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PASS Summit 2004 - Another Look

By James Travis,

A moment to breathe and speak about PASS 2004

First off, for those of you who made it and I had a chance to speak with (whether you knew who I was or not), it was a pleasure. For those who didn't make it there is the 2005 Summit coming up in Grapevine, Texas (near Dallas) next year, and you really should go.

Looks like Brian beat me to doing this. But I have an excuse, I mean reason, for my slackness. But that may be a future article. Anyway I got to say the location was impressive. As Steve said it looked like a Vegas spot. I got in on Tuesday after a delayed flight and a delayed shuttle from the Airport.

Tuesday's Bash

Of course this was the night of the big party for those who signed up with SQLServerCentral.com's promotion code and the party was a blast. There was a bit of food, drinks and entertainment (and for many folks it seemed to be the reverse order). I got to meet and speak with several folks from the site and had an awesome time. I was really surprised to see some international folks make it in, but very glad they did.

Keynotes

The keynote speakers gave some really good presentations. Microsoft's was all about putting SQL 2005 out there with a good face on it. I have to admit I learned stuff from the keynote that I was having troubles with, but had not had time to work on.

On Thursday, Veritas gave a good keynote on 'Blame Storming', as they coined it. Their presentation was all about where the issues being seen by customers actually lie. Per their research figures, the majority of blame storms were application issues and not generally database related. Of course they threw in a brief bit on how you can get to the root issue, and how you can utilize their tools to do it. But overall it didn't feel like a commercial.

HP, however was another story. As Friday's presenter, theirs was a big time commercial about their product and how to push software to your servers and hot fixes to your servers through their tool. All and all, I could have missed this one and found a better user for my time.

Sessions

First off, let me say that I came more for Analysis Services-type stuff than anything else and attended a few sessions presented by Microsoft before I realized something. The Microsoft sessions all seemed to be the same thing: using Integration Services (formally DTS and something they decided to rename just before the conference) to transfer/mine the data to the server. Very little even beyond the information in the keynote.

Once I came to that conclusion I adjusted my choices and found many exciting and useful sessions. There were some especially good sessions on Reporting Services and Notification Services. My favorite was on using MapPoint to apply your data for all kinds of geographical implementations. I was excited because working for the bank, one of the systems I own is used to supply the geographic data for Branch and ATM location to an external vendor. I have already discussed with my Manager about looking at the locator, both external and an internal one, to see if we couldn't produce the same results but at a much lower cost and a timelier basis.

My next favorite was a session on using Notification services to build self service notifications. The same product I mentioned before, which I maintain, has a number of notifications needs. I have built a few custom pieces to handle my needs, but nothing self service yet. I am looking to apply what I learned at the conference to the biggest corporate project I own. So just in case you didn't see it. I can more than justify my time at the conference with the knowledge I added and will apply directly to my current project.

I do agree with Brian Kelly thou, the session levels seemed to be confusing to everyone. Mostly because of no one I spoke with knew what the levels truly represented and whatever seemed generically applied.

Vendors

For those of you who work for large companies you'll find this funny. Everyone I approached of course said 'Hey, so and so is using this in your company already.'. So I escaped a large portion of the sales talk. I actually got a bit of time to ask question about the products themselves and get real answers. I found several vendors with products that seemed to do some awesome things but in when you looked past the bells and whistles, some were more flash than substance.

One I found particularly interesting was ProactiveDBA from White Sands Technology (www.whitesands.com), which gives you a good sampling of information that you would see in SQL Profiler. However they add no overhead to your server. Many people, including a Microsoft rep said that was impossible. But this is a product of substance with flash, but not a lot of background issues. For anyone curious, the product uses packet sniffing to capture the packets and give you the information. Since it is a passive listener it does not have the overhead, but of course, I do believe there will be requirements to make the traffic visible. Such as being on the same segment to see the packets, etc. Apparently some of the guys involved are ex-Sybase employees and knew how to talk TDS (tabular data stream) in order to properly extract the information. I emailed them though as I am curious about what occurs with User login and passwords as well as if I were to turn on multi-protocol and use encryption.

I also met the sales lady from Imceda (www.imceda.com). They are trying to bring SQL Litespeed in house and I just happened to test another of their products (SQL IDE) not long ago. A real nice person and Litespeed is an awesome product. There was also a new copycat product out from another company, but I forget the name right off as I wasn't in the market for myself at all. Anyway they threw a party Thursday night at which they served the good stuff.

In addition I finally got to meet Brian Lockwood of ApexSQL (www.apexsql.com). Really funny guy and he is all about the customer. I have been using their SQL Diff product and ran into a couple of bugs. After I posted on their site, the bugs were resolved very quickly. He also was focused on SQL Edit, which I think is a good IDE as well. I told him I would be providing feedback on it and might roll out a review. For now it looks like a nice slick interface and offers intellisense in it. Not as wiz-bang-flashy as I would like. However, they do such a great job on other things, and I feel this will be no different. If you are looking for an IDE, SQL Edit is worth a look.

Overall, I was really disappointed with the number of vendors who attended, the fact the vendors where available during a limited time frame, which coincided with the sessions for the most part, and the fact they were there only Wednesday and Thursday.

Opinion

I will say I enjoyed the conference to no end. I picked up a lot of new things which I can use now and met a lot of interesting folks. The Microsoft people who attended were extremely friendly and there were a few had a lot to offer in the way of answering questions, if you could get to them. The whole thing was spectacular and I am looking forward to going next year if I can make it work. Hopefully I will see a lot more of you guys there.

Thanks for the opportunity to attend go to Steve, Brian, and Andy for asking me to attend.

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