Posted by: sqlswimmer | March 21, 2014

Disheartening Apples

Question:  How many Oracle DBAs can you fit in Madison Square Garden?

Answer:  None, their egos won’t fit through the door.

No, this blog is not a slight towards Oracle DBAs.  I have several friends who are Oracle DBAs and they are some of the nicest, most humble people you will ever meet, but in my experience, they are the exception.  Early in my career I had to administer Oracle and the person I was supposed to learn from was a hard core Oracle DBA and had been for years.  Probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with but only barely tolerable to be around because his ego was larger than the Goodyear Blimp.  When I was introduced to SQL Server way back in 1996 (yes, I am dating myself), there really weren’t any experts in the field readily available when questions came up.  The internet was just starting to flourish and Google hadn’t even been invented yet.  There were a few guys that I had heard of that were willing to help, Brian Knight, Andy Warren & Steve Jones.  I knew about them because Steve Jones was a local guy in Denver, where I was living at the time.  They created this thing called SQLServerCentral.com.  These few are the epitome of SQL Server stewards, for both knowledge and professionalism.  Smart, humble, easy going, willing to share knowledge freely and did I mention smart?  Honestly, they have been my role models for “lifting as you climb” in my career.  Okay, now I sound like some creepy stalker, so we’ll move on to the point of this blog.

For those that know me personally, you know I am not a speaker type, so I give back to the SQL community by volunteering behind the scenes in any way I can.  So when I was selected to work on the program committee for PASS Summit 2014, I was so excited I did a little happy dance in my cube at work.  My co-workers are used to seeing my head bob to the music of my headphones, but seeing me do a happy dance was a little startling for some.  This will be my 5th year on the committee, more specifically the abstraction review team.  I love being on the abstract review team, getting to read what people are passionate about teaching is always so exciting.  It kick starts my love of SQL Server and learning.  However, just because I had been on the committee in previous years, I never assumed I would be selected again.  It is such a privilege to be chosen, and trusted, with this huge task.

Recently there has been a lot of chatter in social media about the selection process (or lack thereof according to some).  It saddens me to see some people’s true colors.  Being chosen to speak for any engagement, not just the PASS Summit, is a privilege, not a <insert deity here> given right.  The selection process has improved over the years and has become more streamlined thanks to the investment made by the PASS IT team.  It still has room for improvement, but most things do.  One of the things I like best about this year is the increase in the amount of time we have been given to review the abstracts.  In years past, we’ve had a very small window in which to review the abstracts.  That small window made it very difficult to coordinate team members’ schedules to discuss final rankings and assign rejection reasons.  I am hoping we can do a much better job this year of providing useful feedback to speakers.  Another improvement that was implemented last year was the removal of the speaker from the abstract.  This is a huge deal.  In years past, we could see who submitted the session and I fear that it swayed team members’ opinions of abstracts, both good and bad.  Some would be chosen because they were “well known” speakers and/or authors, it didn’t matter that their abstracts were poorly written, which in my experience often translated into poorly presented sessions.  Some would be excluded for the exact same reason.   As a speaker you need to have enough respect for your audience to provide them with the best written abstract you can, it’s the surest sign of respect.

I congratulate all those that have submitted sessions for the Summit; it’s a huge step just submitting a session for the PASS Summit.  If you are selected to speak, I ask that you remember that it’s a privilege and an honor and that you treat those attending your session(s) with the respect they are due.  If you are not selected, I ask that you not give up.  If you have questions about why your session was not selected, ask.  I have been asked in the past and am always glad to provide additional feedback.

Question:  How many SQL Server DBAs can you fit in the Seattle Convention Center?

Answer:  Unlimited, as long as they remember why they attend and/or speak at the PASS Summit.

Posted by: sqlswimmer | September 23, 2013

Will You Vote?

Voting is one of the many privileges that I have as an American citizen.  It’s a privilege that most Americans take for granted today.  My dad always used to say, “If you don’t like something, change it.”  That’s exactly what voting allows us to do.

What does voting have to do with SQL Server?  Starting on September 25th, everything.  The Professional Association of SQL Server (PASS) Board of Directors elections start that day.  There’s a great slate this year.  Congratulations to all who made it through the Nomination Committee (NomCom) and my sincere thanks to those volunteers on the NomCom for all your hard work to get us to this point.  The rest of the work is up to you, the PASS community.  Will you do your hard work to make sure we have a great Board of Directors?  Will you read about each candidate and their platform?  Will you take the time to vote?

Voting is a very personal thing and I don’t normally share this kind of thing with other people, but after personally witnessing the energy and PASSion that Allen Kinsel puts into our community, I feel I need to state publicly that he has my vote.  I have worked with Allen in the past so it is a very easy decision.  That doesn’t mean my work stops there.  There are still two more seats available and I need to do the work to make sure that I select the right candidates who will represent what is important to me.

Voting itself is easy, takes less than 5 minutes of your time, but will you do the hard work to make sure the issues that are of concern to you, as a community member, are being addressed?  I urge you to read about the candidates and their qualifications and then VOTE!  It’s your community.

Posted by: sqlswimmer | May 30, 2013

Saving Grace

According to Merriam-Webster the definition of grace is:

1a : unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification; b : a virtue coming from God; c : a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace; 2a : approval, favor <stayed in his good graces>; b archaic : mercy, pardon; c : a special favor : privilege <each in his place, by right, not grace, shall rule his heritage — Rudyard Kipling>; d : disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency; e : a temporary exemption : reprieve; 3a : a charming or attractive trait or characteristic…

That’s quite a lengthy definition; in fact, I captured less than half of what was in the dictionary.  It seems like a lot of words to describe something so simple.

So what does grace have to do with a blog about SQL Server?  Quite a lot actually.

When I first went to college, I wanted to be a teacher; in fact, I wanted to be a math teacher.  I had this great math teacher who inspired me in high school.  He was not only brilliant, but he was infectious with his desire for learning.  He was a young guy, I think it was his first teaching job, but you could tell that teaching was what he was meant to do.  He would explain things in a way that made sense (that’s a gift when teaching high school sophomores abstract algebra).  If he could see that the class was completely lost, he would change mid stride and go a completely different direction.  I don’t think a single person failed that class, he wouldn’t let them.  He was the definition of grace, “..disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency…a charming or attractive trait or characteristic”.

There was another math teacher in my high school.  He was old (probably forty or something crazy like that) and a bit pompous; he had the letters “PhD” behind his name.  His attitude was that he had the credentials, so if you didn’t understand what he was talking about, maybe you didn’t belong in abstract algebra.  He also had a reserved parking space close the entrance, because he had those three little letters after his name, “PhD”.  He was the exact opposite of grace and almost half his class failed.

The point I’m trying to make is that for some people, their driving force is ego, not love of learning and therefore they have no grace.

I recently attended the SQL Saturday event in Atlanta.  I love these events because they are so personal.  You have smaller classes and you can actually interact with the presenters and most of them are just like you and me, regular people.  However, in Atlanta I noticed a very disheartening trend.  Ego is taking hold and grace is losing ground.

I am not a speaker and I never will be.  I have a horrible phobia of public speaking (which is the reason I didn’t become a teacher).  But I want to give back to the community that has helped me get where I am today, so I volunteer behind the scenes for many things.  Atlanta was no different.  I was attending, but I was also a volunteer.  There were some great nationally and internationally known speakers presenting, in addition to the local and regional people and it was so exciting to be part of the largest SQL Saturday event to date.  As it turns out, it was probably the most disappointing PASS event I’d attended to date.  Not because I was disappointed in the content of the sessions I attended or even in the speakers that presented them, but because there were many other speakers who seem to have lost their grace.

I’m not going to give specific examples or name names (that just elicits finger pointing).  But what I am going to do is ask you, as a speaker, why do you do it?  Is it because you have those three little letters, “MVP”, after your name or is because you want to share your knowledge and inspire others to learn more?  If it’s the latter, I applaud you and ask that you keep on doing what you are doing.  We in the community appreciate all your hard work and your generosity in sharing.  If it’s the former then I might suggest you try to save grace and have a slice of humble pie, it never hurt anyone.

Angela Henry

@SQLSwimmer

Posted by: sqlswimmer | May 17, 2013

Certifiable?

I have recently begun to contemplate pursuing the MCSA Certification.  I have been working with SQL Server for almost 20 years and have never considered getting a certification before now.  I have met so many people through the years who have the certifications and were quite frankly “dumb as a box of rocks”.  They just happen to be good at regurgitating information on an exam but had no practical experience.  Throw them an unusual situation and they stare back at you with blank eyes.

I know having those extra letters behind my name could give me a boost if I was in the job market, but I’m happily settled at my current employer, with no plans to move on.  I realize that anything could happen and I could be out looking for a job tomorrow, but if that were the case maybe I could have used that $450 I spent on certification to pay for groceries.  I am not saying the tests should be free, but it is a hard pill for me to swallow when I’ve managed just fine without those letters after my name this long.

Who knows, I may have missed opportunities that I didn’t even know about because I didn’t have those letters, but how can you miss what you’ve never had?

Posted by: sqlswimmer | May 14, 2013

The Long and Winding Road

TSQL2sDay150x150

“The Long and Winding Road” is one of my favorite Beatles songs, it reminds me of my dad, he was a huge Beatles fan.  My dad passed away almost five years ago, but I still miss him like it was yesterday and I still remember the advice he gave me when I was a kid, “Work hard and don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do something, there’s always a way.  It may not be easy, but there’s always a way.”  I credit that advice for the success I’ve had in my life, both personal and professional.

I started working with SQL Server back on Windows 3.11 (version 4.21a).  I know I’m dating myself here, but that’s kind of the point of this post.  We thought Windows 3.11 was so cool after having to deal with DOS for so many years, we didn’t think it could get any cooler.  But it did.  We got Windows 95, then 98, XP, 7 and now 8.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

The same goes for SQL Server.

We started out with what I thought was a great tool, then they made it better.  We went from having to create devices to hold our database files and keeping track of each file growth, to just being able to create our database files and let them grow on their own.  I don’t know about anybody else, but that made me so happy.  No more sp_helpdb every night to make sure I could recreate my databases if needed in a disaster.

It used to be very hard to write T-SQL code if you weren’t familiar with the database objects, the old iSQL query window didn’t have an object browser so you couldn’t see a list of your tables, let alone column names.  Now we have intellisense built right in to the query window.  This feature alone is with worth its weight in gold.  It allows me to be so much more productive, type the first few letters and hit tab.  “BAM!” as Emeril would say.

BCP really used to be the only way to get data in and out of your database, then they gave DTS.  Once again it’s like going from DOS to Windows.  Then they came out with SSIS.  Holy Cow, I thought I’d won the lottery after writing my first package in under 5 minutes.  It truly was an amazing transformation (pun definitely intended).

There are so many other features that have improved along the way, too many in fact to list them all here.

It’s been a long road,

The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day.
Why leave me standing here?
Let me know the way.

There were definitely many tears shed along the way to where I am today, tears of frustration and of joy.  But I wouldn’t change my long and winding road for anything, it’s made me who and what I am today.

SQL Server let me know the way…

Posted by: sqlswimmer | March 29, 2013

Custom Reports for SSMS 2012

I presented on this topic at the TriadSQL User’s Group meeting on 3/26/13.  I promised I would post my code/solutions, so here it is.  For those that were not able to attend the meeting, here is a brief description of what I am posting.

I am lucky enough to be using SQL Server 2012 in a production environment.  Not only do I get to use the database engine, but I also get to use Integration Services (SSIS),  Analysis Services (SSAS) and Reporting Services (SSRS).

This post is mostly about SSIS 2012 and the aches and pains it relieves compared to previous versions.

One of the great things about SSIS 2012, is the new project deployment model.  Gone is the day when you had to search file servers high and low to figure out where all your SSIS packages lived (if you used file deployment, which I did).   Now all your packages are located in one place.

Another great thing about SSIS 2012 is that it has logging built in and the entries all go to one location, so gone is the day when a rogue developer would send his logging to some obscure table in some obscure database on some obscure server never to be seen by anybody ever again.

Where is this magical place you ask?  The Integration Services Catalog (ISC), that’s where.  The ISC stores your packages along with the metrics for running those packages and sits atop a nice little database called SSISDB.

The ICS also comes with some canned reports for looking at those metrics.  The stepping off point is a report called All Executions.  It can be viewed by right clicking on your project then selecting Reports | Standard Reports | All Executions.  This report is very cool, it provides basic execution information, e.g., how many times it has succeeded, failed, etc.  It also provides start times, end times and duration for each package in the project.  As I mentioned, it is the stepping off point, it has a section with links to three other reports, Overview, All Messages & Execution Performance.

The Overview report is nice; it shows all the parameter values that were used when the package was executed and some detailed execution information.  Definitely comes in handy when troubleshooting.

The All Messages report, is just as it sounds, it shows all the messages that were logged during the execution of the package.  Again, good information for troubleshooting.

My favorite is the Execution Performance report.  Prior to my first glimpse of this report, I had visions of graphs and KPIs that would rival dancing sugar-plums.  Needless to say, I was a little disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong, it has a graph on it, but only the last 10 executions are included.  There is also a listing of the last 10 execution durations.  The thing that gets me is that right above that listing is a three month average and standard deviation.  Really, they couldn’t have included those months of data in the graph?  But I digress.  So I said to myself, “I need more data.”  That’s when the light bulb went off and I decided to get more data all on my own.

The SSISDB is easily accessible and easy enough of follow, especially when using the catalog schema and its views.  I created some SSRS reports in SQL Server Data Tools and was happy as a clam, until I discovered that the SSMS custom reports don’t support images, drill-down or basically any other kind of interactive-ness.  That’s okay, I published the cool reports for the managers to see via the SSRS site and I created a stripped down copy of the reports that I can use within SSMS.

I end up maintaining two code bases, which is kind of a headache, but I work in a small shop where I am the only SQL database related employee, so it’s not that big of a headache.  If you work in a larger shop, you may want to figure out some cool PowerShell script that will sync them up.

I hope you find these reports useful and possibly a jumping off point for you to start your own collection of custom reports.  I am only providing some of the very basic reports that I created, I wanted to leave some of the creativity to you  ;-)

Posted by: sqlswimmer | November 12, 2012

Summit 2012 is over, but not forgotten

What a whirlwind last week was.  There were so many sessions to attend and only one of me.  I needed to clone myself a couple of times over in order to catch all the sessions that I wanted to see.  Unfortunately, that technology is nowhere near ready, so I had to choose wisely.

I attended Jason Strate’s (@StrateSQL) session on Extended Events, which was awesome.  I have used extended events in the past, but not to the extent in which he covered.  Wearing the DBA hat again after so many years of not wearing it, this session will be a time saver for sure.

I attempted to attend Bob Ward’s (@bobwardms) session on SQLOS, but was turned away 10 minutes before the session started because it was already full.  Lesson learned here:  Stake out my spot in Bob Ward’s sessions even earlier next year.  He is a smart dude and a great speaker.  Looking forward to the recordings being released so I can see it.

I attended a couple of sessions with Matt Masson (@mattmasson), including the BI Power Hour, which are always fun and educational – Thank you Matt (& Mr Wiggles) for making learning so much fun!

I was also able to attend one of my SQL Heroes’ sessions, Kalen Delaney (@sqlqueen), on the internals of columnstore indexes.  Kalen Delaney is so smart it makes my brain hurt.  I started out as a fan of hers when I purchased my first SQL Internals book about a million years ago.

After all these years, I finally got to attend a session with Kevin Kline (@KEKLINE) and David Klee (@kleegeek) on Virtualization.  Wow, the depth of knowledge between these two surpasses the Mariana Trench.

Wrapped up my Summit experience with a couple of sessions on Visual Studio 2012, a.k.a., SQL Server Data Tools.  I was looking forward to seeing Gert Drapers of MS, but his cohorts, Barclay Hill & Adam Mahood, did just fine without him.  Also picked up a few new things from Robert Cane (@arcanecode) on the GUI.

Thank you to all the speakers for taking the time to share your knowledge with the SQL world.

Thank you to all the volunteers and PASS HQ staff.  It would not have been as successful without you.

Posted by: sqlswimmer | October 24, 2012

Policy-Based Management, How Sweet It Is

I have just recently changed employers and in doing so, I’ve changed my role from Data Architect to DBA/BI Developer.  I had been doing heads down development work for the last 4 plus years and not a lot of admin work.  Given that, I missed out on something that I think is just fantastic.  Policy-Based Management (BPM), it was a new feature with SQL Server 2008.  I spent a lot of time when I was a DBA figuring out how to monitor my servers.  I used to use a combination of home grown scripts and the SQLH2 utility.  But PBM makes a DBA’s life so much easier, especially when your shop can’t afford all the cool monitoring tools that are available today.

Basically PBM allows a DBA to manage multiple instances of SQL Server on a consistent basis.  You can use one server to create all your policies on and then export/import them on other servers.  While this is still better than the hodgepodge of scripts you had before, it’s still a bit cumbersome.  Enter Enterprise Policy Management Framework (EPM) from Codeplex.  It allows you to extend the PBM via your Central Management Server and provide some very cool SSRS reports.  Because EPM is driven by PowerShell, it can be used on SQL Server versions from 2000 to 2012.

I am so excited to be going back to a dual role of DBA/developer, and Policy-Based Management and Enterprise Policy Management Framework make it that much sweeter.

Posted by: sqlswimmer | August 27, 2012

PASS Election Season

Did you know that it’s election season for PASS?  Did you know that you can pose questions to the potential candidates via the Election Forums?  The NomCom is busy interviewing candidates and is offering you the opportunity to ask the candidates question, via the NomCom.  Do you have a question burning a hole in the back of your mind?  You can ask anything from platform related issues to who their favorite sporting team is and just about anything in between.

This is your community, get involved.

Posted by: sqlswimmer | August 24, 2012

Mentoring

I’m putting my money where my mouth is, with respect to my last blog post.  I am officially a mentor with The Mentoring Experiment.   I am so honored to have been selected as a mentor and am so excited to begin.  I’ll let you know how it turns out when the experiment ends.

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