Apr 112019

The Call for Speakers for PASS Summit 2019 has just closed, and now the Program Committee will begin the task of evaluating speakers and sessions and using those results to build a schedule.

It’s not easy.

Really, it’s not. I’ve served on the Program Committee numerous times and there’s a lot of effort that goes into building that schedule. There are also many difficult decisions made, and many great sessions that there just isn’t a timeslot for because they were pre-empted by an even better or more timely topic.

These unfortunate facts got me thinking about topics that will probably never again be presented at PASS Summit or other major conferences.

Log Shipping

Log Shipping is the 1994 Toyota Camry of SQL Server. It’s not new or sexy, but it’s extremely reliable and can be a very simple way to implement disaster recovery, especially for smaller shops without a lot of resources. It doesn’t require Enterprise Edition, and works in every version* of SQL Server. As an added bonus, it’s based on transaction log backup and restore technology, so there’s not much of a learning curve.

Policy-Based Management

Still an awesome book!

If you want to make sure your server(s) are configured in a certain way or abide by a specific set of requirements, Policy-Based Management is an incredible tool to help get you there. You can define lists of requirements, known as “policies”, and then go evaluate those policies against other SQL Servers. Regular reports of servers that don’t comply can be an incredible tool, and PBM makes this easy.

Database Mirroring

Yes, Database Mirroring has been deprecated is in maintenance mode. And with the introduction of Basic Availability Groups in SQL Server 2016 there’s a newer alternative. But I feel mirroring is still going to be around for quite a while because lots of environments depend on it.

Transactional Replication

Unlike mirroring, replication has not been deprecated, likely because it offers unique capabilities that no newer feature competes with. But it’s an old technology that hasn’t changed much recently. It can be difficult to set up, and a pain to fix if it breaks, but if you truly need it then nothing else will do.

So why aren’t conferences covering these topics?

Like I said above, I get it. There are many hard decisions to be made, and topics like I listed above are easily the first to head to the conference schedule chopping block for many reasons, including:

  • They’re old. The newest of the 4 features above is Policy-Based Management, and that was introduced in SQL Server 2008.
  • Many have been replaced by newer features.
  • They don’t work in the cloud. The only above feature that works in Azure SaaS is replication. Azure SQL Database can be a subscriber for transactional or snapshot replication, and Azure SQL Database Managed Instance supports transactional replication.

Why should conferences cover these topics?

To put it frankly, because users still depend on them! I just spent two years consulting for customers of widely-varying sizes, and for many of them, vendor software forbids usage of the cloud. Yes, it’s often stupid, and you can grumble all you like, but that’s the reality right now for lots of third-party software. Other clients were being held hostage on old (sometimes very old) versions of SQL Server. It stinks, because “newer” features of SQL Sever 2014 and later are still out of reach in many shops.

So a lot of the time, these “old” features are what a lot of environments are stuck with, and what a lot of people would benefit from learning about. So it’s a shame that conferences can’t dedicate just a little more time to topics that may not be new or flashy, but would likely make a big impact.

*These days, when I say “every version” I mean SQL Server 2005 or later

Mar 262019

Another SQL Saturday Chicago has come and gone, and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what we have spent the last 11 months planning.

It truly was our best SQL Saturday yet, with 422 attendees. We also ended with 130 on our waiting list, which is another record. Even with this larger venue it appears our demand still exceeds the amount of room we have.

We also had more churn this year than ever before in terms of attendees. This is a great thing, as many people realized they were unable to attend ahead of time and cancelled their registration, thereby opening up a spot for someone else.

New This Year: Less Paper

In years past, we printed a “welcome guide” which included a schedule, map of the venue, and other pertinent information. This time around we wanted to reduce printing and paper usage, so we discontinued the printed guide.

In addition to encouraging attendees to consult the online schedule or use the Guidebook app, we had large poster-size schedules printed and placed them around the venue. These seemed quite popular as there were often several people gathering around them deciding which session to go to. They also used considerably less paper and reduced our printing costs by 75%.

Thank Yous

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the people and organizations who helped make this year’s event a great success.

Thank you to all of our attendees – without people willing to come and learn there would be no reason to do any of this.

Thank you to our speakers, who are willing to take time out of their lives to prepare presentations and then present them at our event. Many of them also traveled to Chicago at their own expense to do so!

Thanks to our sponsors. Without their financial support, this event would not be possible.

A huge thank you to our venue, Benedictine University. Not only do they have a great space to host our event, but they are extremely easy to work with as well.

Also deserving of some shoutouts are Clara’s Restaurant for hosting our speaker dinner (their food is awesome – very worth a visit if you’re in the Chicago suburbs) and to Bar Louie for hosting our after-party on Saturday.

And finally, to our SQL Saturday organizing team, which is a well-oiled machine at this point. I feel very fortunate to have such a dedicated and dependable team to plan and execute this event with, and I can’t wait to do it again in 2020!

SQL Saturday Chicago 2019 Organizing Team
Feb 202019

With SQLBits coming up quickly (it’s next week!) I wanted to take a few moments to write about what very quickly has become my favorite conference. It’s an awesome experience and I am so grateful that I am able to attend, volunteer, and present there for a second year.

It’s Not PASS Summit

I love PASS Summit – no surprises there. I’ve written many posts about it, why you should attend, and how to prepare for it over the years. But I think it’s really important to point out that SQLBits is not PASS Summit, nor is it organized by PASS in any capacity. It’s a completely separate event, arranged by a tremendous group of dedicated organizers, and it also happens to be Europe’s largest SQL Server conference for data professionals.

SQLBits has a completely different feel than PASS Summit; to me it seems there is a stronger sense of community there. Which I realize is a tall order when PASS Summit is known and marketed as ‘a conference for the community, by the community’. But in some ways, PASS Summit feels “corporate”. And that corporate feeling makes sense, given that Summit is put on by a professional event organizing company. Bits, on the other hand, is put on completely by the community, in the form of a small army of volunteers. And in my opinion, the difference is palpable.

Another aspect that may play a big role in this is the physical layout of the conference. PASS Summit’s venue, the Washington State Convention Center, is enormous, and the conference itself is spread out across multiple different floors spanning two buildings. There’s plenty of places to hide and get lost there. SQLBits, on the other hand, is much more compact. Envision a large, open, exhibition space with rooms for sessions lining the perimeter. The central area is wide open – and not only are all the sponsors located there, but this is the space that everyone mills around in-between sessions. In my opinion the layout alone helps you meet more people, because there’s there’s really no way to avoid them.

SQLBits 2018 as seen from above

The Food

Food at SQLBits is also totally different than any conference I’ve been to. There’s no enormous industrial-sized dining hall hundreds of yards away from sessions and speakers. Instead, the food is placed in the center common area, with the idea that you can grab a bite to eat and mingle. It’s incredibly easy to connect with old friends, make new ones, and speak with sponsors, all while enjoying some great food. Seriously, it’s really good stuff. (And I’m a picky eater, so if I like it you know it has to be good!) There’s zero reasons to leave the event to eat at SQLBits.

The Party

Each SQLBits has a theme, and the organizers do a great job of integrating that theme throughout the conference. And if you didn’t know, there’s a costume party on Friday night that’s kind of a big deal. They really go all-out for this – it’s by far the best conference party I’ve ever been to. This year’s theme is “speakeasy”, so I’m expecting lots of 1920’s gangster attire. I can’t wait!


If SQLBits sounds like something you would like to experience for yourself, there are a few ways to do that. You of course are welcome to register as an attendee, or to answer the next call for speakers and submit abstracts. Another great way to help this conference work like a finely-tuned machine is to be one of the volunteers I mentioned earlier. It’s an amazing way to meet people and help a wonderful community-run event be the best that it can be.

SQLBits 2018 Volunteers

It’s going to be an amazing week, and I can’t wait to connect with old friends and make new ones in Manchester. I hope to see you there!

Feb 122019
Azure Data Studio

Azure Data Studio continues to grow on me. I previously wrote about getting my favorite keyboard shortcuts to work, which made me very happy, but now for a feature I love even more – saving result sets to Excel!

Yes, I know, spreadsheets can be evil. They can even be places where good datasets go to die, but it’s important to remember that they’re a necessary evil. Sometimes you just need a result set in a spreadsheet, whether you want it to be in one or not.

In SQL Server Management Studio, there’s no single-step way to save a result set to Excel. Most commonly I will just copy/paste a result set into a spreadsheet, but depending on the size of the result set and the types of data involved, that doesn’t always play nicely.

But Azure Data Studio does it WAY better, trust me. If you want that result set in a spreadsheet, just save it as one and poof – you have an Excel file!

Try It Yourself!

In Azure Data Studio, query the dataset of your choosing. I’m using my Chicago Parking Tickets database. Once you have your results, look at the icons on the right side of the window.

(click to enlarge)

The second icon from the top will save the entire result set to Excel. Click it, pick a filename and folder to save it to and you’re good to go.

But wait – there’s more!

You can also save a subset of the results directly to Excel. Select the rows, columns, or block of interest (you can click and drag to select within the results!) and then right-click. You’ll get a dialog where you can choose to save the selection:

Whichever method you choose, Azure Data Studio makes it very simple to save results directly to a spreadsheet. Happy querying!

Feb 052019

I’m very honored to have one of my PASS Summit sessions chosen for the PASS Data Expert Series, taking place this Thursday, February 7th!

This is an awesome opportunity to see some of the top-rated sessions from this year’s PASS Summit. Included is my session on SQL Server Management Studio, which ended up being the second-best attended session of the entire conference. I will be available to answer any questions that come up during the presentation.

Sound awesome? Register today! I hope to see you there!