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Tick tock .. 2011 is calling and they want my Summit back

Time passes so depressingly fast. It’s nearly time for the PASS Summit 2012 already, and I still have yet to put a dent in the DVD set of session recordings from the 2011 Summit. Sigh. I’m just going to pretend that most of this year’s content is a repeat of last year, but I seriously doubt that’s going to be true considering SQL2012 was just a rumor last year and now we’re running it in production.

By the way, no I’m not going to the Summit this year. Instead I’m hoping to focus on picking up my MCSA and MCSE certs early next year. Wish me luck!

Finally, for all of those DBAs or DBA wannabe’s out there pounding the pavement, please spend a little time and make sure your resume is up to snuff. That includes grammatical and spelling mistakes, not repeating the same responsibility over and over again on every position you’ve had for the past five years, and not including DOS as a technical skill (at least try to learn Powershell, it sounds way cooler) or Windows ME (I really wish I were making this up). Oh, and please NEVER EVER spell the product name S-E-Q-U-E-L.



SQL2012 Clustering – the drive letter is gone!

For the past few days, I’ve been digging into some of the new features of the upcoming SQL2012 release (currently at RC0), especially around the new HA functionality called Availability Groups and around clustering setup/management differences in general.

One change in particular, that actually has nothing to do with either of these, caught my attention and that I just had to try out. SQL2012 now supports locating database files on a network file share. This new option is documented in 2012 BOL, and Brent Ozar (twitter | blog) wrote a great followup post on the subject earlier this month as well. Actually, to be fair I can’t truthfully call this a “new option”, as previous versions of SQL Server were able to host databases on file shares with the use of a special trace flag. However, this is the first version that supports it out of the box, start to finish.

For a clustered system, there follows an interesting implication. By placing all of the databases onto a network share – including the system databases such as master, msdb, tempdb, etc – SQL Server no longer requires a drive letter dependency! Which, in turn means there is no longer a limit on the number of instances a cluster can run – or at least no limit due to the 26 drive letter restriction. Whether you’d want to run 27 instances of SQL Server on your cluster is a whole other ball of wax that I’m not even going to touch, but at least now you can do it. Just like you can mount a JATO unit on a 1967 Impala. Just don’t light the darn thing.

But I digress.

So, let’s take this one step further. A cluster does not need a shared drive for quorum if you’re using Node or File Share quorum. In other words, SQL no longer needs shared drives, and Windows doesn’t need a shared drive. Well, to me that’s a cluster without SAN!! Wow, hello 2012. Would I run a production system this way? Not a chance. Development or QA? Sure, why not? All a highly-available development system needs now is another Windows box.

So, the HA/DR picture becomes even more blurry this year. If you have a copy of SQL2012 and two Windows boxes, you now get the fun of deciding among logshipping or mirroring (nothing new there), the new Availability Groups option (mirroring on steroids – too bad they really couldn’t have called it that), and now also clustering without SAN. Oh, and good old transactional replication. Nice. I’m sure somebody much smarter than I can summarize a blog post on the ins and outs of each of those technologies.

A final note before I wrap up. If you do use a file share for hosting your system database, it appears that it needs to be on a Windows2008 server. I could not get SQL to work against a Windows2003 file share, and have filed a Connect bug on the restriction. I have no idea if a SMB share on Linux would work. Again I’ll leave that for people smarter than myself.

Happy 2012 clustering!!

My “better late than never” PASS Summit online session recordings blog

It was been way too long since my last blog post, but it has been a busy couple of months at my company, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

But, with a bit of a break in the last week or two of 2011, I had some free time to browse through the 2011 Summit online session recordings (available at the PASS Summit 2011 Learning Center web site – for Summit attendees only) and view several sessions that I had to “pass” on (yep, that was a pretty weak attempt at humor) back in October.

First, I love the recordings being in WMV format, so that I can play them back at faster-than-recorded speed. Most sessions can survive a replay rate of 1.5x to 2.0x to still be understandable, and I can get through a lot more content that way.

Second, I’m even more firmly convinced that the session content and quality has been outstanding this year. I have pages and pages of notes from watching some of these videos – much more than I could’ve written if I had attended the session live – of ideas and information that’ll keep me busy into early 2012.

Third, I’m a little depressed that there is still so much I’m catching up on in 2008 (and R2) and SQL2012 is right around the corner. But, that’s what keeps things interesting as a SQL DBA … right? Right!

Finally, for whoever might be reading my blog .. probably because you fat-fingered something in Google and it brought you here by mistake .. have a very Merry Christmas – or whatever occasion you choose to celebrate with loved ones in the next week and a half – and maybe watch a session or two if you have the time. Above all, recharge so that you can hit 2012 with both feet running.

My “better late than never” PASS Summit blog

Lots of people have already posted about their experiences at the 2011 PASS Summit, so it’s going to be hard to stay original, but I’ll do my best.

First, this was my first Summit since 2004 and my first in Seattle since 2002. I had all but forgotten about those long escalators. The Sheraton hasn’t changed much, although last time there I faced north, with a view of the Space Needle. This time I had a southwest view of other (much taller but otherwise fairly boring) buildings and a little bit of water if I looked hard enough. Felt like I was in a fish bowl but I guess that’s typical of big-city life.

My Summit started Tuesday with an early-morning walk to WSCTC to register, back to the hotel for my laptop and sort through the backpack contents, catch up with email and life back home, and finally back to WSCTC for my pre-con. The session was well worth it (can’t wait for the DVD set to review the day) and the SQLServerCentral casino party that night was tons of fun – for one reason because it wasn’t real money I was losing Smile

My first shock was the Day One keynote, when the overflow room was called out. I was sitting roughly in front of the stage that morning, and we all looked to the left down the row of people .. and down, and down, and … well I thought I was in a house of mirrors. I remembered back to the 2004 keynotes running in one (relatively) small room of people, and being overwhelmed by the 2011 crowd.

The rest of the week is a blur … and then I flew home.

Seriously though … I knew we were for a fun week when the very first session was standing room only, as in people-standing-in-the doorway-behind-the-projection-screen room only. Back in 2004 you could (mostly) get away with choosing your session and following a map on the fly. Not so much now – you’d better know exactly where you’re going if you want a seat to the good ones. In any case, the highlight of the PowerView session was the Kinect hookup allowing the presenter to change and filter the data view we were seeing simply by pointing at report elements on the projection screen. Not exactly a SQL Server feature, but it made for a great presentation. The end of the day was a fun “Are you smarter than an MCM” session which contained decent technical content but was off the chart on entertainment factor. I probably won’t be striving for my MCM anytime soon, if it includes studying 80+ pages of DBCC command documentation (I really hope they were joking about that).

But rather than bore you with the sessions I went to (because they probably weren’t the same ones you saw) I’ll just fast-forward to my Summit thoughts and takeaways.

  • Every single session I attended was top notch .. and so were many I missed based on the constant raves I heard from others. The caliber of content at this year’s Summit is way above what I remember (there were usually one or two sessions each year that I’d walk out on for something better – didn’t happen once this year) and of course that reflects on the caliber of the speakers. The sheer number of sessions was incredible.
  • Speaking of number of sessions, the mixup of spotlight sessions, some 3-hour sessions, and the regular sessions was new to me. I hated missing any of the 3-hour ones. Choices, choices.
  • ROI back to your company doesn’t get any better than being able to take a SQL problem on one of your production servers to the PSS team, and have them diagnose and recommend a fix for the issue before you’re even back home. My Tuesday night was marred by a server outage, and by Thursday morning I had a KB article and resolution procedure in hand. I even missed one of the 12 session timeslots to work with PSS, and it was will worth it. I can review the DVD set anytime for the missed session, but definitely can’t just drop into Redmond unannounced and find someone to help like I could at the show.
  • It doesn’t always rain in Seattle! Despite the gloomy forecast before I left for Summit, I remember more sun than rain while there. Too bad they couldn’t have scheduled any outdoor sessions Smile  The patio outside those big windows looked sooooo inviting.
  • Take an elevator. It often beats a two-story jammed-full escalator ride. When available, take the stairs. They’re often faster too.
  • Knowing that all of the sessions were being recorded made it possible to go to more of my secondary picks, knowing that I could catch up on my primary choices from the DVD set. I also caught a few sessions for the sole purpose of seeing some familiar names speak live on topics that, in the past, I’ve only heard as disembodied voices. That was fun. The only one I missed that I had really wanted to see was Steve Jones on Thursday morning, but (sorry Steve) I had to meet with the PSS team before lunch.
  • Gameworks needs to add a 3rd floor if they’re going to continue hosting the CAP.  Most of the night was spent waiting and watching others play video games better than I ever could. At one point there was some scary air hockey going on, where even being a bystander was getting dangerous.  (idea: next year maybe rent out a movie theatre or two??)
  • Loved the Birds of a Feather lunch, except that I arrived late and wasn’t able to get to the table that I wanted. It would’ve been nice to have maps of the lunch hall distributed that morning.
  • Where was all the swag?!?!? Maybe my 2004 memory is biased to sessions that had giveaways, but it seems like this year had fewer goodies.
  • Many others are blogging about networking, and there was definitely a lot of it to be had. I ran into many new people myself. Unfortunately since I haven’t been to a Summit in years, and I don’t have much of an online presence, my networking experience was limited. Truth is, I get a little star-struck around some of the “big names” I see there and turn into a mumbling idiot Smile  Gotta work on that.
  • Apparently my only WordPress bullet option is an ugly “X”. Maybe I should quit being a cheapskate and actually buy a real theme….


Anything I missed? Oh yeah … the technical content was good as well. Unfortunately this turned out to be one of those “off years” when we didn’t have a fresh new version of SQL Server to learn about. Sure, SQL2012 is on the horizon but I had to take with a grain of salt anything we saw at the Summit because (a) it may change before final release and (b) may only be offered in the Enterprise Edition of SQL Server (most of the systems I support are Standard). 2004 was one of those years as well, where we heard all about the new features in “Yukon” but didn’t see them for real until a year later – in fact in 2005 I attended DevCon instead of Summit because DevCon gave out (yes, for free!) copies of SQL 2005 Standard and Visual Studio 2005, hot off the presses.

So this is not Summit’s fault, but it was disappointing that Denali became SQL2012 and not SQL2011. I could only imagine how awesome it would’ve been to find shrink-wrapped copies of the next SQL release on our chairs at the keynote. Maybe next year.

Final takeaway: I need at least another solid two weeks to follow up on everything I learned from my few days of Summit. And that’s before the DVD set shows up in my mailbox! Too much SQL, not enough hours in the day.

The next SQL game changer?

Today at the SQL PASS Summit conference, a “new” technology was unveiled called SQL Azure Federations. The TechNet article is available here. I won’t go into what sharding is, in this blog. That is a subject for a whole other blog (or three) that you’ll just have to search for on your own using your favorite search engine.

So why is this a potential game changer? Two reasons.

1) Data management between shards will be built into the engine. Data will be able to move transparently (to the application) from one shard to another, and one shard can even be split into two shards, again completely online. The underlying method of how this works was compared as the shard equivalent to rebuilding an index online. Practically I’m sure there are many moving parts and maybe even some caveats we haven’t heard of yet, but managing something like this with minimal-to-no application downtime or impact is a feat that may be hard to appreciate unless you try it yourself.

2) Azure will be based on the SQL Server 2012 codebase, which means that at some point (but NOT in 2012 RTM) this functionality may also be available in SQL Server itself. This is a HUGE step forward for Microsoft, and something that the developer community potentially has been waiting on for years. From my own experience, 10 years ago the company I was a DBA at moved from a single-server system to a federated system. It was all home-grown technology and was very painful to make the transition.

Granted, physical hardware has come a long way in 10 years, and what one single server can run now more than makes up for a federated farm of servers back in 2001. But …. there is still one place that has its limits: cloud.

Virtual servers are still constrained on CPU and memory limits far below what modern physical hardware can deliver. Given that more systems are moving from physical to virtual, this doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Yes, 90% of the systems out there will gain performance migrating from 3-5 year old physical systems onto brand new virtual systems.

This isn’t for that 90%. This is for the systems that won’t run in cloud now because they exceed a single VM’s capabilities. With Federation technology, cloud finally can deliver what it promised in the first place: unlimited performance and scale-up (ironically through scale-out).

So, what do you think? At Summit 2011, is the best news that SQL 2012 is on the horizon? Or PowerView? New T-SQL enhancements? To me it’s engine-level Federation technology. And for now, it might just put Azure ahead of every other platform for new databases (gasp – yes I did just say that).


Just one more win: The Next Generation

Way back in May 2009, I wrote a post about the Canes needing “just one more win in the season” to gain a home-ice playoff advantage. Unfortunately those words are relevant again today. They played 81 games out of an 82-game season and missed the playoffs by a measly two points.

In the bigger picture, they played some good hockey down the stretch just to get to the point of playing a Game 82 that mattered. So, thanks for getting us to what was essentially a Game 7 on Saturday, and better luck next year!

Do I like blogging?

While watching one of the MCM Readiness videos today, I had to pause the demo and browse over to the presenter’s blog to find out more details behind of the information being presented. The presenter in this case is Brent Ozar (blog)

After finding the info I was looking for, I ran into a very interesting series of posts from Brent, starting at the link below:

This got me thinking … I started this blog just over two years ago as an experiment. Not because I thought I had anything unique to tell the world that it didn’t already know, not because I expected to have a billion followers waiting on each and every post, and definitely not because I’m master expert in SQL Server – or any other subject, for that matter. Truth be told, I started this blog because it was free (thank you WordPress!) and because I found the “Live Writer” app in Windows that made writing a blog post a lot easier than banging out raw HTML.

A little diversion, if I may. My company uses MediaWiki internally. It’s a pain to write any documentation of substance in this tool. Think back to writing web pages in Notepad (with apologies – and my sympathies – to anyone out there that DOES write still web pages in Notepad – who am I kidding, nobody reads this blog anyway … ANYWAY ….)

So back to the point. With a free blog site and Live Writer in hand, I had a web presence. Now what?

Yes, that’s the hard part.

I didn’t want to write about what my cat ate for breakfast that morning. That’s what Twitter is for. I think. I don’t tweet, so I really don’t know for sure. I wanted a blog focused on just a few key things, namely my interests. One of those, obviously, is the technology that I’ve spent much of my career around: Microsoft SQL Server. Another is hockey, in the form of the Carolina Hurricanes. When I first moved to Raleigh from Edmonton, I had no idea I’d ever be rooting for a local NHL team again. But, I digress again….

It’s pretty easy for me to write about things that I already know, problems that I run across and solve, or personal experiences in general. Having said that, posting to this blog has been a real hit-or-miss proposition. Lately I’ve tried to be a little more diligent about keeping up, but it’s not much of a blog when I let a whole year go by without posting anything.

So do I like blogging? So far it has been fun, and if maybe a couple of people out there have found this blog (I do have a few comments, so at least a few people have run across it) and, more importantly, found it useful, then that makes it all worth it.

And, if you’re reading this post, and I’ve sparked interest in someone out there starting a blog of their own, then it has definitely been worth it.