SQLBits by the Sea a.k.a. Nerds on a Beach!

Who’d of thought it – it’s early April and I’ve come back from a SQL Server technical conference with sunburnt arms and a smile on my face.  Usually when I tell people that I’m going to a Microsoft SQL Server conference they sarcastically say things like “have fun”, or “rather you than me” and when I tell them that it also runs into Saturday and that I’m not even getting paid for it they’re even more incredulous.  I can understand the attitude since on paper it sounds like a rather dry affair but nobody that’s ever attended a SQLBits event would ever agree with that sentiment because it’s the strangest thing, somehow against all odds the SQLBits organisers have built an event crammed full of technical talks from some of the leading lights of the industry and they’ve also made it fun.  The craziest thing of all is that the Saturday ‘community day’ is also completely free and with over 40 talks it’s every bit as good as the the paid days, couple that with the prizes and other swag on offer from the sponsors and you can’t fail to walk away better-off than you went in!

Friday’s keynote was delivered by Microsoft’s Mark Souza and gave an insightful rundown of some new features coming in the next release of SQL Server codenamed Denali, there were some interesting High Availability and Disaster Recovery (HADR) features, a new Column Store styled index, the new data visualisation / dashboard tool Crescent as well as some additional enhancements that sound minor but will probably yield a large benefit (Windows Core support, Contained Databases, FileTable).  Also sharing the stage with Mark was David Flynn, CEO of Fusion-IO who gave a short but interesting overview of their ioDrive product which can provide amazing performance increases by moving IO bottleneck from the SAN onto NAND Flash directly attached to the PCI Express bus – though some nearby graffiti (pictured) showed that there’s still some loyalty to old storage media!

My top talks of the weekend included Jamie Thompson‘s session on SSIS Performance and Vincent Rainardi‘s talk on Advanced Dimensional Modelling but my ‘best of show’ goes to Martijn Evers’ talk on Data Vault – a data modelling technique that complements use of the well established Kimball and Inmon approaches to data warehousing.  I took a lot of useful hints, tips and tricks away from many of the talks I attended but the Data Vault talk gave me something much more valuable – an entirely new idea, something I’d never heard before but will make me think about data modelling in a slightly different way.  It’s the inclusion of these satellite topics (i.e. not directly related to SQL Server) that really makes SQLBits stand out and one of the reasons I keep coming back.  Aside from the talks my other highlights were sitting on the beach eating lunch and getting my first go on the Xbox 360 Kinect!

It’s worth mentioning that the entire event couldn’t happen without the sponsors and in particular I think a lot of good will should be shown to Microsoft.  Windows users tend to see them as a giant corporate entity that they never get to interact with but somehow it’s different in the SQL Server product team and they make a lot of effort drafting in some of their best people including Thomas Kejser, Ewan Fairweather, Lubor Kollar, Mark Souza, Connor Cunningham and Andrew Fryer (who completely schooled me on Kinect boxing).  Many of these guys fly in from the US and of course Microsoft can afford it but the point is that they don’t make a big deal out of it, these guys run sessions and wander around conference offering support to anyone that asks – where else do you get that?

There’s nothing quite like listening to a talk from someone who’s utterly engaged in what they do and wants to share the information with others and that’s what SQLBits is all about so if you’re a SQL Server developer or DBA you just have to go, it’s that simple but if even you’re a .NET developer or work with other database and BI products it’s well worth attending – for now I’ll look forward to seeing you all at the next SQLBits.