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Comments on PASS Community Summit 2002

By Andy Warren,

I just returned from the PASS Community Summit in Seattle and thought for those of you who weren't able to go, I'd share part of the experience...and maybe try to convince you to go next year!

Travel wasn't bad, just long, from Orlando anyway. About a 9 hr trip. The conference was held at the convention center downtown and had a deal with the Sheraton one block away, I went with a different hotel that was about three blocks away. Nice walk in either case. It rained some the first day, other than that it was 50ish and overcast, with a light jacket very comfortable and a pleasant change from Florida. I'm telling you this to set the stage of course, but also because the conference will be held in Seattle about the same time next year. (Costs will probably change, but conference runs about $1000, air was about $250 round trip, hotel average about $150 a night, cab from airport is $30, bus is about $20).

It's a three day conference, that runs from 8 am to about 6pm each day, with a keynote each day. The first day it was Gord Mangione from Microsoft. Not much on Yukon (or at any other session), but he did talk about some of the enhancements to the business intelligence components, showing us the improved Profiler support and indicating that the MS investment in BI upgrades for Yukon was more than double that of SQL7/2K combined. Day three was Peter Spiro, a distinguished engineer on the SQL team. He covered a lot of ground, I think most interesting was his discussion of how MS came to be in the SQL space and the planning they were doing back as early as 1994. Had to like the guy, everyone else from MS was dockers and a polo or a few in shirt/tie, Peter gave the keynote in shorts and a t-shirt!

There were seven tracks each day, each session running an hour and fifteen minutes. Lots of choices (about 28 a day), though I think it could have used both a little more beginner material and more very expert level sessions. I went to a super session by Brent Hawton from NetIQ where he discussed some advanced tuning issues. He had researched SCSI drive performance heavily and found that he could never duplicate the max throughput advertised by the manufacturer, at best coming within 10%. Another comment was that SCSI drives write from the outside in, so that as the drive becomes fuller there is an almost a linear decrease in access times, as much as 20% for a nearly full disk. He also talked about how you can increase the performance of a server by changing out SDRAM for faster DDR ram, in some cases getting memory that is up to 18 times faster.

Girish Chandler from MS had a great talk on SQL security and the work that went into SP3 (now in beta). Lots of other great speakers. Brian, Steve, and I together did a total of five sessions, covering Roles, Performance Tuning, Identity Columns (or not), Worst Practices, and managing the DBA team. We had a great time at our sessions, lots of audience participation and always 2-3 people from MS in the crowd that would speak up now and then. One point that came up in the identity debate was a comment from someone at MS (sorry, after a while the names started to run together) indicating that for data warehousing identities are a poor choice because they max out at about 400 inserts a second. No idea if that's a hard limit or based on processor, etc. The recommendation in this case was to use GUID's.

Of course the conference was extra valuable to the three of us, it was the first time we Brian and I had met in person and the first time all three of us had physically been in the same place! As we talked during the sessions and after hours, it was interesting to see how in many cases we have the same issues/practices/ideas, just on a difference scale. I manage three servers and am the only DBA, Steve has a couple hundred and four (I think) other DBA's working with him, Brian has a bunch also, almost all running on clusters and managing a team of 12 DBA's. 12! Steve said that they currently backup a terabyte of changed data each day. I think a full backup of everything I own is about 110g. What a difference in scale.

So not only did we meet for the first time, we met tons of other people. You're really missing out if you go to this conference and don't take advantage of the change to talk with your peers. We met a lot of our readers - too many to list and I'd be afraid I'd leave someone out! Our thanks to all of you that caught up with us to say hello! We also met a lot of people who had NOT heard of us. Of course marketing guys we're not.

Having the conference in Seattle was great, not only is Seattle a nice city with tons of stuff to do (my favorite was the Museum of Aviation where they had lots of great exhibits, including a variant of the SR-71 Blackbird) and plenty of places to get coffee (Starbucks), but they had about 300 people from MS attending. Some presenting sessions, some answering questions after hours, some attending sessions and contributing, and of course the keynotes were all from MS. Far more people than they would have if hosted at other locations.

A couple notes about Yukon I did pick up (nothing under NDA here) was they it will have a native XML data type including the ability to associate it with an XML schema, separate date and time data types, and full integration with the .Net runtime. We only saw a brief demo, but it looks like you'll write your code in Visual Studio, compile, then deploy the assembly to your server. You then create a stored proc with the usual syntax for parameters, but the body is basically empty, just a line of new syntax that points to the .Net code. What I didn't see was stored procs with .Net code directly embedded in them. Subject to change I'm sure. One thing that came across to me with everyone person I talked to from from MS when Yukon came up was the pride and excitement they felt about the product. They are dying to talk about it and show it, but the marketing guys have learned their lessons and are making them hold back. That way if they end up having to change or remove a feature, don't have the wave of disappointment. I totally support this approach. It's a little frustrating not to hear all the details, but at this point they say they expect to have a public beta available by June.

There were plenty of vendors exhibiting this year. What's interesting is that many of these companies are small, anywhere from 10-50 employees, and with that comes a willingness to talk to customers (and potential customers) honestly about what their product does and why. We met the guys from Redgate, Lumigent, NetIQ, SQL LiteSpeed, many others - totally great to meet with them, their support keeps us running (we use a LOT of bandwidth these days!) and just as important to us, they have great products that are of interest to us as SQL users/community. We had a chance to see a demo of SQL Up by Incepto done by CEO and co-founder Eyal Aharon. SQL Up is a high available product based on transactional replication. I didn't expect to like it, but I did! We watched it fail over in about 7 seconds, set up time looks to be about an hour. It won't be the right fit for everyone, but it many cases I think it will be better than clustering by far. Definitely planning a review soon and we may use it right here at SSC in production.

Steve, Brian, and I are all committed to attending next year, I hope many of you will join us for a very focused, very enjoyable learning experience. Absolutely worth the money regardless of your skill level.

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