Despite the fact that the last event seems like only a few months ago it’s nearly time again for Mobile World Congress, as usual there are a raft of competitions around offering tickets to lucky entrants so I thought I’d collate the ones I’ve come across here.
For anyone unfamiliar with MWC, it’s an annual coming together of the entire mobile industry from network operators (MNOs), manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Nokia, HTC, software and services companies like Google, and a whole host of companies making apps, accessories, etc. Having been once (see my MWC Impressions post), it’s quite an experience and well worth going if you can make it.
Anyway, on to the list – if you spot any I’ve missed please leave a comment and I’ll bump it up into the post.
- Appscend (you have to build an app with them to enter)
- TechWeekEurope (sign up to newsletter)
- Mobile Monday London (send in a reason why you should win!)
- Developer Garden (just a tweet)
- Click Software
It’s not always obvious when the open/closed dates are so I apologise if any of the above are no longer valid, please leave a comment if you find that to be the case and I’ll remove the link.
I started the day at the App Planet exhibition in Hall 7 and whilst one or two of the stands were still busy setting up I started at RIM where they were demonstrating NFC and streaming media from Blackberry to PS3. I found the Blackberry guys to be typically bullish (always a little more so than you might expect) and their offering was quite slick but overall they lacked a ‘message’, especially when compared to their closes rival in the smartphone space: Nokia.
Having kept everything under wraps until after the press conference had finished Nokia really had something to show and the message loud and clear was: “we’re doing lots of crazy cool stuff”. Innovation was a strong theme including high-definition call quality, nano-technology and indoor positioning as well as the superb tie-up with Dolby for digital audio and the frankly incredible 808 PureView boasting so many features you have to double-take when you find out that it’s a Symbian phone. It was definitely good to see them back on form and if the enthusiasm of the staff is anything to go by thing are looking up and seriously, it’s gotta be hard to stay chirpy in a blue Where’s Wally outfit.
One interesting technology I saw was Clic2C, a print watermarking method that gives QR-code like functionality but without the ugly QR code despised by magazine layout artists the world over. Most impressive was the fact that it can work in newspapers which typically have a low dpi. The best individual app I saw was probably Runtastic, a fitness tracking app due to launch imminently which is available with a heard rate strap and receiver for around €60. Another app launching soon is Voice Over IP service Voxtrot, free of charge from handset to handset with PSTN calling coming later their USP compared to Skype is set to be call quality and address-book integration – interesting if it lives up to the spin.
I had an interesting chat with a guy from haptics company Immersion, if you’ve never heard of them you may still have used one of their products – they’re responsible for that little buzz when you press the on-screen keys on your phone. Their idea is to provide a sense of physical action when interacting with touch screen devices and some of the uses demonstrated were quite compelling though hard to explain in writing. The advances are being made in terms of response times, sensitivity (very soft to quite aggressive) and resolution (i.e. how close to your finger does the effect feel), this is great news for gaming though I am convinced that all kinds of apps can benefit from improved and varied user feedback mechanisms.
Down in Hall 1 things were much more carrier oriented With LTE testing gear and a phenomenal focus on small cell and femtocell technologies. One unexpected highlight of the day was SpareOne, an emergency phone that can be powered by a single AA battery with a reported standby time of 15 years (basically, the life of the battery) and a talk time of three hours on a single cell. Sure, it has niche uses and isn’t going to be supplanting the major handset manufacturers but it has the potential to make a massive impact on the niche it serves and will no doubt save hundreds of lives. Also down in Hall 1 were Opera, touting their Opera Mini browser – a great alternative to the stock Android browser and with the benefit that their proxy technology saves on bandwidth and makes content load considerably faster than other browsers.
Back to handsets, HTC were hanging with the carrier-grade boys but had a good showing with their new HTC One lineup and whilst I’d be hard pushed to explain the differences between the V, the S and the X some of the features in the range were impressive. As a photographer the burst mode shooting caught my eye, allowing you to take 5 photos per second which will be great for taking photos of moving subjects – parents taking photos of kids will definitely appreciate that as kids and animals rarely stay still. The Beats Audio addition is interesting and it adds a bit more “welly” but under the hood I’m not sure it’s anything more clever than the “BASS” button you used to get on old portable tape decks.
Well, that’s the bulk of my floor-walking for the day – time for a bite to eat and some shut-eye to prepare for tomorrow’s sights.
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.
UPDATE: since the event has now passed you can also read my SAP BI 4.0 Launch rundown and my What’s New in Business Objects XI Release 4.0 posts, of course – don’t let that put you off reading the remainder of the article below…
I just wanted to give people a head’s up – SAP are running a “Launch Event” for the upcoming 4.0 releases of their BI and EIM tools in London on the 7th of April, I’m assuming that this is going to be the release of the XI 4.0 product though there could be a change in branding to remove the ‘XI’ portion and fall more in line with SAP’s naming conventions. I’ve not seen much in the way of expected features so it’ll be an interesting event I expect, most of the speakers are unfamiliar to me although I’ve seen Richard Neale speak at a number of BOUG (Business Objects User Group) events and he always comes across confidently gives a compelling view of the product.
One thing that is clear is that there’s definitely some coming together of traditional SAP products and the Business Objects line, if nothing else the sponsors/exhibitors bear that out pretty clearly with the inclusion a few ‘big guns’ such as Atos Origin and Cap Gemini as well as some smaller SAP specialists like Bluefin and Edenhouse.
In terms of what to expect, that’s tough – there’s going to be a lot of emphasis on shiny new features such as Mobile BI, advanced dashboarding and data visualisation but that’s not what I’m there to see. I’m really hoping for a slicker version of Web Intelligence, less fiddly and more intuitive – you can achieve a lot in the current version of WebI but the interface feels a little dated when compared to many of today’s web tools.
The lag between cloud and in-house software suites is something I think all BI vendors suffer from and it will be a tough problem to solve. Cloud services are able to evolve continually whilst installed applications represent a snapshot of the industry’s ‘state of the art’ at the time of release and large corporate installations will almost always be 1 or 2 versions behind the bleeding edge. This never used to be much of a problem but now most users are familiar with rich interactive web tools such as Google Docs, Mobile Me, Nike+ and Garmin Connect – now when your users come into the office they have certain expectations and at the moment I think many BI tools fall somewhat short either in functionality or ease of use. On a related note I also expect to hear more too about potential cloud offerings from SAP or SAP partners.
Whatever happens I’m sure it will be an interesting day and of course I’ll post an event wrap-up for those of you that can’t attend, if you feel like coming along you can register at sapevent.co.uk/4launch and perhaps I’ll see you there.
Starting my third day at SQLBits with a hat-trick of talks on technologies I’m unfamiliar with was a bit of a head-bender but an enjoyable one nonetheless. The first talk I chose was a great overview of how to use completely free tools (SQL Server Express 2008 R2, among others) with completely free spacial data (Ordnance Survey’s Open Data) to create spatial reports in Reporting Services. Since it’s not an area I’m working in at the moment I didn’t get any major take-aways but I do have an understanding of what’s possible and how to go about it – if you’re in the same boat you should check out FWTools, Shape2SQL and Grid InQuest.
The second talk was Matt Whitfield‘s ‘CLR Demystified’ and not being a developer I’ll admit that much of it went over my head but I get the basic principles and most importantly I know what’s possible and where I might make use of CLR. The most interesting avenues for me are the ability to write custom aggregate functions and define custom data types – I was also impressed with the opportunity to increase performance in certain text processing / forward log parsing situations.
The next talk I attended was a gentle introduction to PowerShell and James Boother did a good job of showing where it might be useful for admin tasks, in particular the example of purging old backup/log files based on age lit my eyes up. There was also a demo of PowerShell authenticating with Twitter and posting tweets as admin alerts, alas the demo failed but that could well have been a timeout on the Uni’s WiFi network or just plain old demo-gremlins. I must say thou that I still can’t view PowerShell with some sense of disappointment because with all it’s flexibility and power it’s so damned wordy and many of the tasks it performs could be achieved with less code that a good old Bash script.
As with Friday I attended Quest‘s lunchtime session run by Kevin Kline, Ian Kick, Brent Ozar and Buck Woody – they’re some of the most experienced guys in the SQL community and when you get them together they’re funny as he’ll too so I was both entertained and informed in their myth-busting quiz.
My first afternoon talk was Gary Short’s session on NoSQL which predictably sparked a few polite but irate rebuttals from argumentative DBAs but the session itself was an excellent whistle-stop tour of the predominant NoSQL technologies and use cases. I was encouraged to hear from someone experienced in the field that nobody has quite put together all the pieces to hook up BI tools (that traditionally expect relational/dimensional models or OLAP sources) to the NoSQL back-ends, it’s a shame since I might need to do so pretty soon – I guess I’m going to have to get my hands dirty then!
The final talk was from Kevin Kline of Quest who covered SQL Injection, it was an informative talk that gave me pause for thought about a couple ‘best practices’ that I probably ought to harden a little. Kevin recommended a few tools that I’ll definitely be checking out at some point, notably:
- HP Scrawlr
- Source Code Analyser for SQL Injection
- Assessment and Planning Tool
- Discovery Wizard
And a few handy sites/articles:
Once more it was a great conference and the free day was every bit as good as the paid day, I can honestly say that I walked out of the event already looking forward to the next one.
Many people only attend the free ‘Community Day’ of SQLBits and I can understand why given the cost (£125) for the Friday sessions but if SQL Server is how you make your living I really do think it’s worth the money. It’s not even that the Friday sessions are significantly different in content, it’s really just more of the same high level of quality you get on Saturday but when it comes to SQLBits more is definitely better.
It’s always a tough choice picking which sessions to attend so it’s often best to go with speakers you know will be good so despite having spent the entire previous day with Maciej Pilecki in the SQLBits Training Day I made my first session Maciej’s SQL Server Statistics talk. Despite a few initial technical gremlins the talk went well and gave a few insights into how statistics are used by the query optimiser with the key takeaways being to always keep both AUTO_CREATE_STATISTICS and AUTO_UPDATE_STATISTICS turned on, to consider turning on AUTO_UPDATE_STATISTICS_ASYNC (does not force queries to wait for stats to be updated but subsequent queries will benefit) and to run sp_updatestats after any major updats or to reindex your tables periodically.
My next session was Brent Ozar‘s Virtualisation and SAN talk, this gave me a whole load of questions to go back to my SAN Administrator with as well as a whole load of tests I intend to perform before I deploy my next Data Warehouse on a Hyper-V guest. One concept that was completely new to me was the Balloon Driver that hypervisors use to encourage Windows to free-up RAM, since SQL Server is a good citizen it can end-up flushing the entire Buffer Pool and wrecking your performance – the solution is to ensure that Dynamic Memory is disabled in the Hyper-V Manager. Some great related resources can be found at…
The lunchtime sponsor talk I chose was the one from Quest that covered IT Horror Stories, it was a brilliant session with plenty of audience interaction and steered clear of pimping any specific Quest products but instead just showed that the people that work there are experienced, pragmatic and generally just nice guys. I think this approach is far better than the extended product demos that many software companies tend to give as their lunchtime sessions as they’ll only be of interest if you’re genuinely considering the product and if you’re not they’ll do little to increase brand awareness with a room full of bored people on Twitter of Facebook.
After lunch I went for Buck Woody‘s talk on Business Continuity which provided a few simple paths and the crucial tasks to help get people started on a business-relevant disaster recovery strategy. I was particularly impressed with one of the central themes of the talk which was (I’m reading between the lines a little) that even if you think it’s ‘not your job’ to put a DR plan in place, it’s likely that as the company’s ‘Data Professional’ people will still look to you in times of failure and if you’ve already done all of the planning you’ll be the guy with a calm head solving the problem and if you’re not that guy – start getting your CV ready. Despite having heard the name and having read a few of his blog posts over the years I’d never heard Buck speak and he’s great so if you get the chance to see him you definitely should.
Well that wraps-up the day nicely, I’ll be posting Saturday’s round up soon after I’ve written it!