Tag Archives: SQLRally

Big up to Karla!

I'm sad

I’m sad

Well the day I’ve been dreading for the last few weeks has finally arrived, and it is with great sadness and joy to read Karla’s announcement that she will be leaving her current role in the PASS family. Sadness because Karla has not only become a great friend and ally over the years (and I will deeply miss her in doing what she does), but joyous because I know that she is moving on to the next successful phase of her life story -one in which she can rightly reap the rewards of her brilliance.

In the beginning

I don’t know how it happened, but I somehow managed to miss Karla at the PASS Summit in 2010 during my first ever visit to Seattle. Stranger still was that I did not bump into her during my (first “International”) speaking gig at SQLRally Orlando in 2011 either. So my first time meeting Karla in person was at SQLBits in 2011, which was apparently not too long after she had joined PASS proper in her Community Evangelist role (although she did it so well, you would have thought she had been doing it for 20 years).

I’ve told her this before, but the minute I’d met her I knew that she was someone who I wanted to be friends with. I could tell she was a DO-ER. A no-nonsense, no bullsh*t professional. A straight talker. But most of all, she was very approachable, warm and had a wicked sense of humour and infectious laugh. There are very few people on this planet (when I see them) that suddenly everything seems good with the world, but Karla is most definitely one of them.

Thanks boss!

Over the years since our first meeting we have worked together professionally for many years. Karla was instrumental in helping me launch the UK’s first SQLSaturday (SQLSaturday Cambridge) in 2012 and I can say with hand on heart, that without her support in doing so, it could not have happened. I also went on to serve my 2-year term as UK Regional Mentor amongst other things. I would jokingly call her (and regard her) as “my boss”, but one who did not pay me! Being close to Karla was reward enough, for the time that I spent with her discussing or participating in community activities controlled by her, were usually very successful and happy occasions.

From our professional relationship, we have grown a friendship and I know that there is a huge number of you who will also echo my feelings. She is never scared to tell me that I am talking nonsense when she disagrees with anything I may say, but can do so without being condescending. She also has broad shoulders and can listen to my criticism (or moaning) without taking things personally, and people like her are rare indeed. She has helped support me through the good times and the bad times in equal measure, and for that I feel incredibly privelaged to have known her.

It’s not the end

Now I know what you are thinking. This post is reading a little bit like an obitury. The reason for this is simple. When Karla leaves her current role at PASS we are all losing someone special, and someone who “has our back”. It is natural for me to but feel sad at this loss, but I am also happy and encouraged that she is returning to a technical role with the possibility that she will still be part of our community, and we all will benefit from that. Either way, I will not stop having a private moan to Karla about anything that is annoying me no matter where she goes (you cannot escape me Karla!).

Karla has been pivotal in helping me grow, develop and succeed during her tenure at PASS and is leaving some very big boots to fill. I hope you (like me) will wish her the best of luck with the future and thank her for everything she has done for us and SQLSaturdays, PASS and the SQL Community at large.

Karla you’re the best!

Change and make a difference

Let me tell you a story…

It is a drizzly night in November and I am sat with a bunch of people I have never met before. They are all eating and I am not (one too many Whiskys the night before). They all appear to know each other and are vigorously moving from subject to subject with enthusiasm and I am listening intently to the conversation but not really saying too much. I am probably the only Englishman in the entire bar -or at least, if I am not alone, there can’t be many of us there. To be honest I am not even sure whether that would really make a difference, for I am still relatively poor at introducing myself to strangers and, as I sit there feeling a little bit like a fish out of water everyone else is a fish in water. The date is Sunday 7th November 2010 and I am sitting in a bar called Lowell’s in a place known as Pike’s Place Market in a city called Seattle for a convention called the PASS Summit.

Going to Lowell’s

The fact that I am even sat here is a minor miracle, and really completely out of character but this is going to be the start of something I tell myself -the new me, and I am going to start to learn to socialize (like a human being) -like everyone else seems to do …effortlessly. I had registered for the “Sunday Night Meetup” hosted by Andy Warren (blog|twitter) and am intent on using the opportunity for a new beginning and actually making the effort to meet new people rather than let them be the ones to approach me whilst I hide behind my hard exterior. As Sunday evening drew nearer I started to get cold feet. ‘Why it’s only an Eventbrite ticket, it doesn’t really matter to anyone if I don’t come’ I told myself -‘Besides, I’d have an even better time by myself stuck at the hotel bar on my own (at worst) or have a talkative stranger drop by and chat for a bit (hopefully)’.

The depressing reality of that sunk in. ‘NO I AM GOING!’ I decided. I will go, have something to eat, maybe have a couple of drinks and perhaps even learn the skills of communication like I always wished I could. In the worst case scenario, if it didn’t really go to plan, I could make my excuses and leave early with the added bonus that I would have eaten and had a drink… So I went.

Whilst sat there listening, on my right I had a young lady called Jessica Moss (blog|twitter) and on my opposite right a lady called Pam Shaw (blog|twitter). Pam was talking about the SQLSaturday movement, how it all began, where it is all going and what things need to change. Her enthusiasm and passion for SQLSaturdays immediately raised my interest and I soaked up the conversation. Whilst I sat there my mind wandered and I started to wonder if this could ever work in the U.K. and decided there and then that I wanted to host one. However there was only one small problem in my eyes. Even though several weeks ago I had just given my first ever presentation to a major event prior to heading off to the PASS Summit, for me the experience was a rather insular and miserable affair in that I didn’t really know anyone and they didn’t know me. In short I felt very lost as a speaker. I didn’t really know what to expect and the way the events work from a speaker’s perspective. I remember walking into the “Speaker room” for the very first time and it felt very much like I had entered the Slaughtered Lamb (from the American Werewolf in London film) and felt very much like the person I really was – a nobody. I digress slightly, but the point is that in Seattle, having listened to the conversation for a while I realised that in order for me to really be able to host one of these events I would have to have a slightly bigger profile than I had (something > zero) and so on my return back to the U.K. I didn’t mention my ambitions again to anyone and patiently waited.

Over the next year or so I worked very hard on my “social self” and made it my goal to present as much as possible to work on this side of me, share knowledge with others and to gain knowledge in the process. It was a win-win situation all around.  I have since gone on to present at many major and small events over the last couple of years and now feel completely at home just arriving in a new City of a new Country, giving a presentation, talking and socialising with people and returning home again. My self-development is certainly not fait accompli but I believe I have made significant progress. Even more importantly I have got to know who are the right people to ask for things and I eventually submitted my desire to host a SQLSaturday for Cambridge. Unfortunately when I did so the timing was not quite right it and I was asked to patiently wait on the wings until it would be possible to give it the green light. I will confess that at this stage I gave up all hope and as months passed by I believed it would not happen.

Then… joy of joys… several months ago an email arrived in my Inbox asking me if I still wanted to host an event. The reply probably took me around 10 seconds to send. It was of course a massive ‘YES!’.

I want you to know that by one simple action (going to Lowell’s) set off a chain of events and you could do the same. I am no longer “afraid” to approach you if you are a stranger and say hello or talk about the Weather, I have realised that ambitions can be fulfilled and today feel like almost anything is possible if you work hard enough for it.

If you are able to, I really hope to see you at SQLSaturday #162 Cambridge and if not then please make sure you say hello to me at SQLRally Dallas, the SQL 2012 Summit in Seattle, SQLBits or many of the other SQLSaturdays and user groups that I hope to be at. I would also like to extend a huge thank you Pam Shaw whose enthusiasm and continued support for the SQL Community has been the spark for something new and exciting and to Niko Neugebauer (blog|twitter) and his SQLSaturday #115 Lisbon team for giving me a huge welcome and amazing insight into the running of his event which inspired me and provided a template model that I hope to replicate where possible. I would also like to thank SQLSaturday and SQLPASS for allowing me to do this, but most of all I want to thank Karla Landrum (twitter|blog) for her unwavering support and dedication to the task in hand. Thank you all!

Remember that everything you do, everything you say, everyone you meet and everywhere you go has the power to touch and change your and other peoples lives. Be mindful of this and once in a while try to change a little!

SQLRally and beyond

I am almost ashamed to say that I have let over a month pass since my last post and truth be told I have come close a few times without never actually pressing that submit button.

I shan’t bore you with my excuses or reasons for my inactivity but what matters is I’m back!

I’ve been seeing an increasing amount of noise about SQLRally Dallas and I felt that I wanted to share my own personal experience with you about this rather unique event (in Orlando) -for it quite literary changed my life.

Six years or so ago I joined a company with big hopes and promises and after starting a small family (and growing it further after joining) I was looking for a period of stability and a platform to learn, improve and share my skills. In short, I knew that come what may, as good or bad as things might get, I was there for the long haul.

Not long after joining, my skills and talent for other technologies were recognised and when the need for a specialized “crack” team supporting a critical troublesome in-house application, I was identified as their man. This position (I was told) would be permanent and was absolutely vital to the running of the company operation. There was one small problem -I didn’t want it and regretfully declined. My reasons were many but I had joined the company as a SQL Server SME and saw the very broad set of skills required to support one single application platform as a regression in my ever growing expertise in SQL Server (and increasing knowledge in Oracle) and did my best to explain this.

Unfortunately for me, the Technical Director at the time (let’s give him a fictitious name of Dennis) told me in no uncertain terms that this would be the last time I ever refused him. Three months into my new job, everything had turned sour overnight simply due to me being good at what I do.

Years would pass and with each new year would bring a new job offer somewhere else for an ever increasing Salary, but I would always find a reason not to take it -probably the thought of repeating the same mistakes again was always the biggest reason to avoid saying yes.

Then something happened.

Although I have been helping in forums and the like on and off for a long period of time which you can read a little more about in this post (Standing upon the shoulders of Giants) I always felt that I had more to give, more to share, more to say and more to learn. I decided to submit my first ever public presentation to SQLBits 7 and surprisingly managed to secure a speaking slot! As daunting as the whole thing was, I think I managed to pull it off -and if nothing else I know that I learned LOADS during my weeks and weeks of hard graft of preparation putting it all together.

About a month or so later I took a week off work and self-financed a trip to the SQLPASS 2010 Summit (my very first time) and met some absolutely amazingly talented people which is probably another story for another time.

Whilst in Seattle I decided that should the opportunity arise, I wanted to attempt a presentation in America and would submit and hope for the best. SQLRally Orlando was announced and my submissions went in. Although I didn’t make the first cut, my submission received the joint highest votes for the runners up and quite incredibly I was eventually selected as a wildcard! Totally brilliant and I was thrilled!

This time (unlike Seattle) I thought I would approach Dennis and see if my company would like to contribute in any way since there would be obvious technical benefits to the organization. The response did not surprise me. He said that my speaking and attending sessions at SQLRally (or anywhere else) had absolutely no benefit to the company at all. I have never forgotten the impact that sentence made upon me. The situation was made even more ironic when a few days later I was assigned to an important scalability project (for someone had personally requested that I should be the resource).

…… The title of my presentation : “Orders of magnitude-Scaling your SQL Server Data“.

Like the SQLPASS Summit, I fully financed my trip to SQLRally and used a week of my holiday entitlement and came to a decision. I realised that however much I tried to improve myself socially and technically (and help others), Dennis would never support my efforts in any way. A few days later I received a permanent job offer from another firm offering a substantial salary increase (almost double) and I ……….turned it down!

SQLRally helped me realize that the only person holding me back was myself and It was time for me make the jump. I quit and left for Orlando to give my presentation. On my return, I secured work and now when I need to finance any speaking or training events, the only person I need to convince is myself.

But what of SQLRally? I loved giving my presentation, it was very hard work preparing for it but I learned more than I can put into words at hopefully managed to communicate some of that knowledge across. From a non-speaking perspective, if you have never been to a SQL Server event and can get to Dallas then you are going to LOVE it. SQLRally is smaller than the Summit and full of lots of first timers and many regulars who will embrace you and make you feel completely at home.

Attending SQLRally could be your first steps towards something amazing. I hope you take them, and if you do, I look forward to meeting you someday soon and hopefully share a nice cold beer.

You can read more about my exploits at SQLRally here and here.

What has happened to me since my return?

Going forward I am currently :-

Dennis, I think you made a mistake with me but I know you would never be able to admit it. I sincerely thank you for every single day I spent praying for deliverance. You made me realize that if I wanted something strong enough I could go out there and get it. Through your neglect, you encouraged me to meet people LIKE me. You have given me hope and for that, I will never forget you.

The Sun isn’t shining for the Solstice

So today I was surprised (slightly) to pick up a tweet by the excellent Grant Fritchey (blog|twitter) regarding the fact that SQL Solstice had been cancelled due to a lack of interest. I say that I was only slightly surprised for a few reasons. The first is that the event was a new initiative and just by that very fact, was never going to be a certainty. Secondly, the United States is no stranger to SQL events. Not only do they host the largest SQL Server convention in the world (SQL PASS Summit), but have also a new initiative called SQLRally, in which I was lucky enough to speak at the inaugural event in Orlando this May just past. I believe the intention for SQLRally is for it to rotate bi-yearly between the States and Europe and the success of SQLRally Nordic will (I believe) be the making or death of that initiative. I personally believe SQLRally is work in progress and will become a great success over time.

Lets also not forget the SQL Server Connections event in Las Vegas, which could give you some of the “feel” of the SQL PASS Summit, but also allows you to enjoy a holiday in the process. Sounds great in practice, and at some point I shall see for myself whether it really is worth attending. I have had mixed opinions so far from a bunch of people.

I am (of course) also missing out one of the most popular type of events in the States, and if you are an American DBA then you will be no stranger to the SQL Saturday events, which are as I understand it free to attend. I first heard about the success of these SQL Saturday events prior to the SQL 2010 PASS Summit and whilst listening to Pam Shaw (blog|twitter) talk about them, I sat there with great interest. The SQL Saturday events are popular due to their cost and “user group” feel and it is pretty obvious that they are filling a gap in the market.

Welcome to …

I therefore believe that a third reason for the failure of SQL Solstice is that their literature failed to explain its position in the market very well (in my humble opinion). They promoted themselves as using the “SQLBits style model”, but as I saw it, it failed to *really* explain exactly what they believe that model is and why that model is good for the American market place. Let me just say that one of the biggest reasons that SQLBits is a roaring success is the fact there is nothing quite like it anywhere in the U.K (or even Europe). It has evolved over time from a smallish event to a now more mature and larger event to meet the market demand and requirements; additionally the SQLBits committee are not afraid to try new things. So to market something as a “SQLBits style model” is and was a little odd to me and I wanted to know what they thought this was. Had the organisers even attended any of the recent SQLBits events?

The location of an event is also very important, especially for any overseas attendees, and I wonder about the reasons for hosting the event in Raleigh. I don’t personally know anything about Raleigh and had not heard anything about it, however I was able to do a web search and have a look at the street level via Google Maps. I remember thinking at the time that the street level pictures reminded me of all those episodes of ‘The Wire’ that I had wasted far too much time watching. This view might be grossly unfair to Raleigh, but it was a first impression and those are what usually count. I also failed to dig up any information that made me *want* to go to Raleigh. Comparing this to Seattle, Orlando, Las Vegas or even the new home of the SQL Pass Summit in a few years (Charlotte), these Cities instantly have a lot to offer for the first time visitor.

A final reason that I believe that this event has failed (this time at least) is that I was never really convinced of the reasons why it was being held in the first place and I needed to know. Pure opportunism and profiteering or somebody trying to fill a demand and is passionate about what they are doing? I am sure the organisers will definitely argue the latter, but I certainly did not see any evidence of this and was not convinced.
When I first heard about it I tweeted the following to one of the organisers (Jimmy Dixon)

and the reply?….

I was at very least expecting a response promoting the event in some way shape or form, but I got a big fat zero. If they couldn’t be bothered then neither could I, and when a response for more information of this nature failed to materialise on their website I decided to not only forget submitting potential sessions but also to avoid wasting any time or money attending as a trainee either. Was this an oversight or a lack of passion? I can only judge on the literature in front of me, and to be frank …I didn’t have much available.

I really hope that SQL Solstice or any of the possible contenders do actually succeed and wish the organisers well since competition is a good thing, but hope that next time around more thought goes into the reasons why the event is happening in the first place.

Coincidently (and ironically) SQL Server Magazine published the following article a few days ago:- What Is the Future of the Paid SQL Server Conference Model?

Can SQL Solstice succeed sometime in the future? Only time will tell, but this is not a good start.

SQLRally Scalable Shared Database Demo Redux

Several weeks ago now I had the honour of presenting at the very first ever SQLRally event in Orlando Florida and I gave a presentation around the very large (no pun intended) subject of scaling out your SQL Server data. At the end of one of my demos it unfortunately crashed and burned and the annoying thing was, that up to then it had worked flawlessly!

The problem that I hit in the demo was (I believe) related to a virtual machine crash that had happened the previous evening and I don’t think I allowed the database to run through recovery the following day. I am presuming that my iSCSI targets were not connected to my SQL Server on startup which meant that the database in question which was located on my shared drive still needed to run through recovery and couldn’t because I had (as part of the demo) changed the attribute of the drive to read-only in order to prepare it for the next stage. The error was suggesting that there was a version compatibility problem between the two instances and I had several members of the audience suggesting that this was the problem when I knew the versions were identical. Disappointingly, we were so short of time that I needed to move on.

I am definitely not the first presenter that a demo has not quite succeeded and I won’t be the last, but the important thing is that I offered a solution to the audience….”I’ll post a blog!”. So here we are and here it is, all the information you really need to setup your Scalable Shared Database.

The first thing we need to do is to provision our shared storage that will eventually be presented to all our SQL Instance servers in order that they can be part of the SSD Cluster. In my demo I used an iSCSI target but in your production environment you will most probably be attaching to your SAN LUNS via HBA cards.

It is important that you only attach the storage to only one of the servers until you have performed all the actions necessary to prepare the database and storage so that it can become a Scalable Shared Database. Once you have created your database on this shared target, it is important that you stop any activity to it and you will note that I have checkpointed so that any dirty pages are gracefully flushed to disk. Next you can then set the database to read-only and finally can take it offline. Please note that the official instructions suggest you should detach the database. I am not a big fan of detaching databases (shan’t go into that now) but if you would prefer to do that instead then it is a perfectly sensible approach.

database needs to be set to read-only and then taken offline

So once the database has been set to readonly and taken offline, this should mean that you should not have any open file handles to the volume. If you do then the next step will fail, what we need to do is set the volume to readonly and this is done by the diskpart utility.

set volume to read-only

First query the volume id numbers by running the list volume statement. In my example above you will note that my shared drive has a volume id of 3. You need to select this volume in order that you can change its attribute, I therefore selected it by entering select volume=3. The final part of the preparation is to change the volume to read-only and we do so by entering attribute volume set readonly.

Now at this stage, if this attribute really has been set then any attempt to create new files or folders on it will fail as the screen cap below demonstrates.

can no longer write to read-only volume …obviously!

At this stage we are all ready to go! We can bring our SSD online on our very first instance and as you can see below, the database is open for business :).

bring database back online

For all subsequent nodes you will need to connect the shared disk target to them. It is probably best that you do this one at a time only after you have added in the SSD to the instance, although theoretically it shouldn’t matter a jot.

connect to target on next server

We are now very close to completing this exercise and the final stage is to attach to our SSD located on our read-only shared storage. Simply execute the CREATE DATABASE .. FOR ATTACH statement and voilà, we have my friends a lovely jubbly 2 node SSD cluster.

attach the read-only database on the read-only volume to your second instance

As you can see, the procedure for creating a Scalable Shared Database is incredibly straightforward and has many benefits in certain situations and I will cover some of these in future posts as well as some of the drawbacks and possible alternative solutions. For now I hope you have enjoyed reading about something that is very rarely used, talked about or even known about. I only hope that Microsoft do build on this technology and give us something that really will set tongues wagging, a Read/Write SSD …PRETTY PLEASE!

The REAL value of attending SQLRally

(This post was written primarily whilst travelling back from SQLRally and subsequently edited, amended and added to where necessary before publishing)

I’m currently sat here at Orlando Airport and I am able to reflect a little bit whilst waiting to board my plane back to the U.K. after having spent the last 5 days of preparation, learning and socialising at SQLRally and I need to ask myself “was it worth the expense?”. I’m not too sure how many attendees or indeed speakers were from Europe but I am pretty sure I was one of a very small number and therefore the cost to myself was indeed far more than it would have cost for the majority of the attendees. It is therefore important that I look at the return on investment of not just my attending the event, but also of me speaking. One key thing to remember about going to conferences, is that the knowledge retained is usually very little of what you have actually heard but hopefully with the efforts of the presenters, the materials provided will help to reinforce the important parts of this knowledge. It is true that I went to some excellent presentations but was sadly unable to attend many of them due to the amount of work I felt I needed to do on the preparation of my own session since I was really not quite happy where I was at. This particular point is a key take home for me, and I *must* now ensure that I am far more prepared going forward. Unfortunately due to working commitments, family and other events it is sometimes easier said than done.

So learning for me in terms of sessions was restricted, but I have to admit to learning lots of new stuff towards my “prep” although most of this material was unfortunately not used but *will* hopefully be mentally retained. Strictly speaking, from a knowledge perspective, the biggest benefit to myself was understanding some key areas that I need to learn more about, and knowing this about yourself is fantastic value in itself -as long as I can go on to do something about it. From a socialising perspective I again missed out on all of the outside events in the evenings again purely down to the fact I needed to work! From a financial angle I have paid out what has come to a rather large bill, not helped by the fact that I thought I wouldn’t need a hire car and ended up seemingly living in a Taxi …and they really weren’t that cheap 😦 .

The tree of knowledge needs sturdy roots

So if you are reading this, you really must by now be wondering what on earth was the REAL value of attending SQLRally for me and I can tell you straight away without any hesitation …PEOPLE. Usually during events (if you are lucky) you will meet one or more people who from that point you will remain friendly and supportive with for your dying days in IT. If you are lucky to do this then now try and think of a value you would place on that kind of support network.

Sometimes of course you might just meet someone in passing and it is really at the next event that you cement this friendship, but the point therefore is that you really don’t know when something is going to happen. Considering the fact that I have been restricted this time from a socialising perspective, I have really been very lucky in that I have helped to nurture several relationships that I hope over time they can be mutually beneficial from not just a social level but also from a technical level.

So I ask myself again for one last time, “SQLRally…was it REALLY worth it?” and the answer is a resounding “OH YEAH!”

SQLRally area is live

Over the coming weeks and months leading up to SQLRally, I will be adding information, news and more detail about my presentation. For now though the root area is live which is effectively the “press release” provided to the selected speakers.

Click here for more.

Don’t forget, if you do see me wandering around in Orlando, to say hello. It’s always great to meet new people and I am always humbled by the high level of skill in the SQL community. Also (and most importantly) expanding our IT Professional Support Network will ensure that we always will have an ear to bend when we have technical problems.