Category Archives: Review

Pragmatic Tools Week: BIxPress

tim-taylor-aus-tool-timeMuch like Tim “The Toolman” Taylor had his themed weeks, we’re going to do something similar. This week we salute: (play fanfare music here) the Pragmatic Works BI toolset. Today we’re going to talk about BIxPress.

I’ve previously posted on BIxPress and how it helps DBAs out, but the heart of this product is really aimed at making your development quick and easy. Today we’re going to focus on a few things that really make this tool worthwhile by looking at the top 3 features of this product that I really love.

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SQLSaturday 31 Chicago: Recap

Last weekend I had the distinguished pleasure of attending Chicago’s very first SQLSaturday event. Before I begin my recap I’d like to again give a HUGE thanks the organizers of the event: Wendy Pastrick (Blog | Twitter), Aaron Lowe (Blog | Twitter) and Ted Krueger (Blog | Twitter) as well as all of the awesome volunteers that helped out.

My wife Jessica (Blog | Twitter) and I arrived into Chicago Friday afternoon. We had time to catch a bite at Grand Lux Cafe with some friends and my sister. Pretty nice place, kind of like a Cheesecake Factory but a little better. My wife’s a foodie so she was loving it! After lunch I got the pleasure of meeting Brent Ozar (Blog | Twitter), Jeremiah Peschka (Blog | Twitter) and Jeremiah’s friend John Jakubowski (Blog | Twitter) as they picked me up and we headed out to the ‘Burbs for the speaker’s dinner. We had plenty of time in car to talk about all things geek such as NoSQL, Ruby on Rails, PASS and a few other choice subjects not fit for print. Let’s just say I learned some strip clubs in Ohio have free steaks for lunch.

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SQLSaturday #21 – Orlando: Recap

I’d like to preface my recap with a huge thanks to Kendal Van Dyke (Blog | Twitter) for being such a gracious host and letting me stay with him last weekend for the event. Kendal is a great guy, DBA and father and I really appreciated his invitation.

My SQLSaturday adventure started Friday as I left work and headed to Orlando to make it to the speaker’s dinner. I swung by Kendal’s house so we could head out there together. On a complete side-note, the city of Celebration really is quite the charming little town. It’s like driving straight on to the set of The Stepford Wives, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on what you make of that! The speaker’s dinner was held at a restaurant/bar about 40 minutes north so Kendal and I had some nice one-on-one geek talk about work, life and all the madness fun stuff going on with the PASS elections last week.

The speaker’s dinner was great, I got to meet some new folks like fellow SQL Twit (and co-author) Ken Simmons (Blog | Twitter), Regional PASS mentor and all-around awesome human being Andy Leonard (Blog | Twitter) as well as got to have some quality geek time with the rest of the speakers. Sitting down with fellow geeks and talking shop is always a fantastic time and I highly recommend you take advantage of it any time you get. I got to take advantage of a similar situation the next day which I’ll get to in a bit. After the dinner Kendal and I went back to his place and like anyone who has presented can attest to we both stayed up late tweaking and completing our slide decks in preparation for the next day.

The next morning Kendal and I arrived at the event and due to some miscommunication with signage we got into the wrong parking lot but thankfully Kendal remembered the right place to be from a  previous event there so we finally parked in correct lot. The check-in process was pretty smooth but the only thing I’d have to ding Jack/Andy for is the placement of vendor tables in that opening hallway. The doorway to and from that vendor hallway was really crammed and made it a bit of a hassle to get to/from but I can’t ding them too bad as you can tell it was placed there out of necessity since we didn’t have a large open space like a cafeteria to take advantage of. To counter my ding I should give kudos to the very large maps provided on the walls throughout the event that showed where each classroom was. I thought this was a FANTASTIC idea and was especially helpful when last-minute room changes were made. Some other great stuff that happened prior to sessions starting I got to meet another fellow SQL tweep Gareth Swann (Blog | Twitter)!

[NOTE: All presentation materials can be downloaded at the event page SQLSaturday website, go to Schedule and click on sessions to get slidedecks/code samples)

The first session I attended was Andy Leonard’s session on Database Design. As was mentioned by Jonathan Kehayias (Blog | Twitter) this session was standing room only after the small group of people who made it in after the room change confusion. Andy is a knowledgeable, personable and funny speaker and I was very surprised to discover this was his first time presenting at a SQLSaturday event. I really enjoyed the style in which he presented code examples. The first sample of code was the easy way which many take. It’s easy, and it works. The next code sample would be a better way to do it and finally he showed the “best” (or best compared to other samples) in how to code. Some examples of what makes code “better” is making re-executable SQL code. For example wrap your code with IF EXISTS checks so that if the code were run again it can fail gracefully or at least skip unnecessary code executions. Some other nuggets were that Andy likes to save the output from his script executions, which he referred to as deployment artifacts, and archives them for documentation purposes. Something really nice I took away from this is that I finally got an explanation of what that sqlcommand button/mode does in SSMS. This mode allows you to (amongst other things) chain scripts together so if you have several deployment scripts you can launch them all from within a single script file in order. Another very cool thing I took away from this presentation is Andy talking about how he read a paper from NASA regarding their code deployment/development process entitled “They Write the Right Stuff”. In it they describe how NASA actually looks to tweaking processes before they look to tweaking code to ensure quality and Andy had some very good insights as to how to carry that over to the SQL world. If you get a chance to chat with Andy or attend one of his sessions I HIGHLY recommend it! One last funny thing to come out of this session was Jonathan Kehayias keeping track of how long it took for him to answer a question with “it depends”. I believe Andy clocked in at somewhere near the 20 minute mark.

The second time slot was time for me to present my Policy Based Management talk. I had about a dozen folks in attendance including Aaron Nelson (Blog | Twitter), Ken Simmons, and Bonnie Allard from the Spacecoast SQL Server User Group. I attempted to broadcast the session via LiveMeeting (big thanks to Jeremiah Peschka for providing me with that) but alas it didn’t work because 1) I’d never done it before so after the fact I realized I broadcasted only webcam with no sound and no screen shared out and 2) Internet connection at the venue was spotty so I wasn’t even sure if connection didn’t drop during event. Overall I think the talk went ok, nothing blew up too badly but I did learn some valuable lessons thanks to feedback from those in attendance. I think from here on out I am going to break up the PBM into two presentations: One intro and basic overview and second more demo heavy and advanced tips/tricks. There really is just so much stuff in it that it is very hard to try and cram everything into an hour session and not forget something or rush. Hopefully if Ken can make it down to SQLSaturday Tampa in January we can do this two-part session together (and maybe even at PASS 2010? Hehe). On a side note this is the second SQLSaturday I’ve presented this talk and the number of those coming out were about a dozen while other sessions I’ve attended were pretty much full houses. So I ask this question to you, all five of you who read this the general audience: Does Policy Based Management simply not interest you or rather Does PBM seem like to much of a “niche” topic that you feel you can’t/won’t be using? I’d be very curious to know how people view this very powerful tool. It really is not that hard to implement/use and can be extremely useful for developers and DBA’s alike. Please leave your thoughts in comments below or if you’d rather email me directly at jorge<at>sqlchicken<dot>com.

Immediately following my session, in the same room, was Ken Simmons presenting on Automating Routine Maintenance. I thought this presentation was very well done and presented some really good things to think about and implement as a DBA. The ever SQL-omniscient Brent Ozar (Blog | Twitter) even got some credits in regards to the different images used in Ken’s slide deck which were funny and appropriate (gotta love car analogies). Ken covered some great stuff such as covering what a fail-safe operator was and how it differentiated from a regular operator in SQL Server (hint: fail-safe operator is written to system registry, rest are kept in msdb). This was cool as I didn’t know exactly what the fail-safe operator was or why it was there! Now that I know I’ll be implementing it in my systems back home. Some other important topics he touched on were performing DBCC checks on your databases and what some of the check options are and why you should be using them. Same goes with traceflags. He also covered statistics in databases and he had a really awesome analogy for this one that involved driving home. He likened SQL Stats to someone driving to and from work everyday. After awhile you know which route to take and which route is fastest so that’s the one you always take. But what if one day there’s construction and you need to detour from your usual route for a week? Well when this happens you need to update your mental stats as to which route you need to take in order to get to your destination fastest. The database engine works in a similar fashion. Again, car analogies FTW! For the record it took Ken almost 50 minutes before he dropped the “it depends” bomb.

Lunch was a bit of whirlwind for me since I pretty much just had time to grab my box lunch, eat and head over to my room for my mini presentation on Twitter and SQL Server. I rather liked this session as it just felt more laid-back than the PBM talk and with only 15 minutes to fill there wasn’t as much pressure. The presentation was aimed more towards those who have not used Twitter due to being hesitant on finding a useful value to the tool as opposed to finding out what Miley Cyrus had for breakfast. I gave a few examples of how Twitter has helped me personally at work, the best example being getting direct help from Paul Randal (Blog | Twitter) when I had a database corruption issue. Thanks to the relationships cultivated on Twitter with the rest of the SQL Commmunity I think I have added more value to both my organization and myself as I can always reach out to others and get help on topics I’m not necessarily comfortable or familiar with (read also: SSRS and SSIS). In addition to just reaching out for help I can stay up to date on latest happenings in the SQL Community as well as training opportunities such as free webcasts, events and blog posts that help me learn more about my specialty. If I sound like I’ve drank some sort of Kool-Aid it’s because I really can’t say enough how great Twitter has been in connecting to the SQL Community. If you haven’t tried it yet I highly suggest you give it a shot. If you need a list of folks to follow on Twitter then head over to SQLServerpedia as they have a nice collection of folks already on the Twitter bandwagon. Make sure to drop me a line at http://twitter.com/sqlchicken .

At this point my intention was to head over to Kevin Kline’s End to End Troubleshooting session but as I was walking to the room I noticed a few guys sitting around the pavement chatting. What caught my eye was WHO it was since it was a couple of folks I hadn’t met yet and was really anxious to. The sidewalk gang consisted of Andy Leonard, Jonathan Kehayias, Buck Woody (Blog | Twitter), Joe Webb (Blog | Twitter), Joe Healy (Blog | Twitter) and (eventually) Ken Simmons. Despite all the great content available at the event I thought the hour spent with these guys (yup, ended up missing the session, sorry Kevin!) was invaluable. How often do you get to sit around a group of guys of that caliber and hear their thoughts on SQL Server and, as was the case in this particular conversation, get some inside stories from the world of Microsoft! This wraps back to the whole “social networking” aspect of one’s career and I highly encourage everyone to take advantage of opportunities when presented. In this case I weighed my options: Can I download Kevin’s slide deck or catch another similar session online? Yes and probably. Am I going to get another opportunity to get face to face time like this outside of going to PASS Summit? Probably not. If you attend a SQLSaturday event (or any event rather) and you see someone you’d like to talk to then go introduce yourself! Heck, even milling around and simply listening to two or three top guys discussing shop-talk together can bring all sorts of new information into your world. I guarantee you that those “big name guys” are just as excited to meet you as you are to meet them. If you’re going to PASS this year and want to learn or practice networking skills I highly recommend you sign up for Don Gabor’s pre-conference session on Networking to Build Business Contacts. After our “sidewalk session” was done we started heading to our next classroom destinations when another impromptu networking opportunity presented itself with none other than Joe Celko (Blog)! I just got to spend a few minutes with Joe but man that guy is so ridiculously smart and personable I was blown away! I had heard how nice of a guy he really is as opposed to his evil cantankerous online alter-ego but Joe really is a great guy. He talked about the future of SQL a bit and how indexes may actually no longer be necessary thanks to something about hashing (again this guy is way out of my league in SQL-smarts so I’m probably butchering his words). So after all of this networking practice it was only right that my next session was to go see Andy Warren (Blog | Twitter) present on Social and Not So Social Networking for the DBA!

Again, this was another standing-room only session and for good reason. Andy is a fantastic speaker and its almost like he’s a wisdom machine that just produces knowledge nuggets every time he speaks and you can quote me on that one. I showed up a little late due to my social activities from before so I didn’t realize (until I saw Jonathan Kehayias’ tweets) that Andy had projector issues so he was “working without a net” so to speak. I’ve attended this session before by Andy but it’s always interesting to see which way the conversation goes as the presentation is almost a forum in the way Andy prods the audience for their thoughts and views and goes from there. What I love about Andy’s speaking (and him in general) is that he has a definite viewpoint on things that are quite often different than mainstream views are and he forces you to really think about stuff. For instance it wasn’t until after then event was over that Andy delivered his first, and highly-anticipated, tweet! Did he just create an account that day? Nope, he actually created it months ago when another fellow SQL Tweep convinced him to create an account but Andy refused to jump in and start tweeting unless he could see a real returnable value from said technology or tool. This is something important for all of us to really think about before we just start jumping on-board trends. Jonathan was tweeting some great Andy quotes throughout the session and you can see some of those over at Jon’s SQLSaturday recap post.

The last session I attended was Joe Celko’s “Celko on SQL” session. Since I regrettably won’t be able to make it to PASS Summit this year, and I wasn’t sure the next time Celko was going to be down around my neck of the woods, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. The session consisted of Joe basically going back through the history of the SQL ANSI Standard (for those of you who don’t know, Joe is on the ANSI board, yes that board that met for 3 days to come to the conclusion that its pronounced S-Q-L not “sequel”) and all the fun things that came out of it and why some things behave the way they do. He had different slide decks based on topics such as the JOINs which we delved into a bit. This session didn’t have any code samples to take away or best practices to implement but its always interesting to see the history of your product and the minds behind said product. Special thanks to the Central Florida Oracle User Group for pitching in to bring Joe to SQLSaturday. Here’s another pitch for PASS but there’s plenty of opportunities like this at PASS Summit where you can talk directly to the folks that write the code that run the queries you bless/curse on a daily basis. So if you’d like a reason to give to your boss to attend, there’s a pretty good one right there.

The day wrapped up as all SQLSaturdays do with the distribution of SWAG to the masses. Andy Warren was chucking stuff left and right from the balcony to the people whose number he called out below which made for an entertaining way to wrap up the day. Huge thanks and congratulations goes out to Jack Corbett (Blog | Twitter), Andy Warren and their dedicated volunteers for putting on such a great event. Events like these and the people I meet energize me and reaffirm how much I love what I do and how much I love the community I’m a part of because of it.

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OPASS User Group Meeting: Review

Well last night I presented my Policy Based Management presentation for the Orlando SQL PASS User Group aka OPASS. The meeting was held at the End-to-End Training (now called SQLShare.com) offices which is a nice facility ran by Andy Warren (Blog | LinkedIn). The meeting started off with a short bit of networking where Andy has everyone introduce themselves to their neighbors and get some discussion going. I thought this was a nice little touch and lets people work on their networking skills.

First up for the night was a mini presentation on Backup Basics with Todd Holmes (LinkedIn), a DBA for Channel Intelligence in Celebration. The mini presentation is a 15-minute presentation slot that Andy came up with to encourage new speakers to cut their teeth on public speaking and technical presentations. Todd did a great job with such a broad topic and even went the extra mile in showing examples via T-SQL code. Todd will also be doing this mini presentation at the upcoming SQL Saturday #21 in Orlando.

After Todd’s presentation there was a short dinner break and I got setup for my PBM presentation. Andy said he was curious to see an hour-long presentation went on Policy Based Management since he thought it was a topic that could be covered rather quickly. Funnily enough my presentation ran just a tad over an hour and I could have kept going! There were some hiccups here and there with my VM taking a little longer than I would have liked to open certain things but demos didn’t blow up like they did at the last SQL Saturday. I also got a chance to show the audience EPMF in action (sort of). I showed the script run that used PowerShell to apply existing policies and dump results into a database repository. The example failed because I tried to open Reporting Services page on VM which had the hardened IE settings enabled that didn’t allow scripts to run so I wound up just showing a screenshot of the dashboard view. Hopefully this demo helps people take SQL 2008 and PBM back to their jobs and look like rock stars for virtually no money (except for cost of SQL 2008 Standard license after they see how awesome this is).

After the meeting I stuck around and talked shop with Andy, Jack Corbett (Blog | Twitter) and Kendal Van Dyke (Blog | Twitter) which was pretty awesome as we talked about all things SQL. Always a good time when you get quality geek time in. Overall it was a great time and a big thank you to the group for having me out there. If you’re in the Orlando area make sure to check out the group!

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24 Hours of SQL PASS – Review

So the inaugural event for 24 Hours of SQL PASS has come and gone. In its wake its left hundreds of eager minds reeling from absolutely amazing content overload, bleary and blood-shot eyes around the globe and one worn-down rock star.

First off the staff at PASS and all of the presenters deserve a standing ovation for the amazing job they did putting this event together. From marketing the event across multiple platforms (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Summit site) as well as adding a fun bonus add-on with having Tom LaRock (Blog), aka the SQLRockstar, do a full 24 hour co-broadcast via Ustream. While I wasn’t able to have the insanity fortitude of Tom and brave all 24 hours (did anyone else actually accomplish this insane feat?) I did manage to catch most of the ones that were of most interest to me. I’ll recap in order of sessions attended.

Hour 1 (8:00 PM EST) – 10 Big Ideas in Database Design by Louis Davidson (Blog|Twitter) and Paul Nielsen (Blog | Twitter)

I won’t lie, I pretty much missed the entirety of this session trying to get my desktop working so I could bring up the Live Meeting. The only thing I had working was the laptop running Tom’s Ustream feed and chat. Luckily this setup allowed me to listen to the session so I was in and out as far as paying attention while I tried to troubleshoot my desktop woes. It’s Dr. SQL and Paul Nielsen, can’t go wrong with these guys and from what I caught there was a lot of good information that people should pay attention to when developing. When this session becomes available on demand I’ll definitely be watching it.

Hour 2 (9:00 PM EST)Using PowerShell to Get the Most Out of SQL Server by Allen White (Blog)

Powershell sessions always leave me feeling like less of a man for not knowing and using Powershell yet. TMI? Anywho, Allen did a great job showing some cool tips and tricks in showing how you can access and control different aspects of SQL Server via Powershell.

Hour 3 (10:00 PM EST) – Team Management Fundamentals by Kevin Kline ( Blog | Twitter )

This was one of my favorite sessions that I attended. Kevin’s topic was about how to effectively manage an IT team. Some of the stuff he mentioned is pretty universal but there are caveats when dealing with tech folks that he covered and covered well. Grab his slide deck and check it out, excellent presenter on a great topic. It’s funny because today Brent Ozar ( Blog | Twitter ) wrote up an article about management as well.

At this point I bowed out for the evening so I could grab some shut eye and get up early for Gail Shaw’s ( Blog ) Effective Indexing presentation at 6 am. Alas, I missed that one but got to the office early to catch the next one. I WILL be watching Gail’s presentation on demand when its available as effective indexing is something every DBA and developer needs to take the time and fully understand.

Hour 12 (7:00 am EST) – Reporting Services Inside and Out: The Things You Should Know by Simon Sabin (Blog|Twitter)

Reporting Services is one of those pieces of SQL Server that you look at it and think “damn I could do soooo many cool things with it”. You attend the webcasts, read the books, and if you’re anything like me you end up too busy to get to that awesome idea you had. Simon did a bang up job walking through SSRS and showing some cool tips and tricks with it. I especially liked the part where he created a report that dynamically changed pictures of either a check mark or an X depending on the result of the query on the column. I’ll definitely be re-watching that later on to try that out. Funny part of this session came when Simon had to excuse himself to take a call as he and his wife are expecting their baby to be born any day now. God speed Simon and hope your bundle of joy comes soon and healthy!

Hour 13 (8:00 am EST) – Query Performance Tuning 101 by Grant Fritchey (Blog|Twitter)

This was one of the most heavily attended sessions (about 450 people!) and for good reason, Grant is a fantastic presenter and his knowledge on the subject of performance tuning is second to none. I attended a session of Grant’s a couple of weeks ago and I got something new out of that. Same thing happened with this session. Grant’s book, SQL Server Query Performance Tuning Distilled, is on my list of must-buy books and if you have any interest in development or performance tuning it should be on yours as well. If you ever get a chance to attend any session by Grant I HIGHLY encourage you to do so. After that hour you’ll come away feeling like you want to re-write every bit of code within your grasp (and in some shops that probably wouldn’t be a bad idea!).

<insert a few hours of me doing my actual job here>

Hour 17 (12:00 pm EST) – Building a Better Blow by Steve Jones (Blog|Twitter)

Maybe its because I absolutely love Steve as a presenter (make sure to catch his weekly podcast, The Voice of the DBA), maybe its because I’ve taken up blogging in the last few months, whatever it was I have to say this one of my favorite sessions overall. Steve basically went over reasons why starting and maintaining a blog can be beneficial for you both personally and professionally. He also covered a topic of great importance in this realm which was basically DO NOT STEAL OTHER PEOPLE’S CONTENT!!! Seriously, it happens more than you think and if you get caught you just look really, really bad. Other highlights of this presentation were magically seeing my own profile come up in his slide deck as an example of a basic profile (thanks again Steve!) as well as watching Tom make Steve laugh on the air since apparently Steve had Tom’s broadcast up on another monitor.

<Insert a few more hours of meetings and doing work. Yeah, I know, you’re shocked>

Hour 24 (7:00 pm EST) – Embed Reporting Services into Your Applications by Jessica Moss (Blog|Twitter)

As I mentioned before Reporting Services is one of the those really cool features I wish I took more advantage of. Jessica is the SQL community’s resident expert on the topic and she does a great job of walking through the product and clearly explaining everything. This was a pretty cool session in which she showed the differences between the types of Reporting Services reports you can use and create. For instance did you know that in addition to .rdl files there are .rdlc files that are client side reports? Well up until last week I didn’t know that!

Overall Thoughts

Overall I thought this was a fantastic event and I can’t thank PASS and the presenters enough. There were some glitches in the links for the Live Meeting links but thanks to the awesome community that problem was quickly handled via Twitter, chat rooms and blog posts. These events are mind-blowingly awesome in that you ALWAYS walk away with some new piece of knowledge and best of all…IT WAS FREE! The other thing about an event like this is that this is just a taste of what the annual PASS Summit can offer you. At the Summit not only do you get all of this mind-blowing content but you get to interact with presenters, you’re surrounded by the greatest experts from all over world, and you get to expand your social network thanks to all skills you got from the networking sessions AT the conference. So what are you waiting for? Print out your justification list, present it to your boss and get your rear to the PASS Summit. Make sure to register by September 15th to take advantage of the discounted pricing. After the 15th the price goes up $400.

2009 PASS Summit
2009 PASS Summit
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SQL Saturday #16 – Recap

Last Saturday was the SQL Saturday event at Devry University in Miramar, Florida. First off I have to say it was a great event with over 400 attendees! It was also my very first SQL Saturday speaking event. The speaker evaluations haven’t come back yet but I have a feeling I’ll definitely should have some dings as my presentation started off well but towards the end the presentation Gods reared their ugly heads and it ended on a not-so-great note with my demo not going so well. The good news is that one attendee, Argenis Fernandez ( Twitter ), gave me some good feedback as well as told me that he got some good ideas from the presentation and was excited to go back to work and implement Policy Based Management in his environment. Honestly that kind of response makes the effort all worthwhile.

From my session I went to check out Kendal Van Dyke’s ( Blog | Twitter ) session on Configuring SQL Access for the Web Developer/Admin. Kendal and I interact pretty frequently on Twitter so I was glad to get a chance to finally meet him as well attend his sessions. This was a good intro level talk on how to configure web application authentication methods in both classic ASP and ASP.NET. Some nice tricks come out of this session including how to properly add a user to the IIS_WPG group (hint: the proper way ISN’T to just add them to the group in computer management!). I’m no developer but this was really useful to me, especially as a DBA tasked with implementing Sharepoint in to our environment. I say this because Sharepoint has its share of permission issues especially if you run the app pools or web apps under a different account such as a custom AD account.

My next session was Andy Warren’s ( Blog | Twitter | LinkedIN ) session on Social and Not so Social Networking for the DBA. I’ve attended other sessions with Andy and they’ve all been great. This one was no exception. Andy is an excellent presenter and makes it look so easy. One thing that was great about this, for me, is that this is the first weekend was the first time I’ve gotten a chance to really meet and talk to Andy. It was funny because at the speaker dinner he asked “Hey, aren’t you that SQLChicken guy?” which made me laugh. I guess my self-branding is working! Anyhow, this session was really interesting as it was more of an open discussion with the group rather than a straight forward presentation. Andy brings up important things to think about in terms of networking such as don’t start building your network only when you need something (aka job search). Networking is something that can benefit you far beyond simple job searches and opportunities. In the session some of us shared how simply being connected on social networks like Twitter have actually helped improve ourselves in our current jobs. If you ever get a chance to attend this session I highly recommend you do. In fact, if you’re attending the PASS Summit in Seattle in November, Don Gabor will be holding a Pre-Conference session called Networking to Build Business Contacts. Andy highly recommends anyone attending the summit to check this session out as it will help you not only build your network professionally but help you network in general at events like PASS and SQL Saturday.

At lunch I got to sit down and have lunch with Andy Warren, Kendal Van Dyke and a few other attendees. I only mention this in the blog because I we got a chance to talk with some people who ranged from first-timers to the SQL world as well as others who’ve been doing it for awhile. Also it was interesting to get feedback on little things like how sometimes the session descriptions were a little too vague so it made it difficult to decide if the topic or level was the right one to attend. Based on this I know I’ll be tweaking my abstracts for future events. The other cool thing was getting a chance to sit and pick Andy’s brain a bit about the direction of PASS. Personally I’m excited to see what PASS has in store to continue bringing the community together. So far its been fantastic to be a part of it.

Next up was another session with Kendal with topic being Transactional Replication: Beyond the Basics.  Honestly I’m currently not using transaction replication in my shop but after attending this session I feel like I gleaned enough knowledge to be able to tackle that task if it were asked of me. Great overview of different topologies that were clearly and easily explained, as well as going over some possible pitfalls you might encounter. Very interesting topic and presented very well. Kendal will actually be doing this presentation this year at PASS (first time presenter, congrats to him!) so again if you’ll be at PASS Summit this year I suggest you check this session out.

After that I went over to Jeffrey Garbus’ ( Blog ) session on Indexing for Join Optimization which drew quite the crowd. Packed house with a bunch of people (myself included) taking a seat on the floor along the walls to check this topic out! I’ve attended Jeffrey’s session before at the last SQL Saturday in Tampa and he is a great speaker. This particular talk was actually kind of a part 2 to his earlier talk on Choosing Indexes for Performance . Even if you didn’t catch the first session this one alone is a treasure trove of great information. For instance do you know why join orders matters? Do you know the difference in performance between doing a join using the old ANSI syntax and the new? You’d be surprised. Again I highly recommend you check out any session by Jeffrey if given the opportunity.

Last, but most definitely not least, was Chad Miller’s ( Blog | Twitter ) session on Powershell and SQL Server Administration. Chad not only covers basic Powershell commands and tricks but he covers using a cool project he’s developed called SQL Server PowerShell Extensions. What PSX gives DBAs is a base set of functions that covers most common DBA tasks. One of the coolest demonstrations I saw during this presentation was the use of Powershell as an ETL tool. Chad shows you how you are able to copy data from table to another using only 3 lines of code! This presentation truly made me excited to really start learning Powershell and applying it at work.

Overall I thought it was a great event, as any SQL Saturday I’ve attended, and I had an absolute blast presenting and meeting a bunch of folks I’ve interacted with on Twitter. If you get a chance to make it to a SQL Saturday event I couldn’t recommend  it enough. You get top-notch education, great networking opportunities, awesome swag and all for free! If you don’t have a SQL Saturday event in a city near you, and you won’t be making it to the PASS Summit this year then don’t fret! The good folks at PASS have put together an exciting free training event called 24 Hours of SQL PASS. For more details on this great event check my previous post on it.

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Spacecoast SQL User Group Meeting: Review

After writing up my review for my presentation at OPASS I realized I hadn’t done one for my visit to Melbourne for the Spacecoast SQL User Group! A thousand apologies Bonnie and crew!

I arrived early in Melbourne so I spent some quality time at Starbucks for a bit before the meeting which gave me the opportunity to test and retest some of the policy demos so I didn’t repeat my blunders from the previous weekend at SQL Saturday in South Florida. When the time came around I got over to the Spacecoast Federal Credit Union headquarters building where the meeting was held (which is a beautiful building btw). The group is small but very enthusiastic crowd in that they ask a LOT of good questions. The PBM presentation went without a hitch which was nice and the presentation actually took a positive unexpected turn when we started discussing virtualization. I wound up giving a mini presentation on VMware and virtualization and how it all worked which was pretty cool.

Afterwards a few of us went over to the questionably-named sports bar called The Rendezvous in the Holiday Inn to socialize and talk shop a bit. It was interesting to hear about how Bonnie got started in the SQL world and how she came about establishing the User Group. Want to hear the story yourself? Then get over to one of their meetings! They meet on the second Thursday of each month so if you’re in the Melbourne/Cocoa Beach/Titusville area go check them out!

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Recap: Performance Tuning and Query Optimization

Tonight was our monthly SQL Server User Group meeting and our featured presenter this evening was Plamen Ratchev (Blog) presenting on performance tuning and query optimization. First off, he has an awesome accent. I think he’s of Croatian descent from what he mentioned but he rolls his R’s something fierce. I should’ve had him say the phrase “reporting services” a bunch of times just to make me giggle. Anyways, I’m way off topic…

He opened with a quote from Donald Knuth that stated

We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time: premature optimization is the root of all evil

This was a good point to open with in that if you try to focus on only performance in the development phase you’re more than likely going to perform an epic fail. He then went on to show the differences between being reactive and proactive in terms of performance tuning. His take was that in Europe their development processes focused more on being proactive and trying to take care of issues before they become major problems as opposed to trying to run around putting out fires all the time like many a DBA (myself included) is forced to do on a daily basis. In an interesting story he relayed to us he told us about how he had come to the U.S. and pitched a European software that allowed a major car manufacturer to improve their processes. The software would basically alert you if anything in production fell “out of the norm” and would advise actions on how to fix it. The American company had a different approach to their process. They basically hired a team of high-priced consultants to come in for a week, measure everything nuts to bolts about what’s wrong in the production process, produce a report and leave (whether or not problem got fixed). What surprised me most was that he told us the manager told him if there’s a problem they pretty much just build another assembly line somewhere else rather than fix current issue. If you’re wondering why they need Federal bail-out money, this story should give you a slight clue.

The presentation continued on with things such as common performance issues you’re likely to find such as inefficient queries, retrieving too much data, inefficient or missing indexes and a few other things. This was a nice list to see for both devs and DBA’s alike so everyone is aware of these common mistakes. This lead to topic of problematic designs such as the “one-true lookup” table issue. This is when rather than normalizing your data someone decides its easier to just throw everything in to one large table and add columns as needed later on. I can see some of you cringe when you read that since you’ve probably seen that in production somewhere at some point.The surprising thing that came out of this example though (to me anyways) was that sometimes this setup actually makes sense for very specific applications such as a simple survey or a medical application that is only storing straight facts (i.e. patient monitor). Another oldie but a goodie is mismatched data types on join columns or filters. While this may work without a problem, when you throw a heavy work load at something like this you’ll see performance tank because behind the scenes the data engine is having to do lots of implicit conversions to process that query for you. So remember that little tidbit next time you’re planning with your devs and database developers.

The next interesting thing I learned was regarding data type optimization. Do you know what the one of the fundamental differences is between VARCHAR and NVARCHAR besides one taking up twice as much space as the other? NVARCHAR handles multiple collations while VARCHAR is more for single so if your application is only going to be delivered via a single, default collation then stick with using VARCHAR.

I could go on and on but needless to say this was an extremely insightful and useful presentation. Another user group member, Ron Dameron (Twitter), noted in Twitter this evening

…seen this deck twice now. Learned new stuff both times. Thx Plamen

If you ever get a chance to attend one of Plamen’s presentations at a live event I highly encourage you to do so as he’s a brilliant guy and presents well. If he’s not coming anywhere near you, you can still check out his presentation stylings by watching his videos over at JumpstartTV. In closing here’s some book recommendations he threw out at the end of his slide deck. Basically this is just an excuse for me to use the cool Carousel feature from Amazon!

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Pre vs iPhone: Reviews…Sorta

pre-vs-iphone Well the last few days has been pretty active in the cell phone industry. On Saturday we had the debut of the Palm Pre, the supposed “iPhone killer” that was supposed to bring Palm back from the dead and Sprint out of its 3rd place slot in the mobile industry. Monday we had the annual circus sideshow that is the Apple Developer’s Conference keynote where Apple unveiled a few new nuggets including the new iPhone 3.0 OS as well as the new iPhone 3GS hardware. This is a quick review from my POV on both launches, hardware and thoughts.

First I was planning to do a hands-on review of the Palm Pre after I went to the Sprint store on Sunday to play around with it. I’d like to note that prior to my owning an iPhone I had 3 iterations of the Palm Treo (600,650, 700) on Verizon and I absolutely loved it. The problem with being on Verizon is that they don’t really have any “sexy” phones to drool over and I sat over on the red side looking over the fence at the iPhone users. Sure it was a cool device but c’mon, was it really that good? I LOVED my Treo and despite the new phones coming out on Verizon nothing could match the great features and organization of contacts and calendar. My wife and I were fed up with getting nickel and dimed by Verizon and so we jumped ship over to AT&T and go our iPhone fix. And so the love affair began, I do everything on this thing. Anyways I’m rambling, back to the Pre. Gizmodo did their write up of the Pre and I’ve gotta say that I pretty much agreed with them on all accounts (except for the last part about being sick of iPhone). That being said just read their review and you’ll see what I mean. Also of note when I was in store the demo unit the saleperson handed me was down to 48% battery life. I asked how long it’d been since last charge and he said about 4 hours. Digging into the system I found that the bluetooth and wifi were both disabled so I have a feeling battery life on that unit in the wild is probably comparable to current iPhone 3G. I’d also like to note that the keyboard is ridiculously small which was a major letdown for me as well.

Now on to the new iPhone goodness. We got a few expected things such as cut/copy/paste (took long enough), magnetic compass, Spotlight search, processor/memory/camera upgrades as well as some surprises like Nike+ integration, voice control and theoretically better battery life (which is sorely needed). Another nice surprise, if I can call it that, is the pricing of the current 3G dropped down to $99, the new 3GS 16 GB is $199 and 32 GB is $299. The new phone is nice but not a huge “OMG I need to go get it now” kind of thing. I would consider myself a “power user” in that I’m constantly using the phone so I drain the battery pretty fast. For that reason alone I would want to upgrade for the increased battery life and power. As far as the OS 3.0 I already have most of the new stuff like cut/paste and spotlight search via jailbreaking my phone being resourceful.

Bottom line is I was really, really stoked when I first saw the Pre announced and now that I’ve finally gotten my hands on it I was a little let down. But to be fair I’d probably need to use it for real for a few days to give it a true review. In Apple land we’ll have to see how AT&T responds to demands of current customers and I’m interested to see their explanation of why they’re neutering tethering for now even though the rest of the planet gets it out of the box. For now, I’ll stick with my 3G and be happy.

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Tampa SQL BI User Group – Designing Slowly Changing Dimensions

So Monday night was the monthly SQL BI user group meeting. Attending these meetings is always interesting for me since I’m not a BI-guy (leave out the gutter jokes please…) so I definitely learn something new. I also leave with a raging headache since I have trouble wrapping my head around some of this crazy stuff. I tip my hat off to you guys that specialize on the BI side of SQL Server. I’ve come to realize that its kind of like Texas Hold ‘Em poker vs Omaha. When it comes to SQL we’re all playing the same game with very different rules. Anyhow, I digress, back to the recap.

We started off with a general “what’s going on” discussion in the world of tech/SQL/etc. We talked about some of the big stuff that happened that day such as Microsoft’s numerous announcements during their E3 presentation, the public launch of Microsoft’s new search engine: Bing, the current state of job market (looking better, contact Stever Turner as he has quite a few SQL jobs available), Microsoft’s Second Shot offer (expires at the end of this month), next month’s SQL User Group meeting (I’ll be presenting on Policy Based Management), and the announcements regarding SQL Server 2008 R2 and “Gemini”, which turned out to be a very hot topic for the night! For the record our group is looking for more info and demos on Gemini so if you’re available for a talk and want to visit sunny Tampa drop Rob Hatton a line!

Speaking of Rob, he was our featured presenter this month on the topic of Designing Slowly Changing Dimensions. The discussion was based around the Kimball Methodology which if you’re not familiar with then you are highly encouraged to go grab a copy of The Data Warehouse Toolkit by Ralph Kimball. On the whole I found the presentation really good but after awhile some of the concepts start flying over my head.Some things I did walk with is that when you’re doing a data warehouse project some things you need to realize is that 80% of your effort will go towards the ETL, 5-10% to the cube and the remaining to the relational stuff. Another little tidbit I picked up is that apparently 3/4 of the source data that the BI pros in the room have dealt with to load into the staging portion of the DW are CSV/txt files which surprised me. Then again I’m a DBA so I believe everything should live in nice relational databases! I don’t mean to skimp on the details of the presentation mostly because I wouldn’t do it justice and I’d probably be wrong about the details. Rob’s slide deck should be available on the user group’s website soon and when it is I’ll link it here.

As an added bonus, and due to our lengthy discussion and excitement about SQL 2008 R2 and “Project Gemini”, Robert Skoglund from Microsoft, managed to show us a quick 6 minute video clip from Donald Farmer’s presentation on Gemini. Unfortunately it was without audio so we couldn’t get detailed explanations of the features. If you’re curious about Gemini check out this link from Donald Farmer’s blog that has everything you need to know.

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