Learning through others

This PASS Summit was a different experience for me – I wasn’t speaking. I’ve presented at three of the five PASS Summits I’ve been to, where the previous one I’d not spoken at was 2012, while I was a PASS Director (and had been told I shouldn’t submit talks – advice that I’d ignored in 2013). I have to admit that I really missed presenting, both in 2012 and this year, and I will need to improve my session abstracts to make sure I get selected in future years.

I’m not a very good ‘session attendee’ on the whole – it’s not my preferred style of learning – but I still wanted to go, because of the learning involved. Sometimes I will learn a lot from the various things that are mentioned in the few sessions I go to, but more significantly, I learn a lot from discussions with other people. I hear what they are doing with technology, and that encourages me to explore those technologies further. It’s not quite at the point of learning by osmosis simply by being in the presence of people who know stuff, but by developing relationships with people, and hearing them speak about the things they’re doing, I definitely learn a lot.

Of course, I don’t get to know people for the sake of learning. I get to know people because I like getting to know people. But of course, one of the things I have in common with these people is SQL, and conversations often come around to that. And I know that I learn a lot from those conversations. I don’t have the luxury of living near many (any?) of my friends in the data community, and spending time with them in person definitely helps me.TSQL2sDay150x150

And it’s not just SQL stuff that I learn. This month’s T-SQL Tuesday (for which this is a post) is hosted by Chris Yates (@YatesSQL), who I got to run alongside on one of the mornings. Even that was a learning experience for me, as we chatted about all kinds of things, and I listened to my feet hitting the ground – another technique I learned from a community – and made sure I stuck to my running form to minimise the pain I’d be feeling later in the day. Talking to Chris while I ran helped immensely, and I was far less sore than I thought I might be.

On the SQL side, I got to learn about how excited people are about scale-out, with technologies like Stretched Tables coming very soon. As someone involved in the Parallel Data Warehouse space (and seriously – how thrilled was I to be able to chat with Dr Rimma Nehme, who was involved in the PDW Query Optimizer), scale-out is very much in my thoughts, and seeing what Microsoft is doing in this space is great – but learning what other people in the community are thinking about it is even more significant for me.


PS: This is the 60th T-SQL Tuesday. Huge thanks to Adam Machanic (@adammachanic) for starting this, and giving me something to write about each month these last five years.

PASS Summit WIT Lunch

With the pleasant sound of cutlery on crockery, those lucky enough to secure tickets to the WIT Lunch at the PASS Summit get to listen to an interview with Kimberly Bryant, who is the founder of a non-profit organisation called Black Girls Code – helping teenaged girls from low-privilege communities to get into technology.

She calls herself an Accidental Entrepreneur, driven by her passion to see the less-privileged have opportunities to explore an industry that was dominated by a very different part of the community. Her daughter was interested in tech, and went on a tech-focused summer camp, where she was the only non-white kid, and one of only three girls. With a crowd of about 40, that was less than ten percent of the camp.

What Kimberly saw at the camp, and in other environments that are dominated by a particular demographic, was that the people who were providing for the group would cater for the masses, and not the minorities. From an economic perspective, I’m sure this makes sense. If you’re going to find something that caters for a particular cluster of people, a particular type of person, then targetting the larger clusters is likely to give the ‘best results’. But (my opinion) this is ignoring the fact that the larger clusters of people tend to be catered for by just about anything. In my experience, if someone is part of a larger cluster, they have a large amount of support from their peers already, and need less from the organisers. But if the organisers can ensure that the edges of the group are looked after, then the ones in the middle will still be just fine, and the whole group will be encouraged.

Diversity is something that the IT industry suffers from, and I do mean ‘suffer’. Without good diversity, our industry is held back. Stupidly, our industry keeps shooting itself in the foot, and it’s the larger clusters of people – I guess that means people like me – who need to take a stand when we see things that would alienate minority groups.

Kimberly Bryant points out that teams need diversity, and that hiring decisions need to ensure that they don’t turn away people because of diversity. For myself, as a business owner, I hope that I never turn someone away because of diversity, because I do agree that teams need diversity. What I love the most though, is that what Kimberly has done is to develop programs to make sure that people from a particular minority group present as stronger candidates to hiring managers.

Let’s encourage people from minority groups to get into IT. We’ll all benefit from it.


Dr Rimma Nehme at the PASS Summit

This Summit’s presentation from Microsoft Research Labs is from Dr Rimma Nehme, bucking the trend of having presentations from Dr David DeWitt. I’m really pleased to be able to hear from her, because she’s an absolute legend.

Among her qualifications is work on the PDW Query Optimizer – a topic closer to me than probably any other area of SQL Server. I just wish I had known this a few minutes ago when I met her, but I’m sure she’ll chat more freely after her big presentation.http://www.sqlpass.org/images/speakers/RimmaNehme588.png

Today she’s talking about Cloud Computing, which is great because the cloud space has changed significantly in recent years, and it’s good to hear from Microsoft Research Labs again. For example, analysing the power-effectiveness of a data centre by comparing the total power used by a data centre against the computing power of a data centre. This leads to exploring more effective systems, such as evaporative cooling (which is used by many Australian homes and businesses, of course), making energy-responsibility a key component of cloud computing. With such an effort being put into cloud computing, the globally-responsible option is to use the cloud.

The five key drivers for cloud that Dr Nehme listed are:

  • Elasticity
  • No CapEx
  • Pay Per Use
  • Focus on Business
  • Fast Time To Market

These are all huge, of course, and the business aspects are massive. It’s increasingly easy to persuade businesses to move to the cloud, but the exciting thing about the technologies that have been discussed this week is the elasticity point.

Microsoft is doing huge amounts of work to let people scale out easily. New technologies such as Stretched Tables will allow people to have hybrid solutions between on-prem and cloud like never before. With a background in the PDW Query Optimizer, Dr Nehme is the perfect person to be exploring what’s going on with spreading the load across multiple cloud-based machines for these scale-out solutions.

The cloud means that many database professionals worry about their jobs. I’m sure people felt the same way when the industrial revolution came through. People who work on production-lines have been replaced by robots, and database administrators who only do high availability don’t need to handle that in the cloud space. But they will not be redundant. Dr Nehme just said “Cloud was not designed to be a threat to DBAs”, and this is significant. The key here is that we have more data than ever, and we need to be able to use computing power effectively.

We can’t keep going with the amount of data that is appearing, and we need to be more responsible than ever.

Great keynote, Dr Nehme. I hope this is the first of many keynotes from you.


PASS Summit – Thursday Keynote

It’s good to point out it’s still only Thursday, as my laptop tells me that it’s already Friday.

Today is the second of only two keynotes this Summit, which means that it’s the opportunity to hear from Microsoft Research Labs about what’s going on with data from their perspective.

It’s also when we get to hear from the PASS VPs – community members that I used to serve with on the PASS Board of Directors – about how PASS is doing from a Financial and Marketing perspective.

One of the interesting things about PASS is that there are reserves of over a million dollars. I mention this because it’s an area that some people is quite “interesting” for a community and non-profit organisation, but I want to point out that these savings help let PASS be more free in what they (we?) do. Having a million dollars in the bank means that PASS can reach out and do things that will serve the community, even if it seems like it could be risky. There is a lot of risk in running the Summit every year, and this is the most obvious area that PASS could need money to cover costs that might not come back if, say, there’s another volcano eruption in Iceland. I saw first-hand the freedom that PASS had because of the reserves (although some risks were still very high and freedom does not mean irresponsibility), and I know this is a good thing.

From the marketing perspective, the celebration of individuals who have gone beyond the norm is a great part of the Summit event, and the PASSion Award winner has been announced as Andrey Korshikov. This guy has done so much for the Russian Data Community, making him the most influential SQL person in the largest country of the world. You can’t go past that…


Keynote technologies – new or not?

So I’m sitting in the PASS Summit keynote, and there are some neat things being shown.

Something that just appeared on the screen was around having the location of shoppers being shown on a plan of a store. There were some ‘Oohs’ coming from around the room, as they mentioned that Kinect was being used to track locations. Hotspots were appearing on a time-driven picture.

But the thing that I think is most exciting is that this is almost all achievable right now. Collecting information from Kinect is something that my friends John & Bronwen have been presenting about for years, and displaying things on custom maps in Power BI (complete with hotspots) is also very achievable. If you don’t know how to do this, get along to Hope Foley’s session this afternoon (Wed 5th), as she explores more of what’s possible with Power Map. She wrote a post recently about Custom Maps in Power Map, which is a great blog post, walking through how to show spatial data on the plan of a building, playing it against a time dimension.

The stuff in the keynote is excellent – much of it is future, but if you’re at the PASS Summit, you can be having conversations with many of the world’s best experts about how to revolutionise your data story, not just in the future, but right now.


PASS Summit keynote

The PASS Summit has kicked off again with a tremendous keynote from Ranga. He’s been in the role at Microsoft for a little over a year now, and has really come into his own, as can be seen by the presentation this morning. The changes to the data picture haven’t changed hugely over the past year, although the "Internet of Things" space is increasing quickly.


With that, the speed of growth in data volume has kicked in harder than ever. Being able to collect, process, and analyse the kinds of volume that we’re now facing means that scaling is major feature being discussed. In recent years, this meant looking at Big Data and the ways that this can hook into our existing solutions, and technologies like Hekaton have allowed us to scale up to handle huge numbers of transactions in a scale-up scenario.

This year, though, we see scale-out having a refreshed focus. We’re hearing talk of ‘sharding’ more, and the idea of being able to use multiple databases (including cloud-based ones) to achieve scale on demand – an elasticity that suits business more than ever.

Most of our customers at LobsterPot see changes in the amount of business that’s going on across the year, with some having certain key days requiring orders of magnitude more traffic than on ‘normal’ days. They already scale out their websites, but data is another matter. Databases typically scale UP, not OUT.

My work in the Analytics Platform System / Parallel Data Warehouse space makes me acutely aware of the challenges around scaling out data. When you need to perform joins between tables which have their data in different databases, on different servers, there are problems that need addressing. A lot of it happens behind the scenes through complex data movement techniques, so that it looks like a normal query. This is stuff that is hard to do through clever data

What we’re seeing this morning are some of the ways that Microsoft is providing scale out technology in SQL Server and SQL Database. Considering they now have over a million SQL Database databases in Azure, thinking about how to leverage this technology to enhance on-prem SQL Server databases to provide a new level of hybrid is very interesting.

One of these technologies is Stretched Tables, which we saw this morning. This is about being able to take a table in SQL Server and stretch it into SQL Databases in Azure. This means that the table will be sharded across on-prem and cloud – hot data being stored locally, and more-rarely used data being stored in the cloud. For queries that need to access data that’s in the cloud, data can can be extracted from the cloud tables, pushing predicates down to pull back part of the data, transparently (as far as the user is concerned).

This is not like using linked servers and views, handling inserts with triggers. This is achieving hybrid behind the scenes, giving users a logical layer they can query to access their information whether it’s local or in the cloud.

Until now, I’ve always felt that ‘hybrid’ has been about using some components locally and other components in the cloud. But what we’re seeing now are ways that ‘hybrid’ can mean that we have the core of our database – the tables themselves – are handled in a hybrid way.

Exciting times ahead…