The sessions are over, and the post-cons are done; the vendor parties are but a memory, and the #sqlkaraoke music has died. Another PASS summit is in the books, one billed to be the “best PASS summit ever”, and I’d have to concur.
The Best PASS Ever
Perhaps it started with the entertaining (albeit ill-advised) Tina Turner impersonator during the opening keynote on day one, belting out “Simply The Best”. We were informed that this summit was the largest ever, with over 3,700 registrants and many thousands more tuned in to catch the live stream of the keynotes, another first for PASS. The organization continues to make good strides toward building community at the summit, embracing Twitter and sharing many of the unofficial meetups on the website. Despite the unrest around the leadership (more on that shortly), PASS continues to improve the summit every year.
On a personal note, this was certainly the best PASS summit ever for me. Because of my involvement with the SQL Server community, I’ve had the pleasure to get to know scores of folks in this community, many of whom I consider to be friends. Because of these connections I’ve made, the trip to Seattle last week was like a homecoming for me. I felt a lot like Norm walking into Cheers, where everybody knows your name. I wasn’t selected to deliver a session this year, but I was invited to host a Birds of a Feather table as well as participate in the Ask the Experts booth, and was asked to join the blogger table to “live blog” and tweet throughout each of the keynote addresses. I was honored to participate in all 3 of these, but the last one was particularly enjoyable.
Even though this year’s PASS summit does not coincide with an imminent version release, there are a number of significant announcements regarding new and upgraded features surrounding SQL Server Denali, the next major version of SQL Server. Applicable to most everyone is the release of Denali CTP1, which was made available for public download earlier this week (all PASS attendees received the bits on a DVD as well). I’ll not try to detail all of the changes here, but a summary of the new developments includes:
Business intelligence: Project Crescent was announced, which is intended to be a thin, easy-to-use self service reporting tool to supplement the existing business intelligence stack. Crescent will leverage the Business Intelligence Semantic Model (BISM), which is a promising but still yet immature architecture for lightweight BI applications. I’ll likely have one or more blog posts coming up on this in the future.
To further the changes on the BI stack, Denali is expected to usher in the most significant change to Microsoft ETL tools since 2005. Some of the changes coming down the pike for SQL Server Integration Services include the deprecation of package configurations in lieu of new package parameters, a new server deployment model, an improved design experience including easily DIFFable packages, and – at long last – design-time undo and redo capability. Soon I’ll be working on some articles, and hopefully a couple of presentations, on the changes in CTP1.
Database engine: Two new developments, notably the columnstore index and Project “Atlanta”, look to be very promising. Although not ready yet in CTP1, the columnstore index is a new feature in the database engine allowing the creation of indexes on a column-centric, rather than a row-centric, manner. Think of this as pivoting the way that indexes are written, and then compressing the index at the column level. This is the same concept that drives the desktop version of PowerPivot, allowing users to manipulate millions of rows of data on the client with virtually no lag. This new feature is aimed mostly at relational datawarehouse applications, since the addition of a columnstore index to a table will prevent inserting or updating rows in that table (at least for now). Project “Atlanta” is a new cloud-based troubleshooting and support feature which can help eliminate some of the mystery behind hard-to-find problems in your environment.
Shaping PASS – Engaging the Leadership
Those who follow PASS happenings, even peripherally, learned of the significant controversy surrounding the recent board elections. I won’t restate the story here, but in a nutshell, the community has been overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the makeup of the final slate of candidates sent to voters at large during the past two elections. I count myself among those concerned with this process (see my previous blog posts on the topic for my thoughts), but to the credit of the PASS board, they again made themselves available for commentary – and no small measure of criticism – during an open Q&A session on Thursday evening. Last year’s Q&A event was poorly attended, due at least in part to a scheduling snafu and a lack of publicity. Conversely, this year’s session was very well attended: I didn’t count those in the audience, but there must have been at least 50 people in attendance, and collectively it was a very vocal but polite group. With respect to the election, Kendal Van Dyke addressed the board on the topic of transparency, imploring the group to make public all of their individual votes for any future. Sadly, several board members still resist this level of transparency. I spoke to a couple of these board members after the Q&A to address my concern with their unwillingness to consider a model of complete transparency with respect to voting; although I made the points I hoped to make, I didn’t feel that I made much progress toward convincing them that this level of transparency is the right thing to do. I’ll be following up with these board members to get their updated feedback on the other side of Friday’s board meeting, and I’ll have a post later to detail any progress.
Another governance development this week was the announcement of an elections review committee. Headed up by former board member Joe Webb, this appointed group will serve in an advisory capacity to review the processes surrounding the vetting and election of new board members. Understandably this adds another layer of administration, but in my opinion is a necessary step given the failure of PASS to adequately represent the community during the last two elections.
Networking, Networking, Networking
I can’t say this enough – the real value of events such as the PASS summit is the ability to personally engage with other similarly minded technical professionals. The official content (pre/post conference seminars, community and spotlight sessions, and keynotes) can all be purchased on DVD for significantly less than it costs to pay your way into the summit, not to mention the significant travel costs. When one comes to the summit, a whole other world of personal connectivity is revealed. I would have a hard time enumerating all of the people I’ve come to know because of my involvement with PASS, SQL Saturday, and other professional outlets. This summit allowed me to meet in person several folks that I knew online, including:
- Adam Jorgensen
- Ted Krueger
- Karen Lopez
- Matt Masson
- Ross Mistry
- Bill Ramos
- Lara Rubbelke
- Jorge Segarra
- David Taylor
Of course, I keep telling my own networking success story from last’s year’s summit, where I met (through my networking contacts) a person who would eventually lead me to a new job that I love.
So, adios PASS Summit 2010. Now I’m going to ride this “conference high” for a few weeks.