Things that a User Group needs to do before PASS Goes Dark

If you are a SQL Saturday, User Group or Virtual Group PASS Chapter Leader, this is for you.

A person using a laptop with a women in the background.

As we all know PASS goes dark on January 15, 2021. Here are some things that you need to do BEFORE January 15, 2021 (like now, not on January 14, 2021).

  • User Groups / Virtual Chapters
    • Setup a new webpage somewhere (SQL UGS and the Microsoft Survey (which will include Meetup Pro) are great options)
    • Use the PASS emailing features to email your members about your new group’s homepage and tell people to sign up as you won’t be able to use the PASS email process after Jan 15, 2021
    • If your Twitter account is tied to a pass.org email address, change the email address
    • If your User Group email address is @pass.org you’ll want to create a new email address for it at Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook.com, etc.
    • Review callfordataspeakers.com and get signed up to help find speakers
    • If using PASS licenses for GoToMeeting or GoToWebinar you’ll need another way to hold your virtual meetings. Microsoft has a free Teams offer
    • If your User Group is registered as a 501c3 then you can get some free Office 365 licenses gifted from Microsoft. Contact Denny for more information (it’s a few step process that I’ll outline in a blog post later)
  • SQL Saturday Organizers
    • Download your registration lists from sqlsaturday.com
    • Download your sponsor contacts from sqlsaturday.com
    • Review DataSaturdays.com and see if this is a good fit for future events
    • Review callfordataspeakers.com and get signed up to help find speakers

A new non-profit (pending US IRS approval) community organization is being set up. The new organization is in the very early stages at the moment and we’re trying to get the word out to all the PASS members that a new org is being set up. The goal of this new organization is to handle legal matters, licensing, and to give sponsors a single point of contact to reach everyone. We’re envisioning that this new organization will be a very lightweight organization designed to handle the legal needs that come up, licensing of the Intellectual Property for the organization to the user groups, and a single point of contact for sponsors to work through.

At the moment the organization is simply collecting contact information for people that want to get more information once the organization is set up. The website that is set up is www.daug.io. Please ask people to submit their information there.

A summary of the URLs talked about here.

There’s a history of PASS and SQL Saturday and most/all the events that have been run under those names at:

More information will be coming about the Data and Analytics User Group in the future.

Denny

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Is On-premises SQL Server Still Relevant?

Unequivocally, yes on-premises SQL Server Instances are still relevant.

While I’m a firm believer that the cloud is not a fad and is not going away, it’s just an extension of a tool that we are already familiar with.  The Microsoft marketing slogan is “It’s just SQL” and for the most part that is indeed true.  However, that does not mean that every workload will benefit from being in the cloud.  There are scenarios where it does not make sense to move things to the cloud so let’s take a look at a few of them.

The cloud can cost a lot

There is no such thing as a free lunch and the cloud is not excluded.  I am sure that we’ve all heard horror stories of individuals leaving resources active which in turned costed large sums of money. While the cloud offers up a wide range of capabilities in aiding the day-to-day life of IT professionals everywhere, it might not be cost effective for your given workload or data volumes. Compute resources and all things associated with that cost money.  If you need higher CPU, more money.  If you need terabytes of storage, more money.  If you need a higher CPU to memory ratio for that virtual machine, more money.  All of the resources the cloud offers you essential rent and the bigger the space, the more money it takes. Of course, all of this is dependent on your organizational requirements and associated workloads.

By having an on-premises environment you can implement a lower cost of ownership for hardware.  This being said, the cloud offers up more efficient means of upgrade and scaling which is usually limited with on-premises ecosystems which can actually save you money.  It’s a trade-off that organizations have to weigh to see if moving to the cloud makes sense.

You want control of all things

Most things in the cloud require that organizations relinquish control.  That is just a plain fact and that’s not changing.  We are trading speed and agility from an infrastructure perspective for a lower ability to control certain aspects of the architecture.  For example, with Azure SQL Database (Platform as a Service), database administrators no longer can control database backup method or frequency.  In exchange for this loss of control, though, backups are taken automatically for us. In my opinion, this is a more than fair exchange and I sleep better knowing that a tried and vetted backup process is taking care of things without my intervention.

You have specific compliance or regulation requirements

While most of the players in the public cloud space (Azure, Amazon, Google) are all certified for a multitude of compliance regulations, it’s possible that you have a very specific one that the provider is unable to meet.  If this is the case, then your ability to move to the cloud is limited and you are forced to remain on-premises.  Regulations could also impose issues when moving to that cloud.  These regulations could be imposed by the governing body of the organization or be sourced from various places.  If this is the case, it’s possible that the cloud is not a viable solution for your organization.

I do suspect that as cloud technology continues to advance, regulations and compliances will slowly be brought into the fold and allow for appropriate cloud implementations.

You do not have the expertise

Put simply, you do not have the knowledge internally to successfully migrate to the cloud nor do you have the budget to hire someone to move you to the cloud.  Shameless plug, this one of our core competencies here at Denny Cherry & Associates Consulting.  We help organizations (big or small) get into the cloud to help push their data ecosystem forward.  However, not every organization can afford to hire consultants (short or long term) to help them with such a project.  In this instance, until you can get the expertise to help you are left with either staying on-premises or trying to figure it out on your own.  In some respects, the cloud opens new security exposures that must be accounted for when moving to it.  If these are not accounted for the organization severe issues could arise so I recommend not going down the “we’ll figure it out as we go” method without some level of guidance.

Your workloads do not perform in the cloud

Even though I am a huge fan of Azure, some workloads just won’t perform well unless you break out your wallet (see the first paragraph).  Even with proper performance tuning, the performance comparison between on-premises and the cloud is not going to be a true apples to apples comparison.  The infrastructure is just too vastly different to really get that “exact” level of comparison.  Organizations must find that sweet spot between performance infrastructure costs and frankly, sometimes that sweet spot dictates remaining with on-premises hardware.

Summary

There are probably many other reasons why on-premises infrastructures will continue to be relevant.  Each organization may have unique requirements that having SQL Server on their own hardware is the only solution.  Remember, regardless of where you deploy SQL Server, it is just SQL and it’ll behave the same (mostly).  This does not mean that you should not continue to expand your skill sets.  Make sure to continue to learn about cloud technologies so that when your organization is ready to make the leap, you can do so in a safe and secure manner.

© 2020, John Morehouse. All rights reserved.

The post Is On-premises SQL Server Still Relevant? first appeared on John Morehouse.

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What Do You Want Your Professional Association to Be?

I wanted to write a post about the things I think PASS does well and are foundational to the future with or without the PASS organization. Before I address that however, I want to speak to an ethical matter related to the new PASS Pro service offering. Every year for PASS Summit, speakers sign an agreement (which if you sign, print it out—they don’t email you a copy, nor can you access prior year’s agreements in the speaker portal) that includes giving PASS the right to the recording of your session. This has always been there, so that PASS could sell online or USB access to session recordings. A few years ago, PASS started selling this access to people who didn’t attend the PASS Summit, which I was fine with—the context of that is still the conference.

With the PASS Pro offering, PASS took all of the sessions that community and Microsoft speakers did in Summit 2019 and bundled it as part of a paywalled offering. Speakers were not asked for their permission to reuse this content as part of a for-profit subscription model, nor were they compensated. Which in both cases is probably legal? However, I strongly question the ethics of this—when a community event morphs into a paid service, most speakers (myself included) want a cut of take, which is only fair as it’s a lot of work to speak at a conference. PASS will say that “all of this money is going back to the community”, which is frankly bullshit. First, the platform they are hosting PASS Pro on is not free, and then there is whatever C&C is charging PASS for this project, which is likely significant. As I’ve mentioned before, the community typically sees about 5% of PASS’ revenue, and the revenue numbers for PASS Pro make that an absolute pittance, while potentially alienating community members. This makes me think hard about speaking at future PASS events.

Stop Bitching, What Did You Really Want to Write About?

The SQL Server community has been part of my life for last 12 plus years—its why I have my current job, have most of my professional network, and why I’ve spoken all over the world. PASS motto is “Connect, Share, Learn” and I think it is a good one and should be the goal of any community organizations.  Let’s talk about the things that make up that community:

  • Conferences
  • SQL Saturday Events
  • Virtual Chapters
  • User Groups
PASS Summit 2011, First Timers Event

Conferences

Having a centralized community organization like PASS has some benefits. The biggest benefit is the ability to have PASS Summit, which is a mostly independent community organized conference that allows us to have a deep dive on Microsoft Data Platform (sorry to use a marketing phrase, but it’s a good description of what the topics covered are) over a week’s time. If you haven’t attended a vendor conference like Microsoft Ignite, it’s a very different experience compared to PASS Summit. The sessions are more marketing driven, and while you have excellent access to Microsoft engineering staff, you aren’t going to have precons on deep dives into topics like high availability and query optimization, and you won’t see nearly as many community speakers offering real-world perspective.

Having a big conference is a good thing, and it’s something PASS has done fairly well and would be a major loss if PASS were to fail. Running a big conference is expensive and hard, and would likely only happen with vendor support, or over the period of several years from a smaller conference. This is a US centric view, as SQLBits and Data Platform Summit in India have been running pretty large scale conferences for several years. However,

SQL Saturday Events

SQL Saturdays are awesome—they provide a great starting point for a new speaker. There’s even less pressure than a user group, because your attendees are typically divided between a few tracks. I also have a fondness in my heart for them, as they are where I grew my career and gained organization skills by running a successful event for several years. However, they don’t need PASS to be a success. PASS in recent years has deemphasized SQL Saturday because of a flawed notion that they were cannibalizing Summit attendance (this may be true on the margins, to which I would say, make Summit better). While having a centralized infrastructure for these events is nice, the website is an absolute trainwreck, and should probably be refactored. Numerous SQL Saturdays in Europe have become independent events, without issue—sites like Sessionize make it really easy to run an event. I foresee a little bit of a lull, but these events can run well without a centralized org—just look at Code Camp.

User Groups

Even moreso than SQL Saturdays I do not see the loss of a centralized org having any impact on user group meetings. In recent years, the only service PASS has offered user groups is web hosting (and some funding tied to Summit discount codes, a program which has gotten more limited over time). User Groups, by their nature are fairly independent entities. I look forward to speaking at any UG post covid—having free pizza and meeting a bunch of data pros is always a good time.

Virtual Chapters

As you may have noted in reading my blog, I tend to be cynical about PASS C&C. However, in researching for this post, I noted that (as of Monday) PASS Virtual Chapters have provided 173 hours of free training in 2020. Gathering data is a bit arduous, so I didn’t capture previous year’s data, but I was really impressed at the amount of training in one place. There are other virtual events (especially this year) but having a central place and organization is real benefit to an organization.

What Does All of This Mean?

This means PASS’ core competencies are running Summit, and Virtual Chapters. (wow, I feel like that was the most MBA thing I’ve ever written). Any organization going forward needs to have those structures in place. Summit provides a revenue source, that can allow everything else to proceed.  It also means trying to provide a paid online training and certification service lies outside of its competencies and shouldn’t continue.

However, the challenge PASS faces (and is ultimately tied to its survival) is that Summit is not going to have the same level of revenue for at least the next two years, and expenses haven’t dropped significantly. In recent years I’ve heard a common refrain from board members—PASS Summit was “too big for a small event management company, and not big enough for a large event company”. Since PASS Summit is going to be smaller at least in the medium term, perhaps now is the time for change to save the organization.

I’d welcome comments on anything I missed or your thoughts on what your most meaningful community experiences have been.

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T-SQL Tuesday #128: Let’s Talk About Your Incident Reports

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Hello T-SQL Tuesday Readers! I’m sorry for being really late in getting this post out this week.

So! A couple of weeks ago, for this month’s topic, I asked everyone to post about something that broke or went wrong, and what it took to fix it. Last week, fourteen of you responded with your stories of woe so we could all learn from your incidents and recoveries in a constructive way, like pilots do. Here’s the recap of those posts, in the order that they came in.

What Everyone Had to Say

First, is Rob Farley with, “That time the warehouse figures didn’t match“… heh, I feel like I’ve heard this one before. But it turns out, no! this is new and awesome. Rob talks about a fundamental rule he has when loading data into a data warehouse: “protect the base table.” This is his first step in ensuring that data in the DW is correct, and as anyone who does DW or BI work knows–that is always the most important thing, because if trust in the data coming out of the reporting system is lost, it can be pretty hard to get it back.

John McCormack has “Optimising a slow stored procedure” next. John walks through his process of tuning up a stored procedure he had gotten an after-hours call about being slow enough that things were breaking. He’s got a good tip in here if you use SentryOne’s Plan Explorer, too. AND, there’s an added bonus of including something that I find frustrating when it happens. Basically: “This web page is usually really slow and the users were frustrated about it, but nobody ever told me!” Y’all! Tell us (IT, support, whoever) when you’re not happy, we’re usually happy to fix things to make your life easier!

Richard Swinbank talks about that time he unintentionally set a trap for himself in “Default fault.” Changing the default database for your login in SQL Server when you’re the DBA is all fine until you decommission that database! Richard includes great steps for digging yourself out of this hole with sqlcmd if you’ve “locked yourself out” of the instance when using SSMS.

Eitan Blumin’s post about a mis-behaving set of Azure VMs has a good surprise twist in it. This post struck me as a little hilarious, both because of the 32 hours bit, but also because I/we had just been talking about fullscan statistics update in our internal corpchat this week. I like fullscan stats in general, when they can be pulled off and are helpful (think non-uniform data distribution), but when they take down your AG, that’s, uh, bad. Don’t do that. Eitan also includes a nice set of takeaways at the end of the post.

SQL Cyclist/Kevin3NF I think wins the prize this month for having the longest contribution. Turns out, he has an ongoing series of blog posts of real-life stories along these lines, which include seven posts about fun goings-on that fit into this topic.

Next is Jason Brimhall with “Disappearing Data Files“… Jason shares a pet peeve of mine, which is having to fix the same thing over and over again. When that happens, it’s good that one at least has/knows the fix, I guess…. Anyway, Jason goes into using Extended Events as an audit tool to detect changes to tempdb files to help track down the root cause for a “recurring fix”, and reiterates that sometimes those root causes are hard to track down, and the best place to put yourself in for those situations is to be ready the next time.

Deborah Melkin says, “I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve joined the party.” Ohh, I’m pretty sure it’s not as long as it has been for me… Debora doesn’t have a specific break/fix story, but talks about how experiences and dealing with problems over time makes it easier to address new problems as they come up. This is the core lesson (lesson? Process?) I’m wanting everyone to get this month, so I appreciate this perspective!

Hugo Kornelis has my favorite post of the month. If you’re the type who doesn’t read all of the T-SQL Tuesday posts and waits for the recap to find the one or two that look the most interesting, make sure this one is on your list. It’s short and to the point, and contains a fantastic lesson. Two, really, although one isn’t explicitly mentioned as a lesson. This one is the fact that if there’s something you do on a regular or reoccurring basis, you should have that process written down. Think of it like a checklist (flying reference ahoy!). But what Hugo makes clear is that even if you’re doing something different that you don’t have a process for, but is adjacent to that process, it’s still a good idea to reference that process. Just read Hugo’s post, it’s easier than listening to me 🙂

I felt bad just reading Aaron Bertrand’s post. Just, go read it. Promise. Take his advice.

Lisa Bohm brings us what I think is a heartwarming story about what transparency and honesty can bring to even professional relationships. Lisa tells us about how this worked out for her while working for an ISV when things went bad on a Friday night (it’s always a Friday night). In addition to the honesty part, she had another takeaway that we can all do better at sometimes: Shut up and start listening.

Next up is STEVE JONES, the one that got me into this damn mess in the first place. He at least takes ownership of that in the post, heh. Steve’s speaking my language here with “And too few companies share their learnings publicly.” …This is a crab of mine, as well, and I think a lot of IT shops would make fewer bone-headed mistakes if everyone was more willing to share what they’ve learned, NTSB-style. I understand why things are the way they are, and all, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Anyway, Steve has many encouraging words for learning from others in the first place, and how he has been fortunate enough to be able to work with people who have helped him build better systems. I always appreciate Steve’s writing, and this post is no exception.

Glenn Berry wrote about a place where I think we’ve all been–it boils down to not RTFM 🙂 But also, it involves building PCs, which maybe most of us used to do, but hardly any do anymore. I still do, but only once every, like, eight years, so… This was funny, because as Glenn walked through how he got here, I saw right where this was going; I mean, with four disks to hook up, I would have gone right for that nice quad of stand-offs, too! I mean, why split the cables up between two places when you could just do one! Yeah. Uh-huh. Yep. Glenn’s main takeaway is, basically read the documentation, which is always a good idea. As someone who really likes writing it (I’m aware of how broken I am), I also know how little this happens in practice.

Todd Kleinhans talks about Letting it Fail. This is true–sometimes things have to break to get the right peoples’ attention, or to show just how bad a situation could get. Todd has a story about just one of these situations. I don’t think any of us like things getting to that point, but sometimes there aren’t other options. Todd also has a good final takeway, about “doing nothing” being a valid option to a situation, and it really is. May not lead to a good outcome, but it is an option!

Tracy Boggiano starts out with a line that is a big “been there, done that” for me: “One fateful night while I was not on call, I got a call around 3:30 AM.” Ahh yes. You’re not on-call, but you wind up on the horn with Ops, anyway. Tracy’s story has some good head-shaking items in it, which is about how I expect a story that starts like this to end. Tracy has a good line towards the end: “Everything from the network, to the server hardware, to the database creates the system and working as a team is the only way to make sure things are configured to perform and not fail.” Ain’t that the truth…

And finally, my man Andy Yun talks about Presentation Disasters. Andy comes through here with probably the most aviation-related lesson of all: Paranoia Pays Off. Yessssss! Always have a Plan B–plus C and D if possible–so when things go pear-shaped, you already have a plan. Andy was presenting at GroupBy back in May, when his headset died. But he was ready! Good lesson for all and everything here, not just those of us slinging TSQL or flying airplanes.

And that’s it! This was the first time I’ve hosted T-SQL Tuesday, and I want to thank everyone who shared their stories with us this week!

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