PASS Connector Editorial for July 1 - by Andy Warren

Just as the last issue of the Connector was ready to send we announced the full schedule for the 2009 PASS Summit. In this issue I want to focus on a topic that I think is of critical importance to PASS (and a personal cause) – bringing in new talent each year. If you look at the schedule you’ll see a Who’s Who of people in the SQL Server world, and that is good. Good because they have a lot to share, and good because they find the Summit to be an event worth their time. It’s definitely good for attendees.
 
So why do we need new talent? I can think of a few interesting reasons: 

  • We need a ‘next generation’ of speakers for when the current ones retire
  • We need new ideas and new approaches – and new passion
  • It makes speaking slots competitive – only so many seats on the island
  • It’s the right thing to do. Good organizations constantly look for those with potential and offer them the opportunity to grow – but they have to do the work

I asked PASS HQ to send me a list of first time Summit speakers and it turns out 13 of the 85 distinct speakers are on the list. I’ve linked to their blog where I could find one:

Denny Cherry
Glenn Berry
Jacob Sebastian
Jamon Bowen
John Paul Cook
Jonathan Kehayias
Kendal Van Dyke
Kevin Guinn
Michelle Ufford
Ravindra Gurram
Rob Garrison
Rod Colledge
Trevor Barkhouse

Remember, these aren’t first time speakers or newbie DBA’s – they’ve all been using and talking about SQL Server for a while. Read some of their blogs, or search for them and see what you find. I think you’ll see that those listed above are another 12 good reasons to attend the Summit this year.

In the next issue we’ll look at the upcoming PASS elections. Until then, if you have questions about PASS, please email me at andy.warren@sqlpass.org

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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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PASS Connector Editorial for June 17 - by Andy Warren

Before we launch into the big news of the week I’d like to remind everyone that our schedule for the 2009 Summit has changed from previous years – Monday will be pre-conference sessions, the main conference will be Tuesday through Thursday, and then we will have a day of post conference sessions on Friday.

Last week we announced 23 spotlight sessions, awarded to speakers that have previously presented one more sessions at the Summit and received excellent evaluations. You can click here for the full list, but I thought I’d demonstrate the kind of speakers the Summit attracts by listing their names here – I suspect you’ll recognize many of them!

Itzik Ben-Gan, Grant Fritchey, Klaus Aschenbrenner, Peter DeBetta, Paul Nielsen, Greg Low, Erin Welker, Brian Knight, Erik Veerman, Andy Leonard, Warren Thornthwaite, Joe Yong, Kimberly Tripp, Maciej Pilecki, Paul Randal, Peter Ward, Adam Machanic, Thomas Grohser, Gail Shaw, Kalen Delaney, Andrew Kelly, Joe Webb, and our own President, Wayne Snyder. 

We’ve also announced the pre-conference and post-conference sessions as well as a special 2 hour networking (as in people) class on Monday by author Don Gabor.

So click on the links and start thinking about attending! As always, if you have any questions about PASS, please email me at andy.warren@sqlpass.org.

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"The Best Thing I Learned at PASS Summit" Contest is now on Facebook

Check out our new Facebook fan page for our "The Best Thing I Learned at PASS" Contest. Visit the page to join discussions, receive updates, and have a legitimate excuse to be on Facebook during work hours.

Remember, the contest closes at midnight on June 30, 2009. You could win free registration or free hotel at PASS Summit so make sure you enter! For more info on the contest, visit the PASS Summit Contest page.

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ENTRIES up to June 15 (Part 2 of 2)

ENTRY #6

I went to my first Professional Association for SQL Server Summit in 2007. I’d gone to a few local SQL gatherings, talked to other area DBAs, and worked on some pretty cool projects. I really liked what I was doing, and I thought I was doing a decent job. I knew I wasn’t a rocket scientist, but I kept the trains running on time.

At the PASS Summit, though, it was as if a giant light bulb clicked on above my head.

I learned that the stuff you really need to know isn’t in Books Online.

You wanna learn the stuff that makes your server fly, the stuff that saves your rear when the database is suspect, the stuff that makes you look like a genius amongst your peers, the stuff that makes the developers’ eyes get big, the stuff that makes you wave your hands in the air and shout “I’M KING OF THE WORLD, FOR TINYINT VALUES OF WORLD!”

Everybody knows the stuff in Books Online – that stuff ain’t enough. You wanna learn the secret tips, the undocumented goodies, the up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A cheat codes. They say there’s no /faster switch for SQL Server, and they’re wrong. The SQL Server world is chock full of sorta-kinda-barely-official things that don’t get enough press, yet make a very real performance difference. The classic example from last year was Jimmy May’s session on partition alignment.

- by Brent Ozar
- blog post here


ENTRY #7

I attended my first PASS summit in 2006 and remember the experience as one that shaped my career as a DBA. I was new to SQL 2005 and my company tasked me with security and performance.

I remember meeting SQL MVP Erland Sommarskog in one of the all day pre-con security sessions asking some very good questions about the new security features in SQL 2005 to one of the Microsoft developers who wrote much of the security for SQL 2005. There is nothing like learning real-time with a dialog between a MVP and the developer who wrote the tool. This experienced helped me to secure our web hosting environment.

We had just migrated to SQL 2005 and were seeing blocking on a SPID labeled -4. So, I asked Bob Ward who happened to be manning the CSS area. The question even stumped him, but not for long with his resources back at Microsoft, he gave me his email and said he would look into it. After short email dialog he found that TEMPDB was having contention problems, so we increased the number of files and upgraded to latest cumulative patch and all was good.

Nothing like getting tons of information to help you with your job, getting free support help from CSS, and meeting tons of people in your line of work struggling with exact same thing as you!

- by Chuck Lathrope
- blog post here


ENTRY #8

I attended my first PASS Summit in 2004. I also attended a pre-conference (pre-con) led by Kalen Delaney. It was awesome! Kalen's pre-con focused on performance tuning, and I learned a lot about both SQL Server 2000 and SQL Server 2005.

The most important thing I learned was: I was not alone! There's a whole lot of us out there, lurking in corner and basement cubicles, automating process monitors, reviewing job logs.

I learned most database professionals are "accidental DBAs" - most of us didn't ever plan to enter the field. We decided to do database work sometime after starting in IT, or (like me) were standing closest to the server when a database position became available.

In short, I discovered I was part of a community.

And so it has remained the past five years - I am part of a community.

That's the cool part of PASS for me. At the Summit, I get to see folks I haven't seen for a year. I learn as much at the events and networking with new and old friends as I do during the sessions.

And that's saying something - the sessions are awesome!

- by Andy Leonard
- blog post here


ENTRY #9

Let’s start at the beginning. I wanted to learn more about SQL Server, and found a local User Group, and attended.

After a few meetings, I got to know a few people, including the President. Having these contacts, and being able to ask questions of these local ‘knowledge stores’ when I needed help was priceless. If the story ended there, it would already be a success story. I had networked and learned. I was a better DBA for it.

But that’s not the end. The President told me that I should go to PASS. Since I trusted him already, I went. My family came with me to Florida, and went to DisneyWorld, as I went to PASS. I remember being alone with people all around me. But I soon noticed tons of people, just like me, wanting to learn. During the conference, I saw a few people that I knew, and recognized some names from books I had read. Soon, I realized that all the people attending and speaking, were just like me. This is the 1st great thing that I learned; there are no experts that are better than me, they are people just like me, they just learned this stuff earlier. Now they are sharing with the rest of us. I too can learn what they know. The quantity of knowledge and contacts I have gained because I attended PASS cannot be measured. And that’s why we are all here at PASS. To learn and to network.

- by Tjay Belt
- blog post here


(Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? Memories? Go to our Facebook discussion! http://tinyurl.com/passdiscuss)

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ENTRIES up to June 15 (Part 1 of 2)

ENTRY #1

In 2007, I attended a session on security debugging taught by Ruslan Ovechkin. This class, which I had to cut short because of my flight home, made a big difference on my job.

I work as the lead DBA for a product development team. Our application was repeatedly throwing login errors when trying to connect to SQL Server. Specifically, errors 18452 and 18456. Prior to the Summit, I had been researching these errors in vain on the web. So when I saw this session on the Summit agenda I decided to attend.

Ruslan was a very efficient presenter, and he got right to the point. Eight slides into his PowerPoint presentation, he gave us a list of the common states that throw Error 18456. Right away, I knew that our problem was with our SQL Server service accounts, so I knew what I had to do when I came home.

That wasn't all. He laid out detailed instructions about the various security caches in SQL Server and showed us how to navigate and query them. He also gave us an application to assist with security debugging.

I got a lot out of this session, even considering that I couldn't stay until the end. I still keep the presentation on my workstation since it's a great reference in and of itself and also provides links to the SQL Server security blogs. My team also benefitted, since I was able to educate our developers about the nuances of SQL Server security.

- by Ken Powers


ENTRY #2

I went to my first PASS Summit many many months ago in November of 2008. I didn’t know many people in the SQL Server community, but I knew a few people. Throughout the PASS Summit, I spent time getting to know people. I met a lot of great people at the Summit and I’ve stayed in touch and become friends with many of them.

But, the best thing I learned at PASS was that there’s always something to learn from everyone. We’re all part of a community and we get better by learning from each other.

- by Jeremiah Peschka
- blog post here


ENTRY #3

I attended my first PASS conference in 2007 in Denver and I didn't know exactly what to expect. I signed up for the two pre-sessions prior to the conference and was able to sit through a full day training session with Itzik Ben-Gan the first day and Kalen Delaney on the second. Needles to say, I learned more about T-SQL and SQL Internals in two days than I thought was humanly possible. Just when I thought my brain couldn't hold anymore, I went to several sessions the next three days listening to some of the best minds in the business speak about any SQL topic you can imagine. I think this is one of the areas that make attending the PASS Summit invaluable (it spawns ideas that you can take with you and apply in your environment). You may not remember everything from every presentation, but you can remember enough to know that you need to research a little more on certain topics when you get back to work. But, I think the best thing I took away from the PASS Summit was not something I learned; it was motivation. We tend to get stuck in our daily routines and every now and then we need something like the PASS Summit to recharge our batteries and rejuvenate our outlook on our jobs. When you combine all this with the great networking opportunities and after parties the PASS Summit is one of the best SQL events that you'll ever attend.

- by Ken Simmons
- blog post here


ENTRY #4

The best thing I learned at PASS 2008 was in regards to the SQL Server Upgrade Assistant. I wasn't alone in the people that didn't know this tool existed. When the presenter asked for the hands of those who had used or knew of the tool, not many were raised. I knew of and had used the SQL Server Upgrade Advisor before, but this tool was the real deal and helped us get approval sign offs in record times. This tool saved my organization SAIC a great deal of time an effort in staging and testing for our upgrades from SQL Server 2000 to SQL Server 2005. We plan to make use of the tool again when we go from SQL Server 2005 to SQL Server 2008 sometime in the future.

- by Rob Spellman
- blog post here


ENTRY #5

I attended my first PASS Conference in 2007 and was blown away. The presentations were so amazing and insightful; I practically begged my boss to allow me to attend the 2008 Conference. The most valuable thing I learned from both of these conferences is that there is no replacement for networking with your peers and being able to communicate situations and solutions to each other. After the 2007 Conference, I rushed back to the office to begin sharing all that I had learned. I stressed to my teammates that we needed to get more active in the PASS community as there was an extremely broad base of people that were always more than willing to help answer questions and offer advice when needed.

I took PASS as an opportunity to be able to meet some of the people I only had been able to read their blog posts or articles in SQL Server Magazine. I was going to get a chance listen and learn from people like Kalen Delaney, Itzik Ben-Gan and Kevin Kline. Not to say that the technical aspect of it all wasn’t amazing and it sounds a little corny but for me it was the people at PASS that made it worth it for me. I would never trade the experience of going to PASS and I encourage everyone to try their hardest to go!

- by Sheldon M. Williams


(Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? Memories? Go to our Facebook discussion! http://tinyurl.com/passdiscuss)

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And now for something completely different... like our leading ENTRIES!

This year's maiden PASS Summit contest is shifting into full gear this week. There are two weeks left to get YOUR entry in. It's only 250 words. What have you got to lose?

If you're not sure how to go about it, here are our leading entries so far. Feel free to comment here or visit our Facebook page to join in on the discussion!

As Monty Python said, "And now for something completely different..."

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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 Connector Editorial for June 3 - by Andy Warren

I was browsing through the list of SQL 2008 books today to find one to feature in this issue of the Connector and Pro SQL Server 2008 Analytics: Delivering Sales and Marketing Dashboards caught my eye. There’s no doubt that ‘dashboards’ are a hot commodity these days and while some of that might just be the buzzword of the quarter, there’s also a real need to provide information to business users in a way that people understand.

Often we call that reporting, and the presumption is that reporting is easy, if anything figuring out the query for the report is the hard part. There are definitely reports that work just fine in the plain tabular format, but it’s interesting how displaying the data the right way can lead to a better or faster understanding of what the data means. For example, during the months prior to our European Summit we received a weekly report that was a graph showing the year over year trend along with lines indicating major milestones on each timeline making it very easy to understand.  For the 2009 Summit we get a similar report but in tabular format. It’s the same data, just not as easy to understand.

Business intelligence isn’t just reporting, there is definitely a lot to it and as I assess my own skills I see that without more knowledge of both SSIS and SSAS I’m limiting the solutions I propose – the old saying about when all you have is a hammer all the problems look like nails applies all too well.

Changing topics, I saw that Board member Greg Low just sent out his monthly email to our chapter leaders and included this time is something we’re calling the ‘chapter deck’, a short Powerpoint slide deck that has news and other information from PASS.  Our hope is that this becomes both a tool that is useful and time saving for the chapter leader, but also another way to communicate our messages to prospective members. If you attend a chapter meeting and see it used, let us know what you think!

Have a question about PASS? Email me at andy.warren@sqlpass.org.

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