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My Experiences at SQL Saturday 64

By James DiMauro,

For those of you debating the question “Should I attend an SQL Saturday event?” the answer is yes! I attended my first SQL Saturday event, SQL Saturday #64 on Saturday August 6th at the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, LA. The event was well organized and had many knowledgeable experts speaking on various SQL topics.  There was also a fair share of big name vendors with booths. SQLPASS owns the name and helps out with the event; however a local group organizes and hosts the event. Great show Baton Rouge PASS Chapter.

I made the two hour drive to Baton Rouge from my home in Biloxi, MS with my family, kids and all the night before the event. The end of summer is nearing and we planned on making the trip a mix of business and pleasure. Baton Rouge has a great amusement and water park. It also boasts a rather large mall. After arriving at the hotel, unpacking and settling in I was off to bed. I have a big day ahead of me.

I woke up and caught a cab to the event as the family was planning on driving to the mall after a bit of relaxing at the pool. They would need the car. After the SQL event we would be rushing to the Dixie Landin’ Amusement Park for the after 6pm discount special. Eleven dollars per person in this economy is a steal.

I arrived at the event at 8 AM, right on time. Thank you, Yellow Cab for driving in circles only a few times.  Upon walking in the door I was directed to the sign-in desk. At the sign-in desk, with the help of a few volunteers, I found my preprinted name tag, a benefit of pre-registering. I also received a gift bag that the vendors filled with many goodies including a set of raffle tickets for several drawing at the end of the day and my all-important lunch ticket. In the first 5 minutes I had free stuff in hand, the possibility to win more free stuff and a guaranteed free lunch. It was worth the drive already.

After moving through the sign-in process I looked a bit closer at the items in my gift bag. A very important item was the schedule of events. When I pre-registered at PASS\SQLSaturday I created a personal schedule by choosing the sessions I would attend with their schedule tool.  There were some cancellations and minor schedule changes. With over 60 sessions this can be expected. I used the schedule provided in the bag and rolled with the small changes.  

The first session I attended was hosted by J Sawyer titled Data in the Stream: Introducing StreamInsightStreamInsight is an SQL Server application that I had never heard of, or at least I do not recall hearing of. StreamInsight was released with SQL Server 2008 R2. If you are receiving a tremendous amount of inbound data, but only want to process a subset of that data and send that subset to another application this is the tool for you. One of the applications I support has a message brokering service that writes data to a database table and then many services access that table to get their queues. I could see StreamInsight being a replacement for the brokering service. With StreamInsight there are no reads or writes. Everything is processed in memory so it’s extremely fast.

The speaker at my next session was William Assaf, the president of the local SQL Server user group.  His presentation titled SQL Best Practices with DMV’s was about; you guessed it, DMV’s. If you are a production DBA you certainly should be familiar with many of the DMV’s he presented. If you don’t use DMV’s often you should really start using them. Many of the big performance monitoring tools are based on the information that the DMV’s provide. If you become proficient with the DMV’s you could avoid purchasing that next monitoring package, thus making yourself even more valuable to your company, as if DBA’s aren’t valuable enough. If you are job hunting you could tell your next potential boss he can reallocate the funds that he planned on spending on that multi-thousand dollar maintenance contract if he hires you. Money talks and that other stuff walks…to the next interview.

 I then went to Beginning PowerShell for DBAs 1.0 hosted by Sean McCown. Many of you will know Sean and his wife under the name MidnightDBA. I have perused a few articles on PowerShell in the past but I never took the time to give it a try. To be honest I just wasn’t ready to learn a new language. I cut my teeth on VB5\6, I can find the bathrooms and hospitals with PHP and Java and I am proficient in C#\C++ and TSQL; not to mention all the other stuff I’ve used a few times along the way.

How wrong I was for not taking the time to take a close look at PowerShell. If you have the correct Active Directory permissions you can drop all the databases on all your instances with one or two lines of code. Not that you would want to do that, it’s just the fact that you could do it. That is what makes it, well, POWERShell. I thought the name was just some marketing guy’s play on words to suck me in. Who knew it was a new and powerful shell.

This brought me to lunch. The Jambalaya provided for the non-vegetarians was good. I didn’t eat much of it as I am diabetic and rice does crazy things with my blood sugar. I came prepared with my own set of snacks though as no one really thinks about us growing number of low carb diners. I sat outside in the courtyard and chatted with a few people. This was the only time for networking due to the fast paced schedule. The vendors held sessions during lunch, sorry guys; I’ll check you out online or in the many emails I have received from you since the event. Pass did inform me that vendors would get my email address. That’s fair for a free day of training.

I then attended two sessions held by Kevin Boles a.k.a. thesqlguru. One session named Advanced TSQL Solutions and the other named SQL Server Partitioning from A to Z. I have a firm grasp on TSQL but certainly learned a few new ways to apply some concepts. Can anyone say “row_number()”, “over”  and “partition by”? Please note that Kevin clearly pointed out the presentation and TSQL was created by someone else, who that was I did not note.

It is always good to see other people’s code, especially good code. There is always more than one way to solve a problem or develop a solution and I know that after I have solved a particular coding need I tend to stick with that solution. I won’t typically reevaluate the solution unless there is an identified performance issue.

 It’s good to break out of the norm and try on someone else’s brain for an hour. It really helps you say to yourself “I could go back to that old piece of code I wrote last year and make it so much better ”.  With the lockdowns on code these days that’s probably not possible. So maybe it’s more like “I’ll tackle that issue a different way next time and with 20% less lines of code.”

Kevin’s partitioning session was also very informative. I had to learn and understand table partitioning when studying for my SQL 2005 and 2008 MCITP:DBA upgrade certification. Short of suggesting table partitioning instead of writing a couple thousand lines of TSQL for an archiving scheme my company was working on, I had not revisited partitioning since my test in mid ‘09. It was a great refresher course for me and if you haven’t reviewed partitioning before it’s a good first step.

The last session I attended was Looney Tuner? No, There IS a Method to my Madness, held by Janis Griffin. The session concentrated on index creation and index tuning. I have created countless indexes. I have developed a gut feeling in relation to indexes and have thought it an art more than a science to choose the correct index to solve a read performance problem without creating a new write performance problem. After attending this session and after Janis’s explanations and insight I can tell you there is a science that should be applied when determining what column to index.

Finally it was time for the raffle. The attendees gathered in a large room to receive the gifts that the hosts and vendors were to bestow on us. There were 7 or 8 independent raffles. Some were for small items like books and t-shirts. The big drawings included an iPad, an Amazon Kindle and a wide screen TV. That’s about one and a half grand worth of electronics. I didn’t stick around for the big screen give away as I had missed out on one key piece of information. You had to visit the vendor booths and get a stamp on a bingo card before you could be eligible for the big prize. Hey the vendors aren’t there for their health right! I can tell you next time I will hit up each vendors booth to hear their spiel hoping to get a funny look from my taxi driver as i place my huge prize at the rear of his ride.

After the event I caught a cab, yes without a TV. “Step on it!” I said. No, not really. I arrived at the hotel quickly changed into some cooler and more comfortable shorts. Did I mention it is hot in Baton Rouge? I rubbed out the imprint of my socks from my calves, a side effect of business casual dress on Saturday. Down the elevator, ding, ding, ding, out the door, in the car at last. With a few key strokes on the GPS we were off to the pleasure part of the trip. The next day we tackled the water park.

All in all my experience at SQL Saturday 64 was excellent. If there is any criticism it is that I left each session wanting more. There were a lot of topics that were covered and only 9 short hours to fit them in. Don’t forget about that Jambalaya, we had to eat too. I wonder if the amount of topics has to do with the need to draw as many people to the event as possible to satisfy the vendors. I wish there were 2 tracks. One like the one they had, quick paced and right to the point and then another track that concentrated on one or two topics the entire day; maybe two four hour sessions.

My grandfather always said “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, and I have always tried to follow that rule. A free day of training is truly a gift. With that in mind I was extremely pleased with the event. Not that there are all that many horses walking around where I live. In fact the last horse I saw was on some guy’s webcast. If I could only remember who that was?

 I brought back a few things from my weekend in Baton Rouge; some new SQL knowledge, a few new contacts in the industry, most of the presentation code and documentation and a somewhat painful sunburn on the top of my head. I’m not even bald, not yet anyway. Maybe I’ll wear a hat to the water park next time.

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