25 October 2013

PASS Summit 2013 - Charlotte, NC

So I can't say enough good things about my employer. Well, I could say enough good things, but then I'd come off as an obsequious little toadie and my readers would ask themselves hard questions, like "am I the only person reading this blog?" and "why am I reading this blog?" Far be it from me to thrust my public into such a swirling existential vortex, so suffice to say, my employer was kind enough to shuttle me off to the PASS Summit for a week...Disneyland for DBAs.

After fixing a few problems noticed over the weekend this morning, I headed out to the airport to catch my flight. Once boarded, I settled in by the window, with a couple processed meat product marketing executives gassing away about meat portfolio strategies next to me. I did notice something rather disconcerting about the AirBus we were riding in...one generally doesn't like to see Bondo patching on the wings:

It's been a while since I've flown and unlike the meat-hawking aerial commuters next to me, the process still invokes a sense of wonder...the first kick of thrust from the turbines, the quavering steadiness as we rocket down the runway and the pilot holds it steady, and the joyous weightlessness as the plane breaks ties from terra firma. Halfway through the trip the cloud topography started to interest me. Almost as if we are looking down on white mountains, particularly those off in the distance.

Ironically here we can make out some actual mountains, albeit only what count for mountains in the Southeast.

The effect of watching the low angled sun glint off of this landscape of clouds is a sense of the Antarctic, somewhat. Then we barreled slowly down towards the snowy landscape.

Landed with precision in Charlotte and took the bus into Uptown. After chatting with the family a bit, I grabbed some sushi for dinner...not bad for takeout, but then I'm from Kansas City...

Tomorrow, a pre-con with the Brent Ozar Unlimited group. I shall endeavor to not lose my head and scream like a teenage girl in 1964 when the Beatles get off the airplane.

Next day, up early and over to the convention hall, chatting of this and that with fellow database professionals at breakfast. All day pre-con session in store today with the Brent Ozar folks. I of course remained complete calm and in control of my faculties while settling in before the session startedERMAHGERD LERK ERTS THE ERZERS!!!!!!!!!!!

*ahem* My composure restored, I settled in and it was a surprisingly useful session, filling in gaps of knowledge I already should have had and pushing me a bit further into new areas as well. Proper indexing was really a key point of the session...it delved here and there into other areas but indexing was the leitmotif, if you will, that kept resurfacing, and given that that has been, if not one of my blind spots, then one of my unfortunately somewhat myopic spots, this was excellent training for me and left me somewhat eager to get back to work and start tuning crappy queries and indexes.

And of course, my wife wouldn't let me hear the end of it if I had chickened out and didn't abase myself into queueing up to get the obligatory picture with the SQLebrities! Ermergerd BERNT ERZER!!!

Also thanked Kendra Little for reviewing my resume for one of their resume tuneup podcasts; since it helped land me my current gig, I hold them responsible. Whether that's blame or credit, who can say! Speaking of the SQL glitterati, apologize for the fuzzy picture, but that's PINAL DAVE of SQLAuthority. Basically the Google DBA...you need a script, you Google it, his blog is almost often right there at the top of the list.

So after the day was over I retired to the hotel and picked up some toiletries I had left at home. Soon to return though...

The evening reception was not the "scene" of a writing-focused, quiet chap such as myself. But it was the scene of a parsimonious bastard with a GSA per-diem for meals, so I was very happy to queue for tiny appetizer plates at the reception until I had basically fulfilled the obligations of a light dinner, and thence to the hotel. Was a happening thing, as nerdfests go...tons of people, and I'm sure just ramping up as I left.

Tomorrow, the real conference begins in earnest. Although I could fly home tomorrow and feel like I'd gotten (nearly) my money's worth.

The conference began in earnest Wednesday. I trotted over early to grab a quick continental breakfast in the hall before the keynote. Nice crisp note in the air at that hour.

After a brief, quiet bit of tissue-restoring in which I indulged my predilection to introversion by abstaining from the social mixing aspect, I sauntered over to the ballroom where the keynote was set to take place. Rather large it was, too!

Eventually others joined me and the place filled up. I've not been to a lot of conferences, but this seemed pretty high production value. Even so, I paid more attention to the liveblogging and twittersnark that was going on throughout the presentation. I almost lost it when the wifi seemed to collapse right as they went into the boring demo of new POWERPIVOTPOINTPOWERQUERYBIGDATA or whatever their BI buzzword is these days. Of course the wifi stress test was because the speaker decided to announce that CTP2 of SQL Server 2014 was released, and so everybody en masse decided that conference wifi was the best conduit for two thousand simultaneous downloads of the new CTP bits. The best commentary was on Twitter, and Brent Ozar's live-blog which, in keeping with his commentary from past years, doesn't pull punches when Microsoft blows smoke.

Great morning session on Extended Events from Erin Stellato. Lots of good insights and tools for changing how we do things now that Profiler is fading into the abyss of deprecation. The session was packed.

After lunch the vendors were well under way in the exhibition hall. I chatted with the Violin Memory folks and got to see our all-Flash SAN up close and personal. Violin gets my stamp of approval, I love having all our SQL on blazing fast storage. The Dell booth had the Ozar crew hired on to do a cool presentation, bits of which I caught, I think mostly about interviewing. Strange Doppelgänger Brent in the foreground.

Then on to a great session on indexing by Gail Shaw, who did a great job, but a sense of fatigue had me bailing at the midway point, intent on rewatching the whole thing again when I get the recordings. Had to remote back in to my work servers and play around with newly acquired query tuning techniques in there too, I'm eager to get back and start fixing these problems.

Trotted back to the hotel to do a little work and chat with the family, then eventually back to the convention hall. The hotel has some lovely gardening, several of these bonsai-like trees.

My visit to the evening vendor exhibition was a similar combination of cheapskate food acquisition and harrassment and abuse of our current vendors in light of their failings. Well, perhaps that is an overstatement, I gave lavish praise to the Violin folks, but Dell neé Quest signed up for a masters class in what's wrong with their Spotlight product, and they got it. Good news is, a lot of the issues they are already aware of and working on, so I was appeased. I trotted over to Red Gate on a whim (not our current vendor for anything) and asked them if they had a product to audit access/security on database objects that also considers access via cross-database ownership chaining. Suffice to say I lost the poor chap in a Red Gate shirt at "ownership chaining" but he kept trying, and failing, to understand, and at least wrote down my question to get back to me. I guess they can't all be DBAs working the booth. I hated working the booths in former lives...

Thursday was kilt day, I think in homage of Women in Technology (for which there was later to be a luncheon, I gather), but also just "because". After cursing myself for being so remiss as to neglect packing my latex miniskirt, I opted not to participate, and just headed over to the second keynote arrayed in traditional trousering. Got to chat with Bill Graziano, vainly (in both senses of the words) throwing out the suggestion that hey, maybe Kansas City could host this some time (when certain meteorological conditions prevail in the infernal regions, perhaps), and then talked with Brent Ozar a bit. Once the keynote got underway, Tom LaRock, who I meant to meet and chat with but didn't actually get a chance to, announced next year's Summit, back in Seattle:

Then a great, very cerebral keynote by Dr. David DeWitt on Hekaton.

Beautiful stuff, the twitter snark died down in genuine admiration and interest; the blogger table had Grant Fritchey, Kevin Kline, Erin Stellato, and Brent Ozar among others.

Continuing the trend of mentally challenging topics I walked over and got one of the scarce seats in Kimberly Tripp's session on filtered statistics for skewed data. Wonderful stuff, started out fairly simple and digestible for me, giving me some very distinct takeaways (I finally "get" the DBCC SHOWSTATISTICS histogram). Got very advanced and complicated as it went on, will bear rewatching.

Then another session from Jonathan Kehayias on the system_health extended events session, and I had to call it a day. I skipped the evening party and got to sleep by 7:30 Eastern, I was that tired, mostly mental exhaustion catching up to me.

Next day, I woke feeling rather better and attended Ozar's reveal session for his new stored proc; a nifty little number with a built-in 8-ball called sp_AskBrent. Queries DMVs and wait stats among other things, and gives a good snapshot of why a server may be bottlenecking or slowing down at the moment. Useful tool to add to the DBA belt.

After connecting up and working a bit, then grabbing lunch, I decided to catch the bus and head to the airport early. Seven hours early to be exact, but I was keen to get home and decided to roll the dice in case they were interested in bumping me to an earlier flight. No dice, or that is, I was unwilling to pay the $75 they required for such a purpose, so I just sat and worked. But I did notice this unfortunate name for a TSA Administrator:

Glad to be home with the family, maybe not quite as keenly happy to be back at work, but still, good to get back into routine. I'm eagerly awaiting the session recordings to harvest more value from this conference. Good times overall, and lots of brilliant insight being flung around with abandon, like fecal matter in a primate house.

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