PASS Summit 2015 Speaker Q&A: Ryan Adams

August 19, 2015 — Go inside PASS Summit 2015 session in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this interview, Ryan Adams, President of the PASS Performance Virtual Chapter, takes us inside his general session, “Install an AlwaysOn Failover Cluster and Availability Group”.

Q: Who is your favorite super-hero, and which SQL Server or BI super-power do you hope your session will give attendees?

Ryan: My favorite would be Thor. It would be cool to summon lightening every time you see a bad practice and lay the hammer smack down when management wants to cut corners without fully understanding the true cost to the business. I hope people walk away with the power to design solid HA and DR architectures and to understand how they can increase resiliency by tweaking a few things.

Q: What’s your origin story? How did you become interested in working with data, and how did you take that initial interest to the expert level?

Ryan: Years ago, when I was supporting servers, we had a fire-drill patching situation. Back then, automated tools for patching were just coming out, and most patching was done manually. We had a couple of SQL Server2000 boxes and we needed to check the current version to see whether they required the patch. I went to Help…About and got a whole lot of nothing. I was intrigued by this application that hid its version and required a query in Query Analyzer—remember that old friend?—to get the version information. Once I started playing and learning, I was hooked.

Q: What’s your favorite data solution’s secret power—the biggest strength that most people don’t really know about or use to full advantage?

Ryan: Policy Based Management. This is a fantastic tool for managing large environments to enforce standards and consistency. Not only can you manage all your best practice settings, but you can enforce naming standards for tables, views, stored procedures, and more.

Q: What about data’s biggest kryptonite or nemesis--the biggest mistake you see data professionals make?

Ryan: The biggest mistake I see is lack of a proper backup plan.

Q: What still excites you or trips you up in the real world when working with SQL Server or BI?

Ryan: I get excited meeting new DBAs. They are often overwhelmed and have a thirst for learning the technology; that rejuvenates me.

Q: What do you see as the next step after attending your session?

Ryan: In my session, I will deploy a Failover Cluster and an Availability Group across a 5-node Windows cluster. The next step for attendees will be learning more about Windows Clustering.

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2015 speakers.

PASS Summit 2015 Speaker Q&A: Reza Rad

August 19, 2015 — Go inside PASS Summit 2015 session in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this interview, Reza Rad takes us inside his general session, “SSIS vs. Azure Data Factory”.

Q: Who is your favorite super-hero, and which SQL Server or BI super-power do you hope your session will give attendees?

Reza: I am a fan of Batman, especially the incarnation of Bruce Wayne in the newest movie series. Batman is not superhuman; he is mortal, but he has the willingness and substantial willpower to make things right. My favourite character in these Batman movies is Lucius Fox, who provides tools, such as the Batmobile, that Batman can leverage in his missions.

In my session, I will play role of Fox: I’ll explain great tools for data transformation—Azure Data Factory for cloud and SSIS for on-premises—so the audience can use these tools in their missions. The super-power that audience will gain after my session is knowing when and where to use which tool or service.

Q: What’s your origin story? How did you become interested in working with data, and how did you take that initial interest to the expert level?

Reza: I was an intern in a software consulting company in 1999. Those days helped me become familiar with the database world, especially SQL Server 6.5. I soon understood that I enjoyed working with data, building data models, writing queries, and all the cool stuff about data.

I got much of my learning as a self-learner through books, websites, and forums. I also was interested in sharing whatever I learned by posting answers in forums. This helped me to become more expert in data-related fields. In about 2009, I started my blog with technical articles about SSIS, T-SQL, and other data aspects. Now, I speak around the world and write books on SQL Server, Azure, Power BI, and the data analysis field.

Q: What’s your favorite data solution’s secret power—the biggest strength that most people don’t really know about or use to full advantage?

Reza: I am a big fan of data transformation and consolidation. I’ve spent many years working with data-transformation tools, from T-SQL code to great tools such as SSIS, Azure Data Factory, and Power Query. I believe that there are many secrets and hidden powers in these tools that can help developers and data professionals. I spend a lot of time sharing my experience and knowledge in these fields so others can benefit from it.

Q: What about data’s biggest kryptonite or nemesis--the biggest mistake you see data professionals make?

Reza: High tech is great, but it is not the whole story. Creating a fancy chart is not BI; there are many aspects and components. Many BI professionals overlook the backend of data. To have a great BI solution (and any data-related solution), you need to design and implement the backend carefully. The backend can be your database design, performance tuning, SSIS package tuning, data-transfer principals, and so on.

Q: What still excites you or trips you up in the real world when working with SQL Server or BI?

Reza: The world of technology never stops! I like this. There are always new features, new components. There are always new methods of doing things more easily with better performance and more reliable solutions. In this fast-paced career, I enjoy working with best practices of existing tools and services as well as experiencing new features and components.

Q: What do you see as the next step after attending your session?

Reza: I believe that after my session, the audience will have a clear understanding of the similarities and differences between Azure Data Factory and SSIS. They will understand when and where to use which tool and service. I recommend that attendees use these technologies in their real-world solutions to truly understand their awesome power.

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2015 speakers.

PASS Summit 2015 Speaker Q&A: Kathi Kellenberger

August 5, 2015 — Go inside PASS Summit 2015 session in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this interview, Kathi Kellenberger takes us inside her General Session, “Writing Technical Books”.

Q: Who is your favorite super-hero, and which SQL Server or BI super-power do you hope your session will give attendees?

Kathi: I haven’t been interested in super-heroes much as an adult, but of the super-heroes I know about, I would have to say Batman. Batman’s powers were not from some mutation, immigration from another planet, or exposure to radiation. His powers are based on the ability to come up with great ideas and the resources to turn those ideas into reality.

My session is “Writing Technical Books”, which is a rare super-power indeed. I have been writing for ten years, and my words have reached thousands of people around the world. When I think about how many people I have helped, I know that I have used my powers for good, not evil. This super-power is like a key to the world, and I hope that my session will inspire a few future authors to take that first step.

Q: What’s your origin story? How did you become interested in working with data, and how did you take that initial interest to the expert level?

Kathi: I have always loved logic and data. I remember being obsessed with math problems in grade school, usually working ahead until I completed my math textbook during Christmas break. I also spent hours looking at the library card catalog and encyclopedias. Luckily, I relate to people better now than I did back then!

Unfortunately, my interest in math and science led me to the wrong career. I spent 16 years in a field that I didn’t love before becoming a developer in 1997. I first touched SQL Server in 1998, but didn’t switch my focus until 2002, when a DBA job opened up at a law firm where I was working on a six-month programming project. I really wanted to work there, and thought that I would figure things out given a chance. That turned out to be a fantastic move for me. Not only was it a great place to work, but I finally found my niche.

I think that explaining what you know to someone else, be that writing, presenting, teaching, or blogging, really helps get anyone to the next level.

Q: What’s your favorite data solution’s secret power—the biggest strength that most people don’t really know about or use to full advantage?

Kathi: For SQL Server, it is T-SQL window functions. I have been speaking and writing on this topic for at least three years at many SQL Server events. I am always surprised that most people in the audience haven’t heard about them before or at least aren’t using them outside of ROW_NUMBER. By the way, I wrote a book, Expert T-SQL Window Functions, and recorded a Pluralsight course on this topic. The biggest advantage is that they make problems that are difficult to solve outside of cursors easier to solve. In some cases, you will also get better performance over older solutions.

Q: What about data’s biggest kryptonite or nemesis--the biggest mistake you see data professionals make?

Kathi: I would say blindly following index suggestions from SQL Server. I’ve been doing quite a bit of index tuning for my Linchpin People customers, and I am seeing tons of duplicate and overlapping indexes. The index suggestions might come from the execution plan, Database Tuning Advisor, or even the missing index DMVs, but you have to think about what is in place, not just create the suggested indexes.

Q: What still excites you or trips you up in the real world when working with SQL Server or BI?

Kathi: Twenty years ago, I dreamed of having a computer-focused career. I am still amazed that I get to work in such a fun and exciting field. Sometimes I can’t believe how well things have turned out for me after such a big midlife career switch. I am so grateful to be where I am today.

Q: What do you see as the next step after attending your session?

Kathi: After attending my session, I hope that the participants just start writing!

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2015 speakers.

PASS Summit 2015 Speaker Q&A: Mark Vaillancourt

August 5, 2015 — Go inside PASS Summit 2015 session in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this interview, Mark Vaillancourt takes us inside his General Session, “A Bigger Boat: Data Visualization Lessons from the Movie Theater”.

Q: Who is your favorite super-hero, and which SQL Server or BI super-power do you hope your session will give attendees?

Mark: I would have to pick Professor Xavier of the X-Men: his ability to see the truth in people's minds and cut through the false picture they try to present. I am hoping my attendees will learn how to use powers of Data Visualization to help find and show the truth in their data rather than the fantasy that might be more convenient.

Q: What’s your origin story? How did you become interested in working with data, and how did you take that initial interest to the expert level?

Mark: I was working at a regional Theater in IT and part of my job was pulling lists for the fundraising folks. I just kept pushing forward and ended up getting into consulting around SQL Server, mostly with Reporting Services, initially. That led me to BI.

Q: What’s your favorite data solution’s secret power—the biggest strength that most people don’t really know about or use to full advantage?

Mark: My favorite is actually not much of a secret. I love how easy it is becoming to get work done in the BI space. The new Power BI is a great example of that. BI does not have to be hard. There are some situations and problems that are, but there are great applications for simplicity.

Q: What about data’s biggest kryptonite or nemesis--the biggest mistake you see data professionals make?

Mark: I see people get really caught up in how to build something, how to make it work, and sometimes forget to ask if that is the right thing to build. Building the wrong solution really, really well is still building the wrong solution.

Q: What still excites you or trips you up in the real world when working with SQL Server or BI?

Mark: I am excited by the fact that I will never stop learning. Things change so fast and opportunities come up that I never would have dreamed. For people interested in stretching themselves and learning new skills, this is an amazing time to be a data professional.

Q: What do you see as the next step after attending your session?

Mark: I would love to see people take the new Power BI for a spin and act on what they learned in my session. For me, there is huge satisfaction in helping to show someone how to do something themselves that makes their lives easier.

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2015 speakers.

PASS Welcomes Global Alliance Partner Pyramid Analytics

August 5, 2015 – PASS is excited to welcome long-term sponsor Pyramid Analytics to the Global Alliance Program, a strategic partnership that supports the worldwide PASS community.

Pyramid Analytics strives to help customers get the most of their investments in the Microsoft BI stack. To that end, the company prioritizes three key relationships:

  • · Engaging mutual Microsoft customers and channels as a best-in-class analytics platform on top of Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS).
  • · Partnering closely with Microsoft, with whom Pyramid Analytics recently unveiled a strategic agreement, collaborating on integrated technology and go-to-market.
  • · Committing to the SQL Server community as a long-term sponsor of PASS SQLSaturday events and other global training and leadership events.

     

“PASS has a history of commitment to SQL Server professionals,” notes Alberto Sutton, Vice President of Marketing for Pyramid Analytics. “Its resources, events, training, and networking opportunities are extremely helpful to build knowledge and careers. Pyramid Analytics has been a long-term sponsor of the SQL Server community and PASS, so becoming part of the PASS Global Alliance Program furthers our ability to connect with our most avid users: professionals looking for the best-in-class BI platform on top of SQL Server and SSAS.”

As a Silver Global Alliance Partner, Pyramid Analytics will be participating as a sponsor at PASS Summit 2015, supporting PASS SQLSaturday events throughout the year, and more.

PASS sponsors are a vital part of the community, supporting the organization’s many training and networking opportunities, including free learning events. Through the Global Alliance Program, PASS looks forward to bringing many new opportunities and added value to our community and to our partners. For information about becoming a PASS Global Alliance Partner, please contact Craig Ellis.

Announcing the 2015 PASS Nomination Committee

July 22, 2015 – Thank you to all PASS members who participated in this year’s Nomination Committee (NomCom) elections. Congratulations to Lori Edwards, Robert L. Davis, and Bob Pusateri, the community representatives whom you have elected to join NomCom Chair Bill Graziano and Board-appointed representative Grant Fritchey on the 2015 NomCom.

A total of 540 voters cast 1229 votes in the NomCom elections. To be eligible to vote in this year’s NomCom and Board elections, PASS members needed to update their PASS profile by June 1, 2015. PASS’ secure online voting system, Simply Voting, doesn’t hold any PASS member email addresses or passwords and helped us to ensure that only eligible voters were able to cast ballots and were able to vote only once (with up to three ballots cast).

The NomCom community seats reflect the three seats up for election on the PASS Board this year: one US/Canada and Open, one EMEA and Open and one Open seat. The five-member NomCom will manage the Board elections process, qualifying, interviewing, and ranking potential candidates. A final slate will then be submitted to the current Board for approval. In addition, this year’s NomCom is charged with streamlining the process for involving and evaluating candidates and with enhancing opportunities for community engagement in the elections.

Applications for the three PASS Board seats up for election open August 5. To learn more about the 2015 NomCom election results and preview the upcoming Board of Directors elections, please see the Elections site. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact PASS Governance.

Congratulations again to Lori, Robert, and Bob. And a special thank you to all the candidates for their dedicated volunteer efforts on behalf of the PASS community and their enthusiastic and professional candidacies in this year’s NomCom elections.

PASS Summit 2015 Speaker Q&A: Michael Fal

July 21, 2015 — Go inside PASS Summit 2015 session in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this interview, Michael Fal takes us inside his general session, “PowerShell and the Art of SQL Server Deployment”.

Q: Who is your favorite super-hero, and which SQL Server or BI super-power do you hope your session will give attendees?

Mike: I've always been a fan of heroes without super powers: iconic comic book personalities like Iron Man and Batman or classic TV characters like MacGuyver and the A-Team. These guys accomplished incredible things with their brains and the tools at their disposal. This is the sort of thing I want to show people with my session, “PowerShell and the Art of SQL Server Deployment”. By leveraging PowerShell, DBAs can do some pretty awesome things—and it doesn't take special knowledge or skills to do it.

Q: What’s your origin story? How did you become interested in working with data, and how did you take that initial interest to the expert level?

Mike: I actually didn't get into technology and databases until several years after college. I originally got my Bachelor of Music Performance from CU Boulder with the intent of being a classical musician. After making a hard decision not to pursue that beyond college, I was working in a warehouse. After showing interest in computers by working with our system administrator, I was given a tech support job in a company that needed me to do a number of things. I gravitated towards databases and managing the company's systems. Fifteen years later, I'm now a Senior DBA at Xero, helping architect our cloud data strategy.

Q: What’s your favorite data solution’s secret power—the biggest strength that most people don’t really know about or use to full advantage

Mike: PowerShell really isn't a "data solution," it's a technology solution. But it's an incredibly powerful one. There are two huge advantages to building automation with PowerShell: working across the computing stack (the OS, SQL Server, the file system, and so on) and the ability to execute across multiple computers in an easy, reliable fashion. This is really appealing to the "lazy DBA," because you can write automation once that executes consistently for any number of systems in your environment.

Q: What about data’s biggest kryptonite or nemesis--the biggest mistake you see data professionals make?

Mike: Fear. Fear of the unknown. You mention PowerShell to a lot of DBAs and there's just not a lot of knowledge around it, so data folks don't really know how to leverage it or what they can use it for. This is why I've focused on speaking and blogging about it, spreading the word about this powerful tool. This becomes its own reward, because when I show it to people who haven't seen it, they're blown away by what can be done.

Q: What still excites you or trips you up in the real world when working with SQL Server or BI?

Mike: There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Although we can make scripts and build processes, it still requires a human brain to break a problem down, mesh it with business logic, and build a complete solution. This is why it's so critical to build out our toolbox. Just as a construction contractor could be building a garage one day and a house the next, we need to be prepared for whatever challenge is given to us. Having flexible, robust tools allows data professionals to better respond to these challenges.

Q: What do you see as the next step after attending your session?

Mike: The goal of my session is to show DBAs how to quickly and reliably deploy SQL Server. When folks walk out of this session, I expect that they will go back to their jobs to refine their own deployment processes for SQL Server, to make them more consistent and reliable. More than that, though, these methods open up new design patterns for managing SQL Server environments, whether they're on premises or in the cloud.

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2015 speakers.

PASS Summit 2015 Speaker Q&A: Allan Hirt

July 21, 2015 — Go inside PASS Summit 2015 session in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this interview, Allan Hirt takes us inside his Pre-Con, “Advanced SQL Server Availability Architectures and Deployments”.

Q: Who is your favorite super-hero, and which SQL Server or BI super-power do you hope your session will give attendees?

Allan: When I grew up and started collecting comic books, I was more drawn to the DC characters, specifically Batman. He is a guy who is a mere mortal, yet can outwit and has the strength to stand up to people who have powers that could literally crush him. I think that is the challenge a lot of DBAs and IT workers face. We are given some parameters and limitations and have to make magic happen. More often than not, we can. I think we are at our best when we think outside the box.

Q: What’s your origin story? How did you become interested in working with data, and how did you take that initial interest to the expert level?

Allan: During college, I was an intern at SQL Solutions in Burlington, MA; it was bought out by Sybase while I was there. So I started using SQL Server in the pre-Windows days—I even remember helping someone install Windows NT 3.5. My internship was with the QA folks, so testing has and continues to be intrinsic to what I do. But the obvious link from then to now is the fact that I was exposed to relational databases so early. I have always been more interested in the infrastructure side of things, even before my internship (which involved that stuff). But I was lucky in my career path to be exposed to things like clustering fairly early into my career, which clearly had a profound impact on who I am today.

I would say that to become an expert, the key to success is to follow your passion and keep learning. You will hopefully have good mentors along the way. Do not be afraid to fail or make mistakes.

Q: What’s your favorite data solution’s secret power—the biggest strength that most people don’t really know about or use to full advantage?

Allan: The Windows platform has a lot of cool things that are prevalent in the non-SQL Server world, such as Scale Out File Server and Windows’ native ability to use RDMA. Such things could be used for SQL Server but are not. If DBAs understood what lies under the hood a bit more, I think we would see more innovative solutions. I will be talking a bit about those kinds of things throughout my Pre-Conference session, “Advanced SQL Server Availability Architectures and Deployments”.

Q: What about data’s biggest kryptonite or nemesis--the biggest mistake you see data professionals make?

Allan: The two biggest mistakes I see are:

· Not understanding what it is you are implementing. That leads to a lot of assumptions and bad decisions in architecture, which ultimately results in bad solutions.

· Not doing the basics well. You cannot have a good availability solution if you are terrible at, say, backups. If you start from a solid foundation, your chances of succeeding at the more advanced stuff increases significantly.

Q: What still excites you or trips you up in the real world when working with SQL Server or BI?

Allan: There’s plenty that can trip all of us up, expert or not; too many things to list. That said, I think that because SQL Server is such a deep and broad product, there is some aspect of it for nearly anyone who is interested in databases, whether BI or relational. That by no means equates to queries and data itself. Sure, I’ve done a lot of that over the years, but the infrastructure side is a whole other aspect of SQL Server that many people do not dabble in—but is immensely rewarding.

Q: What do you see as the next step after attending your session?

Allan: I truly believe that people learn better by doing than by just seeing slides and demos. As with my Pre-Con session at Summit 2014—which sold out, so don’t wait to register this year; the number of students is capped—everyone will get hands-on experience via lab exercises designed specifically for that day. Each attendee will access, via a browser, their own set of virtual machines (VMs), which simulate a full working environment (domain controller, cluster nodes, and so on). I know many attendees will want to try the labs again and will most likely not have time during Summit to do that, so my plan is to provide access for at least a few days post-Summit so that you can do them again back home.

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2015 speakers.

Future of PASS Summit: Conference Location Through 2019

July 21, 2015 — The location of future PASS Summit conferences was a topic of discussion at the June 2015 PASS Board of Directors meeting. Currently, we’ve booked the Washington State Convention and Trade Center as the PASS Summit venue through 2018. A time-limited opportunity was presented to us to continue that booking for an additional year—2019—with a decision required by June 15.

In 2013, we moved PASS Summit to Charlotte, North Carolina. Our main intention was to determine whether hosting the conference in a different state would make it more accessible to PASS members who might not have been able to travel to Seattle.

While changing cities at some point in the future isn’t out of the question, the Board noted that staying in Seattle offered two important benefits:
· Extending our venue agreement for the additional year offers significant savings over the length of our multi-year contract with the Convention and Trade Center.
· Holding the conference in Seattle results in a stronger exhibitor presence, particularly in regards to Microsoft. Community members and attendees have greater opportunity to interaction with members of the Microsoft product teams.

Considering these benefits, the Board voted to keep PASS Summit in Seattle for 2019.

PASS and Business Analytics: A Winning Combination

June 29, 2015--The results are in and the PASS Business Analytics Conference (BAC) 2015 was a success! At the recent Board meeting this month, the PASS Board reviewed the outcomes of this event and discussed the future of PASS Business Analytics (BA). A primary goal of the PASS Board of Directors is not just to maintain but to improve the health of our organization and our community. Reaching this goal means offering the best learning environments possible, such as PASS Summit, 24 Hours of PASS, and more. It also means looking beyond today’s landscape and preparing for the future of SQL Server and related data technologies. 
 
Over the past few years, we’ve watched as companies across all industries embrace data to become more competitive, results-oriented, and data-driven. This has created significant new challenges and opportunities in data analytics and BA. Now, experienced BA and data analytics professionals are in high demand and short supply. And those entering this nascent field are in need of the type of community and learning environment that SQL Server professionals enjoy as PASS members.

This is one of the reasons that we started PASS BAC in 2013. Like most new endeavors, it’s taken a few years to find its bearings. Following PASS BAC 2014, we evolved to support the needs of business and data analysts. This included revamping content and refining our focus within the analyst audience. So we rebooted BAC 2015, tailoring it to focus on those who consume data and use it to drive business decisions. 

With this refined approach, we renewed our focus on providing real-world, applicable learning that can give attendees an immediate and direct means to benefit their organizations—just as PASS Summit provides for DBAs and other data facilitators. We created a conference for people who extract and manipulate data using technologies such as Excel, Power BI, SQL, Hive, and R throughout all the stages in the analytical process. We delivered practical, best practices information, hands-on training, and visionary thought leadership.

Were we successful? Well, 77% of attendees were in our target Analyst audience. Our hands-on lab sessions were overflowing, the Expo Hall was buzzing, and more than half the BA and business intelligence (BI) attendees said that they would recommend the conference to colleagues, noting that we’d delivered “practical/effective training” that was both “inspiring” and “interactive”.

Our audience reported that their primary interests were upgrading their skills and finding a community for continued networking—and we saw that community forming right in front of us. As a result, the PASS BA Planning Committee made several recommendations to the PASS Board of Directors during the Board’s June 2015 meeting: 

* PASS should continue organizing a conference for data and business analysts.
We should continue with our refined approach for PASS BAC 2016.
* We should continue to engage with the BA audience and influencers.
* We should build a coherent development and engagement strategy for this growing community.

The Board agreed. By continuing to invest in PASS BAC and by fostering a community, we can meet the unique needs of business and data analysts. We already have many offerings that serve PASS members who are interested in BA. And we have growing resources and support from willing volunteers. From the Business Analytics and Excel Business Intelligence Virtual Chapters and BA Insights newsletter to webinars, the pieces are in place to support PASS BAC and the growth of our community, including the establishment of an advisory committee and a three-year plan laying out the best way to move forward. 

We are excited about the opportunities and benefits that these decisions will provide for all data professions within the PASS community. If you have any questions or feedback, we want to hear from you. And we hope you’ll help us spread the word about this new community to the data and business analysts in your organizations.

- Jen Stirrup
PASS Board Member