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Notes about PASS 2003 and Other Stuff

By Andy Warren,

We've been back from Pass 2003 for over a week and I've been meaning to write some notes, where does the time go? Steve, Brian, and I attended again this year and had a great time. Here are some SSC-centric notes about the trip/event.

The conference usually runs Wed through Fri, with Tues reserved for "pre conference" sessions. The Tuesday sessions cost extra, so you have to decide on a year by year basic if they have something worth attending. Big draw this year were the Yukon sessions of course. Still based on Beta 1, so nothing really new. The Beta is still under NDA, but MS is gradually lifting that on a case by case basis to get more information out to the public. Some advice on these sessions - consider carefully if you have the fortitude to stay focused for four days. Conferences are intense, doesn't make sense to spend extra for Tues session if on Fri morning you're on overload. Just my opinion.

We got started Tues night at the reception. As many of you have noticed, we ran a promotion with Pass to try to bring in more attendees. It worked! The conference had about 2000 attendees, 180 registered using our promotion code! Our plan was to meet and greet at the reception, hand out the shirt (a very nice button down with our logo embroidered) and a copy of our book, try to get pictures of everyone. Things got a little out of hand, everyone wanted a shirt! I think everyone was surprised at the quality. We had people wanting to buy a copy of the book. We wanted to have a chance to talk to everyone individually, toward the end it was just a blur.

Wednesday started with the keynote. It also started with everyone attending get a free copy of our new magazine, The SQLServer Standard. Then it was off to the sessions. One big event for us was Brian's session on clustering. He uses two VMWare sessions set up on a laptop and builds a SQL cluster in 60 minutes. Very impressive, but beyond that very useful - not many people have tons of extra hardware laying around, using VMWare is a great alternative. It was also a chance for me to see clustering in Win 2003 Server for the first time. Not a huge change, just nicer/smoother, what you expect from a revision, but interesting all the same. The session was very well received. Brian was worried because A, it's a live demo, and B, he had to walk through a lot of the install before showing the slides or he wouldn't have enough time. Turned out fine! By the end of the day we were tired.

Thursday was another keynote, more sessions. For those who haven't been, the conference usually runs from 8am to 6pm. They serve a light breakfast plus lunch each day. Lot's of Starbucks coffee of course. Steve and I conducted a session on snapshot replication. No, snapshot replication isn't as exciting as performance tuning! We had a very good turn out and because it was a "spotlight" session (meaning we had spoken before and gotten good reviews), we got an extra 15 minutes for a total of 1.5 hours - and we used every bit of it. The intent was to introduce snapshot replication at a very simple level while discussing some of the power options, but ultimately try to get people to just try it once. We usually measure success by the number of questions and we got a LOT of questions. We edged into transactional, merge, log shipping vs replication, lots of stuff. I had to stop to check several times with the audience that they didn't mind the slightly off track questions. I think it was maybe the most fun session I've presented.

I think it was Thursday (or maybe Fri??) that we went to a lab conducted by PSS. Very nice guys, they had several short labs designed to help you learn how to debug a particular problem. Steve and I worked together on one that had a cursor that was being opened and not closed, the tell tale was that stolen pages kept going up. Want more info on that? PSS has given us the ok to host the files for the labs here on SSC, look for them in the next couple weeks. Across the hall they had lots of machines configured with more labs for people wanting to try Yukon.

Off and on Thurs we were also talking with the PASS board of directors about our magazine. PASS wanted to enhance the membership experience and had been considering a magazine for a while. PASS is non-profit and staffed primarily by volunteers, so taking ownership of a full magazine was a big step. We were offering an alternative. We were launching a magazine anyway, why not partner? As we talked through the issues it became clear to me that this was the first time I'd seen a true partnership forming. At a break on Thurs we finalized a draft agreement that would have us provide the magazine to all PASS members and would give PASS at least four pages in the magazine for them to use.

Friday morning they announced it! We would partner and everyone was excited about it! It was a huge step for us and we got a lot of exposure for the site. The rest of the day....? Drawing a blank!


These were some of the more common questions, so I thought I'd share them here.

Who owns/runs SSC? Brian Knight, Steve Jones, and me. We are equal partners. More info can be found here. Brian handles our sales and so is our public face.

Do you do it full time/how do you find time? No, it's still very much a part time thing, we all have full time jobs. Finding time, well, that is another story. We split up responsibilities and find time where we can, but I'd guess that we spend 10-20 hours a week each.

Are you making a lot of money? No! That said, we're not losing money either. We could probably make more money if we changed to the subscription model, but we like providing free access. Had we started 3 years sooner we might have been millionaires! We treat it like a business, but we do it because it's something we know about and care about.

Can I submit an article? Yes! Most definitely. If you've got an idea for something to write about, send me email explaining it and we'll go from there. If it's about SQL and doesn't duplicate existing content, we'll probably publish it.

Can I buy a SSC shirt? Not yet. We gave away every one we had! Probably January we'll have more available, watch the newsletter for more info.

What lessons did you learn? Handing out the shirts and books kept us from spending time with the people getting them. Next year PASS will issue those at the registration booth, we'll have an event just for SSC members so we can sit down and talk.

What else?

We met a lot of readers and some of our authors too! We had dinner with Wes Brown (moderates in the forums), met Greg Larson and Randy Dyess (authors), and met readers - holy cow, too many to list! We got a lot of feedback both good and bad, we're working on the bad stuff believe me. Brian has already switched us to use the Google search, search was the single largest complain we had.

What's next?

Well, the next issue of the magazine is due out sometime in January so we're hard at work on that. Plus, we want to make sure that doing the magazine doesn't detract a bit from the quality of the site. We have some other improvements in mind, both infrastructure and code. Forums are a big one, we're still looking, but clearly we need an upgrade there.

What about PASS 2004?

It's going to be held in Orlando next year, a great location for us (I live in Orlando, Brian in Jacksonville). If you're going to go, you should register early. PASS is discounting heavily through the end of this year. We're also doing the same promotion. If you enter a source code of "SSC" you'll be on the list to get a free copy of our Best of SQLServerCentral.com 2003 book and a very nice polo! The URL to register is: https://www.badgeguys.com/reg/pass2004/register.aspx.I know training money is hard to come by, but if you're looking for a SQL conference, this is the one. Nothing wrong with the other conferences, but they tend to focus more on development.  Should be a lot of Yukon content at this one!

Wrap Up

I know this has been a hodge podge, hopefully you found it interesting and/or useful.

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