PASS Summit 2015 WiT lunch

A regular spot at the PASS Summit is the Women in Technology lunch. This year is no different.

A few years ago, I was on a panel for discussion at the lunch. The last couple of years though, have changed format, and have an interview focus, with a champion for WiT. This year, Angie Chang is being interviewed about an initiative called HackBright, which helps women form careers in IT. Angie has also been involved with Girl Geek Dinners.

HackBright has classes which are only women. This is terrific, and men in technology need to understand how important this is.

My daughter goes to a girls’ school. She can learn there without any prejudice about which activities are suited to boys, and which are more suited to girls. So she learns how to program a robot, she plays cricket, as well as gymnastics, dance, and choir. She sees no differentiation between these things, and will be able to discover skills that she might not have developed if she’d had to compete against boys. I don’t play cricket myself, but I know that in co-ed schools, it’s only really the boys that play cricket or program computers.

Angie is talking about scholarships that are available through HackBright, sponsored by some of the leading employers in the IT space. Clearly there are companies who have realised the value of technical women, and who want to ensure that their companies are welcoming to women. They talk about increasing the number of women who are getting into IT, but also understanding that if organisations don’t provide cultures that encourage to stay and develop their careers there, then the efforts of companies like HackBright get wasted, and the IT industry doesn’t improve.

A question has just come in from a guy who has a 16yo daughter in the San Francisco area, and he’s asked if his daughter is welcome to go to the Girl Geek Dinners.

Naturally, the answer is yes. 🙂


PASS Summit 2015 – Keynote 2

The second day keynote is always a highlight of mine. Until a few years ago there were three keynotes, with the third day including a session from Microsoft Research. Recently this has changed, and the third day keynote rolls into the second. Today I’m expecting some new announcements, some updates on how PASS is tracking, an acknowledgement of the outgoing president, and more. Plus the Microsoft Research session. And again I’m blogging as we go. Also, it’s SQLKilt Day, in support of the PASS Women in IT initiatives to encourage women to consider IT as a career option and to support women in the IT community.

The information about PASS finances, membership numbers, and reach continue to impress me. I used to be on the board, and was involved in some of the globalisation initiatives. I love that PASS is so much more than North America. While I would love it to be easier to get to the US from Australia, I have come across quite a lot of people from other countries (even quite a lot in Australia). PASS has committed to hosting the Summit in Seattle until at least 2019, and I’m very pleased with this, and 2016 will be in the week of October 24-28.

Lance Harra (@sqlfarmer) has won the PASSion award. I’m really not surprised at this – over the years I’ve been involved with PASS, I’ve seen his name as one of the regulars.

Before I know it, Dr Rimma Nehme from Microsoft Research has taken the stage, and she’s speaking about the Internet of Things. Dr David DeWitt is doing part of the talk, and these two complement each other really well. David is a regular at PASS keynotes, while Rimma did her first one last year. I’m not going to try to describe all the points that they’ve covered – but if you are interested in IoT, this is a great talk that covers IoT from basics up to some of the issues they are seeing with it. Even people experienced with IoT will get something out of this, and it’s explained in a nice simple way, as we’ve come to expect from these two.

Later today I have the Women in IT lunch to attend, another booth session and another main session to deliver, as well as catching up with a lot more people.


PASS Summit 2015 Keynote 1

I’m back at the PASS Summit. Another year – my sixth now. And I’m sitting at the bloggers’ table, next to Mark Broadbent (@retracement).

The PASS Summit is by far the best SQL Server event in the world each year – even better than the Adelaide SQL Server User Group sessions, and the first keynote is always full of announcements.

It always starts with a bunch of information about how the reach of the SQL community has grown over the years, and it’s an amazing thing to see the impact that the community has these days. Tom La Rock has given the announcements about this, as the current PASS President.

Joseph Sirosh is up now. He’s the newly appointed Corporate VP for the Data Group now. He’s speaking to the changing face of data. I feel like this is a regular spot at keynotes – data has been changing so fast for years now, and the things that people are using data for becomes more and more impressive. Last year there it was about analysing shopping patterns for people who move through a department store – this year it’s looking at huge quantities of medical information to predict current and future medical conditions. This lets people save lives with data now, because early intervention becomes even more possible.

Eric Flesichman is a Chief Architect and is a VP in Platform Engineering at DocuSign. He’s talking about how SQL Server was the right fit for them, and this fits in with what I hear at customers too. Microsoft is the leader in both Ability to Execute and Completeness of Vision in the latest the Magic Quadrant by Gartner (as has just been pointed out by Joseph), and people are finding that SQL Server continues to become the sensible choice for even the largest of organisations.

Shawn Bice up now – General Manager of the Database Systems Group. He’s showing the new features of SQL Server 2016, and pointing out it’s all built-in. It’s not about Add-Ons – everything is part of the product. He talks about how it’s the leader in Mission Critical, the least vulnerable, the highest performing, cheapest cost for BI, and the Advanced Analytics that has come with R’s integration within the platform. R is the biggest language amongst data scientists, whether they are solving problems in space, or marketing, or wherever. To make SQL Server the most significant data platform for data scientists, this R integration is critical.

HA and DR has been improved with better algorithms for data transfer. I see this as incredibly important. Every improvement in compression and parallelism is an improvement in moving data around, whether between servers within an on-prem system, a hybrid system, or pure Azure.

PolyBase comes into SQL Server 2016 to let people use T-SQL over Hadoop. I’m used to having PolyBase through APS, and the idea of being able to hook into Hadoop data stores from “regular SQL” provides numerous opportunities. This is going to lower the barrier for people who want to leverage Hadoop into their current environments. This is really exciting.

The columnstore improvements in SQL 2014 meant that columnstore data could be updated, but in SQL 2016 we get updateable non-clustered columnstore indexes. For people who redesigned tables to leverage columnstore, or rather, saw changes that they would want to make to leverage columnstore and decided against columnstore – these people can now put an updateable columnstore index on a subset of the columns in a table, and leverage the technology much more easily. Again, lowering the barrier.

Rohan Kumar, a Partner Director in Engineering, is showing the impact of this, with a live dashboard, using a non-clustered columnstore index to explore data. He’s looking at how the R integration and the columnstore improvements provide a platform to discover anomalies in data in much quicker time than ever. I know that fraud analysis happens in close-to-real time within banks, but these changes make this kind of work available to many more organisations.

Sadly, Rohan then opens Profiler to show what’s happening behind the scenes with AlwaysEncrypted. But it’s Profiler, and everyone has been trying to move off Profiler for some years now. AlwaysEncrypted is impressive, but Profiler???

Stretched Databases make up the last main demo, and the keynote wraps up. The mood in the place is that these are exciting times.


PASS Summit 2015 presentations I’m giving

With only a few days to go until people arrive in Seattle, I should probably explain what my sessions are going to be on. You know, in case you hadn’t thought to go to the PASS site and read for yourself (and for those who want to hear something that’s a little less ‘abstract’y). A few people told me last year they were disappointed I wasn’t presenting, so if you’re in that situation, maybe this post is of interest.

This year, I’m giving three different presentations – two regular Summit sessions that are on the schedule, and a 20-spot that I’m doing (twice!) at the Microsoft booth (Wednesday at 1:45pm and Thursday at 1:15pm).

The 20-minute spot is about techniques you can use to avoid data movement in MPP systems such as PDW or SQL DW. It focuses on Query Optimizer things that I do in regular SQL environments, leveraging things like join redundancy, contradiction optimisations, and tuning aggregations. It’s going to be quite fast-paced, as we have three significant things to explore, with heavy use of SQL query plans and showing how those techniques apply to MPP distributed plans. I’ve used these methods to make queries run WAY faster in both MPP and non-MPP environments, and people have said things like “I wish I’d known that before my last client” (someone at Microsoft), and “Oh, that’s cool – I’m so going to use that” (someone at a major US-based PDW partner). So yeah – come along. Both times!

The first main session I’m giving is one of my favourite sessions, and is called “A few of my favourite query plan operators”. This talk is going to focus on four Query Plan operators, but also discuss what’s going on in about six others. Or maybe seven – it depends how you count them, and how puzzled the looks on people’s faces go. We’ll explore what’s happening as your query runs, and why sometimes the counter-intuitive option could work out better. Lots of demos, as you’d expect from one of my presentations. Some live typing, and plenty of hand-waving as I describe why a particular plan shape is really what you’re after – even if the estimated cost might suggest otherwise.

The new session is one that I wasn’t expecting to give, so that’ll be fun. It’s on “The Power of Composite Indexes”, and already I’m kinda regretting it (no, not really) because Americans say that word differently to how I say it (for me the longest syllable is the “com”, while for Americans it’s the “pos”). But however you say it, the idea is to look at indexes with multiple keys, and look at how powerful that can be. And how you can kill the performance as well. We’ll be looking at issues like sargability v residuality, blocking plan operators (especially for people that came to my first session), partitions, and even helping you use T-SQL to fix one the most frustrating features about the way that queries run.

So anyway – those are the sessions that I’m giving at the PASS Summit this year. Hopefully somewhere in all that content there’s something you haven’t heard before.


SQL Server Auditing – for Business Intelligence when your business is the database

Over the past decade or so, Business Intelligence has become a big deal. As a data consultant, most of my work would be categorised as being in the BI space. People want to have insight into how their business is operating, and be able to use this to do things better. Data has become one of the biggest influencers in the world today – now that data is available, intuition is generally seen as ‘not good enough’, and people want empirical evidence for making decisions …at least in my experience.

And that’s all well and good for people who run businesses. You’re just a DBA. Business Intelligence is something that you support, something that you provide, something which you do – for other people to consume.

My challenge to you is to become someone who consumes BI as well.

In fact, just about everyone within your organisation could do better by the stuff that you provide. And that ‘everyone’ includes YOU.

As a BI developer, you create reports. Do you track how frequently those reports are run? Do you track how long the reports take to produce? How often are they redefined? What KPIs do you put around that?

As a production DBA, you ensure that backups have been taken, and run tests to make sure every backup can be restored. Are you tracking how long those backups are taking? Are things taking longer? What are the metrics that suggest things are getting worse? Are you using predictive analytics to warn you a system might go down soon?

As a helpdesk operator, how are you being measured? I’m guessing that your manager is analysing something about the satisfaction level of the people you help, or the number of tasks you get through in the week, and what kinds of tasks use your skills better… are you consuming that information too?

As a team leader… well, you get the picture.

Data is all around us. Not just in the Internet of Things, but in the metadata of the systems that we use.

If you are a data professional, you might be able to spend a bit of time exploring what’s possible using data that is important to you, like SQL Server Audit data, or Windows Event Logs, or report execution logs. If you can get something working in your development environment, get clearance to put it on an Azure instance or production SQL box – something which is looked after and which is properly licensed. But then, start having conversations about how this kind of approach could help just about everyone in the organisation. Big picture stuff is useful, but everyone has a big picture which is useful for them. Stepping back from the minutiae of the day and making intelligent decisions about tomorrow is not just for senior management, but should apply to self-management as well.

DBAs – get familiar with SQL Server’s auditing. Explore the posts that are coming out today in the T-SQL Tuesday event hosted this month by Sebastian Meine (@sqlity), and use this as a source for your own Business Intelligence system.