SQL Saturday Trip Report – Cleveland 2014

This past weekend I made the journey to Cleveland, OH (Westlake, actually) for SQL Saturday #241. I’ve attended two local SQL Saturdays in the past (helping organize/run one), but seeing the list of speakers and knowing a few of the local chapter members, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit.

Friday

I packed my bags and hit the road. It’s about a 300 mile trip so I gassed up, settled in with my backlog of podcasts and set the cruise control. The drive was almost zen-like. The sky was clear and the sun shining (almost painfully bright) and I don’t recall the last time I took a road trip solo. It was a very relaxing drive.

After arriving at the hotel and settling in, I went out for a bit  to stretch my legs and get some fresh air before searching for dinner. Forgetting that most people coming from out of town are speakers and there’s usually a speaker’s dinner on the Friday night before SQL Saturday, I had trouble finding people to meet for dinner. Ultimately I met up with Travis Garland (t) and his team at the Winking Lizard in downtown Cleveland after a 20 minute search for parking. I wasn’t able to stay too late as I wanted to be up early on Saturday.

Saturday

6 AM is pretty early when you’re on the road. I pulled myself out of bed, packed up my stuff, got ready & headed down the road to Hyland Software, the venue for the event. The place is set up perfectly for a SQL Saturday. Great layout, a good amount of space, and terrific technical facilities.

After getting registered, I made the rounds of the vendor tables & caught up with several of the people I was looking forward to seeing again, including Karla Landrum (t), Hope Foley (b|t), Allen White (b|t), and Kendal Van Dyke (b|t). While I was at it, I managed to meet one new person, Wendy Pastrick (b|t) – so immediately the weekend was a networking success (one of my goals was to meet & talk with at least one new person this weekend, and I was up to 5 by 8:15 AM on Saturday). After the opening remarks from Allen, Thomas LaRock (b|t) and Adam Belebczuk (b|t), it was time to get our learn on.

Session 1 – Query Performance Tuning: A 12 Step Program

Query performance is always a concern for DBAs, developers and users alike. Thomas & Tim Chapman (t) presented a great series of steps to take while investigating slow queries, and did it in a very engaging way. Some of these techniques I was already familiar with, but there was plenty of new material in here as well. The biggest surprise to me was that they put examining execution plans halfway down the list – 5 stages of investigation before even looking at the plan! The execution plan is usually one of my first stops in trying to optimize queries, but I’m going to adjust that thinking going forward.

Session 2 – Writing Better Queries with T-SQL Window Functions

Confession time: this was my “backup” session. I had planned on attending Grant Fritchey’s (b|t) Statistics and Query Optimization session, but by the time I got to the room it was standing room only with a line out the door. So I crossed the hall to this session, presented by Kathi Kellenberger (t). I’d heard about window functions before, and seen them in blog posts, but had no idea what they were really good for. Kathi presented the material in a very clear, relatable way and by the end of it my mind was racing, trying to find scenarios at work where I could put them to use. I’m very happy that I landed in this session – lots of great stuff to work with. It’s rare that I sit in a session where I know nothing coming into it and feel like I can apply the knowledge gained immediately. This was one of those sessions – highly recommended if you see Kathi presenting at another PASS event.

Session 3 – Code Management with SQL Server Data Tools

I’ve dabbled with SSDT a bit, but never been able to put it to good use for a variety of reasons. Lisa Gardner (t) presented this session and provided good information around some of the things that I’m trying to implement better in my environments – namely automated deploys and keeping environments in sync. I’m not sure when exactly I’ll get to use all of it, but now I know more about what situations call for it and a start down the path of using it to its fullest potential.

Lunch

The provided lunch was good, a self-serve taco bar and lots of available seating. There was plenty of seating available in the common areas, but several sponsors had presentations in the training rooms and I took a seat with SQL Sentry. I’ve been using their Performance Monitor and Event Manager products for a couple years now, but always forget about Plan Explorer so I soaked up the demo.

Session 4 – Discover, Document & Diagnose Your Servers on Your Coffee Break

I’ve been working with Kendal for a while and I was eager to see what SQL Power Doc was all about. I came for the PowerShell and stayed for the amazingly detailed documentation of any SQL Server environment. I lack the credentials to run it at work, but I know that it’s being run on a regular basis on our network. It’s everything you wanted to know about your environment but didn’t know it could be documented. The volume of information it churns out is amazing. Note to self: run SQL Power Doc against my computers where I have dev instances set up.

Session 5 – Spatial Data: Cooler Than You’d Think!

I’ve wanted to see this session since I first heard about it last year. I have a project I’ve been working on for a bit that has a lot of GPS data in it and I was eager to learn from Hope what else I could/should be doing with it, as well as validating that I was already on the right track. I got some good ideas here with regard to how my tables are defined and what options are available for mapping the data I’ve captured – something that I hadn’t even considered yet.

Session 6 – Making the Leap from Profiler to Extended Events

I met Erin Stellato (b|t) at PASS Summit 2012 during #SQLRun, and her session about DBCC was the first regular session I attended that week (portions of which were way over my head – not an unexpected phenomenon). So I had to check this session out. I don’t do much with Profiler but I know it’s going away and I want to be ready. This session was a great introduction to XE without getting into too much complexity, and she did a great job of showing off some of the aspects of XE that make it so much better than Profiler.

Closing Ceremony

Raffle drawings! I continued my non-winning streak.

The Afterparty

After wrapping up at Hyland Software and dropping all my stuff at the hotel, I headed over to Dave & Buster’s for the after-party. Some game credits were provided, but I was there more to talk to people than play games (aside: I’m really bad at meeting people & “working the room.” I’m better at it than I used to be, but it’s still something I have to work very hard at). I spent most of the event camped out at a table with a rotating cast, but I left without catching up with everyone I wanted to speak with.

The Afterafterparty

After Dave & Buster’s, a few people were headed to the “other” hotel for a few hours of Cards Against Humanity & invited me to join. I’d never played before, and did pretty poorly, but it was a hell of a time. I just wish I was staying at that hotel so I didn’t have to worry about making the drive back to mine.

Sunday

My view most of the way home
My view most of the way home

After being out until 1 AM, my 7 AM alarm sounded way too early. I slowly rolled out of bed, packed up & prepped to hit the road. In sharp contrast to my drive to Cleveland, the drive home was looking a bit rough with lake-effect snow on the radar until my halfway point. Of course, as I  approached that point I checked again and saw that snow would follow me all the way home. It was slow, treacherous going in places but I managed to stay on the road and got home without any drama.

Recap

Everyone involved with this SQL Saturday did an amazing job. Terrific venue, terrific speakers, and everything seemed to go off without a hitch. If you haven’t been to a SQL Saturday and there’s one coming up near you, take advantage of the opportunity to attend. Just being around the PASS community can stir up or re-ignite a passion for all things data-related. And as always, the biggest thing I learned this weekend is that there are so many more things out there for me to learn.

I brought a backpack and PC with me to collect swag and possibly fiddle with a project while I was at the event, but it just ended up being a lot of dead weight I carried around all day. Next time, I’m leaving the computer at home and replacing it with a big battery pack for my phone.

I can’t wait to make the trip to Cleveland again next year – in the meantime, there’s #302 & #303 this summer which I’ll be attending

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