PASS 2008: D-Day (a.k.a. Main Conference Day 1)

Things got off to a great start with PASS President Wayne Snyder coming on stage to the tune Born to Be Wild with appropriate video clip and real motorcycle (and don't forget the shades!).  Lots of awesome things coming soon to a database server near you.  Joe Webb has a great summary of this morning's Keynote.

Given my current work situation, I play a lot of different roles, so I fully expected to be bouncing around between the four different tracks that we have here (DBA, Application Development, BI, and Professional Development).  But today turned out to be a mostly DBA-track kind of day.  It started off with a session by Greg Low of SQL Down Under talking about Avoiding Recompilations. Without even running Profiler, I can tell you right now that some of the systems I have inherited have this problem.  Given the abundance of temporary tables that are used in stored procedures, and the tendency for past developers to use multiple temporary tables at various points through lengthy procedures practically guarantees that we have recompile issues.

By the way, did you know that when comparing two ad-hoc SQL statements to determine whether a cached plan can be reused, that something as simple as an extra space can make the system generate a new plan rather than reuse a cached plan?

After Greg's session we broke for lunch and the Exhibit Hall opened.  It was great to see all the vendors and to meet in-person some of the sales folks I have been talking to on the phone over the last couple of years.  Microsoft is doing some mini sessions that they call Chalk Talks, and I watched part of one on the subject of writing Custom Reports to be used in SQL Management Studio.  I'll have to go lookup some of the fine points that I missed by standing so far away, but this was definitely good info.

After lunch I went to Brad McGehee's DBA 101 talk.  It was a little bit of déjà vu as several of the points he was making I had just gone through and cleaned up on several servers.  Due to recent staffing changes, we have had some areas of risk that needed to be addressed.  There were also several tips and suggestions that I will incorporate to make sure we have the basics covered.

Next was Joe Webb's talk on Identifying Performance Bottlenecks.  You know how some people are really skilled in an area but cannot explain it to anyone else, and then there are others who are both skilled and able to teach others?  Joe definitely falls into the latter category.  Having been both a student and a teacher for a few different subjects, it's something that I am attuned to, and Joe did a really good job.  Performance tuning is an area I need to get into deeper.  Unfortunately, it's one of those topics that could probably fill a whole day (or two, or three...) so Joe could only go so far with it in his 75 minutes.  But it was enough to get me started on better monitoring and spark some ideas that I can work with right away.  So, did you know that you can put together a combined view containing SQL Server Profiler information synchronized to PerfMon results?  Great demo, Joe!

To finish the day I was headed to Upgrading to SQL 2008, but it was a packed room (SRO) and my knee was bugging me so I opted out of that.  I did spend about 20 minutes in a session on building Super Reports (also SRO), where one report can meet the needs of a variety of folks with a little creative coding of Expressions to hide portions of the report and to dynamically change the sorting and grouping.  That is something I am getting ready to dive into, also, so it was nice to see some examples of just what I was thinking of doing.  And the Linked Report option in RS 2008 so you can have one actual report file published to a variety of locations with different parameter sets, subscriptions, and so on is really cool.  It is likely that our first production installation of SQL Server 2008 will be a new corporate Reporting Server.

As you can see it was a busy day, and a very valuable one, too.  Looking forward to two more days just like it!  If you're not here, start making plans to be here next year.  Or to go to the European Summit next Spring.  It's worth it!

Conferences are Expensive!

Rushabh Mehta, current Executive Vice President for Finance and Technology for PASS, gave a quiz today to see if any of the volunteers had any idea how expensive it is to put on a conference like the PASS Community Summit.  I'll have to admit that I was way off-base with my guesses.  For example, how much do you think those little bottles of water cost?  Yeah, they're "free" to you, or more accurately, included in the price of admission, but they cost PASS something.  When Rushabh first asked, I was thinking in terms of production costs and wholesale, so I'm thinking it can't be more than 15 cents.  Others in the room were more tuned-in, realizing that PASS pays retail, and were guessing between $1.00 and $2.00.  The real answer... $4.50!  Yeah, I know you can go buy your own, larger, bottle at the store for 99 cents, but you have to remember that when you rent convention space, part of the deal is that you will use their concessionaire (you can't just go to Costco and bring in your own stuff).  And they charge convention prices (kinda like stadium pricing... $8.00 for a hot dog).

So now that you know the pattern, here's another one to try... Included in your registration are two tickets that can be exchanged for beverages at one of the reception events.  How much do you think a single beverage ticket costs PASS when it is redeemed?  How about $8.50?  OK, we're on a roll now, so how much do you think it costs to provide food and beverages for the week (basically breakfast and lunch for about 2500 delegates)?  Would you believe $650,000?  Ouch!  Add in multiple tens of thousands of dollars for the WiFi connectivity (and support staff) throughout the conference center, Audio/Visual equipment and staffing, and several other key ingredients, and now you know where most of the money that comes in to PASS goes to pay for the conference itself.  Conferences are expensive.

As long as I'm throwing numbers around, here are a few more for this year's Summit.  As mentioned previously, there are about 2,500 individuals registered to attend the conference this year.  That is the largest summit ever, and a significant growth over last year's event, even in this tough economic climate.

And finally, there were around 500 session abstracts submitted for the 70ish available speaking slots.  Lots of competition.  So if you are a speaker who was selected this year, you should feel good about yourself.  You made the cut!  Congratulations!

PASS 2008: D-1

Spent the day today in the PASS Volunteer Training session.  It covered a variety of things from the History of PASS (started in 1999 in Chicago) to updates from each member of the Board of Directors about what is happening in their areas.  For those who do not know, each member of the Board has a specific area of responsibility.  For example, Graz is the VP of Marketing this year so he was involved in working with the folks from Microsoft to get PASS and the Summit prominent mention on the SQL home page.  Lynda Rab is the Director of Program Development, so she oversaw the Program Committee that I was on.

There are lots of great things happening within PASS right now and in the near future.  A significant portion of the day was spent talking about the financial condition of PASS and the proposed budget.  I am not at liberty to disclose details of that right now, but it is my understanding that all of this information will be made available on the PASS web site so any and all members can see where the money goes.  One thing to keep in mind is that PASS is not just one annual conference.  PASS really is a professional association, and so it has to abide by certain rules of fiscal responsibility (such as keeping money in reserve accounts) that do not necessarily apply to strict conferencing companies.  The goal of PASS is to provide substantial added value beyond the annual conference, and you can begin to see this getting started with tools and resources on the new web site as I mentioned in my previous post.

PASS is also looking for ways to be of more service and value to local user groups.  But even if you're not active in your local group, I encourage you to join PASS through the web site and take advantage of the resources there.

Of course, no blog post of mine about the beginning of the Summit would be complete without mention of the swag (or schwag, if you prefer).  This year, PASS is going green, so rather than handing out yet another laptop bag, they gave out PASS-branded reusable bags (think reusable grocery bag).  The Summit shirt, a short-sleeve, polo-style microfiber shirt is nice.  And, of course, there is a coupon good for a free copy of SQL Server 2008, redeemable at the Microsoft zone in the exhibit hall (limited supply, first-come, first-served they say).  And, of course, you can't forget the Seattle Super Saver Value Guide (who would turn down discounts on food?).

All-in-all, I'd call it a pretty good day.

Checkout the PASS Web Site

Have you seen the PASS web site lately?  I'll have to admit that before today I had not looked at it in a long time.  To be honest, I was not all that impressed with it in the past.  But NOW.... WOW!  MUCH Improved!

As of this writing, it is still in "Beta" which I guess is the new, hip way to say "under construction".  I've noticed that the official Dilbert web site has been in Beta for months.  Wonder when they're going to consider it "Live".  But I digress.  If I understood correctly in the Volunteer session today, the PASS web site will be officially released out of beta this Thursday.  But you can check out lots of cool things right now.

For example, there are a handful of technical articles already posted in the Learning Center.  There is the PASS Blog, and there is also a directory of other SQL related blogs.  But perhaps best of all, also in the Learning Center, are all of the recorded sessions from the 2005 and 2006 Community Summits.  Sessions from 2007 are coming in January.  Remember, all of this is now FREE.  PASS Membership is now FREE.  Way Cool!  Back in 2006, I had to buy my DVDs of the recorded sessions (I think they were something like $199 if you ordered them while still at the Summit) and now its all free as a benefit to members.  And membership is free.  That used to be around $100, too.

PASS is really making an effort to provide value beyond the annual conference, and I applaud every step they have taken.