social event at a local restaurant.

I'll leave you with a few pictures from the event.  You can view all of them on our Flickr stream.  I do have to say Rushabh looks great with hair doesn't he?

-Bill Graziano

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Mixing BI and OLTP at the Summit

PASS is deep in the planning cycle for our SQL Server Conference. One of the key decisions we have to make is how much content to allocate to business intelligence and how much to OLTP. In order to make that decision we look at a number of data points. Among these are a survey we recently completed, registration details from previous years, registration details so far this year and actual session attendance information from prior years. Adding to the challenge is Microsoft's decision not to have a business intelligence conference this year and their desire to use PASS as one of their conferences to reach business intelligence professionals.

This year we split the Business Intelligence track in two. This will in some ways mirror the split on the OLTP side between the Application Development track and the DBA track. We think it will help us better target sessions to business intelligence professionals. We also increased the total number of sessions at the conference to 168. Making the whole pie bigger is an easy way to make sure all our attendees are happy with the type of sessions we have available.

Where does that leave the DBA? What are we doing for the person that writes complex T-SQL stored procedures to process business transactions? Or spends their days managing instances? I want you to take away two key points here. First, we're going to have more OLTP sessions than we've ever had before. Second, the combination of the Application Development track and DBA track is now larger than the entire conference was in 2006. I think that's a pretty amazing accomplishment!

Even doing that for the OLTP community we aren't short changing business intelligence. We've increased the BI sessions nearly 60% over last year. If you're a business intelligence professional you'll have your choice of multiple sessions at every slot during the conference.

Allocating sessions is a difficult task. Lynda and the rest of the program committee have done a great job supporting our growing BI community and our established OLTP community. We think our overall mix of roughly two-thirds OLTP and one-third BI will meet the needs of our conference attendees.

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