Sep 262016
 

Everyone has goals or at least they should have goals. As a young professional out of college, I had plenty of goals, but none of them involved SQL Server. I really had no idea of where I wanted my career to go other than working in IT. Finally in 2000, I stumbled upon an opportunity that started me down the career path of a DBA. It didn’t take long to realize I enjoy this type of work. Over the next decade, I learned a lot from my coworkers, training classes, and especially my mistakes. Yes, I really did drop the master database by mistake.

But one thing I didn’t take advantage of was PASS and its huge community of SQL professionals. I knew about some of events, but it wasn’t until 2012 that I got heavily involved. That decision forever changed my career. Since then, I started a blog about SQL Server, attended PASS Summit 2013, attended SQL Cruise 2014, started speaking at SQL user groups and SQL Saturdays, started working at Microsoft, attended SQL Cruise 2015, and most of all met a huge group of people that enjoy working with SQL Server as much as I do.

Eventually, I set a goal to be a speaker at PASS Summit. Well this past week I received notification that I had been chosen as a speaker for PASS Summit 2016. Upon hearing the news, I was extremely excited and humbled, especially considering there are far better speakers with more entertaining topics out there.

There are a lot of people that helped me along the way, but I’d like to really say thank you to my friend Andrew Kelly (b|t). Ever since I met him on board SQL Cruise, he has helped improve in the areas of public speaking, designing presentations, writing abstracts, code-review, and just an all-around great mentor.

However, this good news could not have come a worse time. 2016 has been a rough year for my family’s health and it got substantially worse in early September when my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Luckily, doctors caught it very early and her prognosis is good, but we’re still not taking any chances.

My good friend Scott, who is a cancer-survivor, told me “cancer is a radical disease and must be treated in radical ways” and to be prepared for any type of news throughout the treatment. I’m confident my wife can beat this and make a quick recovery, but until then I’ll have to postpone speaking at PASS Summit. While I enjoy spending time with all of my friends within the SQL community, I love my wife and must focus all of my time to her recovery. There will always be time for another Summit.

Jun 142016
 

The host for T-SQL Tuesday #79 is Michael J. Swart (b|t), and his topic of choice is to write about the new release of SQL Server 2016.

This past weekend I attended the SQL Server 2016 Launch Discovery Day in Raleigh, NC. I have attended several SQL Server launch events over the years, but this one was quite different. While it wasn’t a real launch event, it was marketed as a hands-on event to learn about the newest release of SQL Server. The hands-on part for everyone to breakup into teams of five to solve a pre-determined problem. Basically, this was hackathon for SQL Server, and something I’ve never done before.

We started early in the morning with a few presentations about SQL Server 2016. Kevin Feasel (b|t) spoke about the new features, and SQL Server MVP Rick Heiges (b|t) spoke about a real-world win using columnstore indexes in SQL Server 2016. Just before our lunch break the hack was revealed; the basics of which were simple.

First, you are given a set of data set; just five tables containing the following information.

  • Virtual Chapter membership (with member location)
  • SQL Saturday Registration Data and session/track
  • PASS Membership Data
  • Multi-year Summit Data including title, track, score etc
  • Multi-year Summit Registration data including geographic location of attendee

Then you must design a solution to answer these questions.

  • From how far away do attendees travel to SQL Saturday? Are there any geographic trends to the distances traveled?
  • Does the SQL Saturday session data provide any insight into what sessions are chosen for Summit? Are there any trends in session or topic content that can be established?
  • Are there are geographical insights that can discerned? Do the sessions presented at SQL Saturday help predict popularity or selection of sessions at Summit?
  • Does virtual chapter member data provide any insights into PASS membership growth?

The judges score each solution based on the following criteria.

  • Use of new features in SQL Server 2016
  • Usefulness of the dashboard in Power BI/visualizations for the community
  • Completeness of the solution
  • Innovativeness of solution
  • Bonus points for mobile friendliness

Your solution must be completed in 3 hours.

On paper this all sounds pretty easy, but in practice it was quite hard. I am no BI developer and the other members of my team did not have any expertise in that area either, but we still managed to create a solution and have fun doing so.

The first issue was had was how to combine our development work on the same database. This one was easy…just use Azure. In the span of about 30 minutes, I spun up a new Azure VM with SQL Server 2016 pre-installed, uploaded the database, setup logins, and opened the appropriate ports. I then gave my team members the URL and credentials so they each could connect from their laptops.

One of my team members, Dhruv, wanted to get SQL Server R Services installed to analyze the data set. Machine learning was his specialty, and since R Services is a new feature for SQL Server 2016, we thought this would be a good place to start. However, this proved to be mistake for our team. We spent way too much time trying to get it setup. This was mainly do to the the need to install the R components without an internet connection, or I should say a slow connection. I wish we could have implemented this, because Dhruv had some really good ideas. Even without R Services, he was able to create some nifty reports using Power BI.

One of my other team members, Mike, spent a lot of time trying to understand the data, and how to query it to produce the data for our reports. I’m not sure if this was by design, but let me just say the data set was horrible and every team complained about the time needed to clean it up to the point of being useful. Either way, it was just one of the many problems that we needed to overcome. Most of Mike’s code was used in the Power BI dashboard that Dhruv created, but he was also able to write some code that made some good points about membership growth potential; however, we did not have time to build a report for it.

Our team (Team Tiger) finished our solution and presented to the group, but it was clear from the other presentations that we had been over matched. The winning solution was from Team Cheetah who had some unique insights into the data and designed their reports to reflect that detail. Not to mention, their presentation went into a lot of detail about what they had learned.

I really liked the entire event, but I wish that we had more time to work on the solution. Three hours seems like a lot, but after thinking about the challenge for a few days, there were so many more ideas that I came up with. For starters, one of the areas to score points was the use of new SQL Server 2016 features. That basically translates into ANY new feature whether it helps you produce a better looking report or not. With that in mind, I could have done the following.

  • Enable the Query Store to capture performance metrics from our solution.
  • Enabled Row-Level Security so we could the reports show different data based on which user is running it.
  • Spin up additional VMs in different Azure datacenters so I could create a load-balanced Availability Group that would provide high availability and better response time for users closer to each datacenter.
  • Setup Stretch Database for a single table to store older data in Azure.

While none of these things would have improved our presentation using Power BI, they are tasks that could have been easily implemented by me given my skillset. And by implementing them it would have definitely scored us a lot more points for the use of new SQL Server 2016 features. This is the big lesion that I learned from the event…always play to your strengths. Don’t try to learn a new skill in a few hours, just use the ones you already have. It will be a much better use of your time, and will most likely produce a better end result.

As I said, this was my first hackathon of any kind, but now I can’t wait to attend another one; especially one that deals with SQL Server.

Oct 142015
 

In case you missed it last week, there will be another SQL Saturday this weekend in Charlotte, NC. If you are in the area, please come out to this free training event to hear a bunch of great professionals talk about SQL Server. You can register for the event here: http://www.sqlsaturday.com/452/eventhome.aspx.

I will be presenting one session on Performance Monitoring Tools.

No Money for Performance Monitoring Tools? No Problem!
So you like the idea of using one of the commercially available performance monitoring tools but can’t convince your boss to spend the money? Then join me as we explore some absolutely free tools born right out of Microsoft’s customer support teams: DiagManager and SQLNexus. We will see just how easy it is to use them to collect and analyze performance data from your SQL Servers. These tools can get you started quickly without having to deal with the red tape.

Oct 072015
 

I will be speaking this weekend at SQL Saturday #445 – Raleigh, NC. If you are in the area, please come out to this free training event to hear a bunch of great professionals talk about SQL Server. You can register for the event here: http://www.sqlsaturday.com/445/eventhome.aspx. So come on out and meet some great people who might be able to help you solve your worst problems.

I will be presenting two sessions on Policy Based Management and Performance Monitoring Tools.

Policy Based Management – Beyond the Basics
Policy Based Management is a great feature of SQL Server and easy to implement; however, for most organizations you need a way to customize it to your enterprise. Join me for this session as we take a deeper dive into PBM to see how you can customize polices, evaluate those polices across your entire enterprise environment, track those changes over time, and deliver reports to management showing your progress.

No Money for Performance Monitoring Tools? No Problem!
So you like the idea of using one of the commercially available performance monitoring tools but can’t convince your boss to spend the money? Then join me as we explore some absolutely free tools born right out of Microsoft’s customer support teams: DiagManager and SQLNexus. We will see just how easy it is to use them to collect and analyze performance data from your SQL Servers. These tools can get you started quickly without having to deal with the red tape.

Aug 192013
 

I know what y’all are thinkin’, what’s Charlotte got to do with SQL Server?  Just hear me out.  There’s a lot more to Charlotte than NASCAR, fried chicken, and rednecks. I assume most of the 5000 attendees have never been to Charlotte, and probably don’t know much about the area.  To help everyone out, I have made a list of useful tips.







My history and why you should listen to me. I begged my management for nearly a decade to send me to the PASS Summit, and this year they finally granted my request.  And to top it off even more, I just happen to live in Charlotte and work in the building right across the street from the Charlotte Convention Center.  I’m native to North Carolina and I have lived in Charlotte for about 17 years.  I even graduated from The University of NorthCarolina at Charlotte.

Queen City History. Charlotte is named in honor of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz who was married to King George III of Great Britain.  This is why the city is nicknamed the “Queen City”.  It is currently the 17th largest city in the US and it’s the 2nd largest financial city, trailing only New York City. The city center is called uptown instead of downtown. The term downtown gives off a negative vibe; hence the term Uptown Charlotte.

Hotels. Just pick one, they’re all about the same. However, if you are staying in a hotel on the south side of town near Pineville or Ballentyne, be prepared for I-77 and I-485 to be a parking lot during rush hour. Trust me on this one.

Transportation. The good news for anyone staying on the south side of town is the Lynx light rail. There is only one rail line but it runs from the center of town all the way south to Pineville. My suggestion is to take the light rail if it’s near your hotel. Just get off at the 3rd St/Convention Center station, and the convention center is right across the street.

The CATS bus sytem is also not a bad option. The main transit center in uptown is only 3 blocks from the convention center. Any of the bus lines that end in an X are express routes (i.e. 54X) that pick you up from the commuter lots and head directly uptown. In uptown, there is a free bus line called the Goldrush. It different buses and only runs east/west along Trade Street.  It’s helpful if you are staying in one of the hotels along that street.  And the best part is it’s free.  Check out RideTransit.org for a complete system map.

If you like riding bicycles, the you’ll want to check out CharlotteBcycle. There are about a dozen bicycle rentals around uptown. You just pay a small fee at the automated kiosk to share a bike, even if it’s for a one way trip.

For those of you driving uptown, you’ll need a place to park. There are over 40,000 parking spaces uptown, but you will have to compete with the daily workforce, like me. Most parking decks will run you about $15-20 per day. Once you get uptown, look for the giant “P” signs outside each of the parking decks. The signs will tell you the number of spaces available.

The parking lots are usually cheaper than the decks, $3-10 per day, and most of those you can pay by credit card at the kiosk. Some lots even allow you to pay using the Park Mobile app (Apple | Android | Windows). Just look for the Park Mobile sign near the kiosk for the lot number.
 

You might wonder what these over-street walkways are used for.  This is part of the Overstreet Mall.  It’s a maze of walkways that interconnect some of the buildings and it’s full of restaurants and shops.  Even if you’re not interested in the shops, it’s a nice way to get from building to building when it’s raining.

While walking around uptown, you’ll see these “You Are Here” street signs. The maps divide uptown four color-coded regions, North, South, East, and West. Each map provide you with information about attractions, hotels, and parking. 

















Dining. You shouldn’t have any issue finding a place to eat uptown; however, there are a few places of interest you should try out.  
For breakfast:

For lunch:

For dinner:

Also, if you’re thinking of going to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, then chose Sullivan’s Steakhouse or Morton’s Steakhouse instead.  I’ve never had a good experience at the uptown location, but that’s just my opinion.

On a side note, when eating out, just keep in mind that you’re in the south.  If you order iced tea, it WILL be sweet tea.  If you want unsweet tea, then ask for it.
Entertainment. There’s plenty to do uptown as well as around town after the conference is over.  Next door to the convention center is the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  There are several other museums: Mint Museum, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, etc.  The EpiCentre is a multi-use entertainment complex only 2 blocks from the convention center. There are restaurants, bars, and other entertainment there.  For beer lovers, there are plenty of bars uptown.  There are way too many to list, but a few are:

For wine lovers, check out Threes and The Wooden Vine.  Both have a wide range of selections.

The NC Music Factory is about 2 mile walk north from the convention center or only a 4 or 5 minute drive, but they do have free parking.  It’s an entertain complex with live music, restaurants, bars, and even stand up comedy at The ComedyZone.  If you head over that way, be sure to visit the VBGB Beer Hall and Garden; definitely the best bar at the music factory.
Don’t forget about the Carolina Panthers.  They’ll have a home game on Sunday, October 20th at 1PM.  It might be your only chance to see the future superbowl champions in action!  
I know some of you might health nuts and would like find a place to workout besides your hotel gym.  The YMCA has a location uptown in my building.  $10 will get you a day pass, and $20 will get a 7-day pass.

If you prefer jogging outdoors, any of the streets uptown will work nicely.  However, if you like a little more scenery for your job, then head over to the Little Sugar Creek greenway.  The Charlotte Parks and Recreation built 35 miles of greenways around town.

This one is a beautiful, winding route nearly 6 miles long, and located just outside the south side of the I-277 belt loop uptown.

Finally, for the super adventurous attendees, the US National Whitewater Center is about 15 miles west of uptown, or head north to take a ride at 150mph at the Richard Petty Driving Experience.  It’s only about 20 miles north of uptown at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As a bonus item, the very popular Showtime original Homeland is filmed right here in Charlotte.  If you have the time, why not try out as an extra for the show.

Other links with information about Charlotte:

I think I covered a lot, but if anyone has questions about Charlotte, please don’t hesitate to contact me.