SQL Saturday #105 Dublin Review

As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently over in Dublin attending SQL Saturday 105, a SQL Server conference and networking event hosted by PASS.  For anyone considering attending a future SQL Saturday event, I can definitely recommend it for developers, Database Administrators (DBA) and Business Intelligence (BI) developers of any level, from enthusiastic amateurs all the way to expert consultants.  Given the fortunate timing on Saturday’s event, it also doubled as the European technical launch for SQL Server 2012 (codenamed Denali during development).

Featuring a total of six sessions covering 3 tracks (Developer, DBA and BI), the event was packed, as over 200 SQL Server professionals from all over Ireland (as well as our intrepid 3 from Edinburgh) flocked to learn about some of the new features of SQL Server 2012 or just to pick up some tips and tricks from some of the industry’s best.

Despite our slightly late arrival due to the unfortunate timing of our flight, we made it straight into the first session, just as it was starting to get interesting.

Our day began with a very interesting session by Rushabh Mehta (@rushabhmehta) about some of the new features in SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) 2012.  I’ve done a lot of work with SSIS over the past few years and while I would say that I am a fan, there are a number of frustrating features and issues with it.  Some of these are problems with SSIS itself, others to do with the integration into the Visual Studio 2008 shell (used for SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2).  There are a number of improvements in the new iteration of SSIS, not least the ability to perform Pivot Transforms via UI (something I’ve previously posted about doing via code), much improved troubleshooting and management, including the ability for SSIS to automatically generate ongoing performance reports and the joys of project-wide variables.

There’s much more to SSIS 2012 too, and I’ll look at some of these features in more detail in a future article.

Next up, I took in Jen Stirrup’s (@jenstirrup) introduction to PowerPivot and PowerView.  Jen Stirrup’s a widely respected BI and data visualisation professional who uses her psychology qualifications to help with visualisation techniques.  As such, she had some great ideas about the available applications of 2012’s new PowerView component.  I’ve actually been fortunate enough to have had some time to work with PowerPivot and PowerView myself, as we’re looking at early adoption in my day job, but it was great to see it from a different perspective.  This was a great session and would definitely have been beneficial for anyone yet to explore these new additions to the SSAS/SSRS stack.

I followed this up by attending Chris Webb’s (@technitrain) introduction to the new SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) Tabular model and the DAX language upon which it is built.  The Tabular model is basically a ROLAP implementation of SSAS cubes, which utilises large amounts of memory for fast-access storage and calculation, rather than the more expensive disc space of the mutli-dimensional model.  The technology behind this is the Vertipaq engine, which builds in-memory column stores (in a similar way to the new Column-store indexes).  I’ve seen this in action before briefly but it was great to see how ridiculously fast it can be to perform traditionally high-cost operations such as COUNT DISTINCT and there’s also the added benefit of being able to apply permissions on a row by row basis.  Wow!

After lunch, I took in an extremely in-depth session on how to configure a full SQL 2012 environment, encompassing all the BI features from data storage, to cube definition, Sharepoint integration and PowerPivot/PowerView/SSRS on the top.  Chris Testa-O’Neill (@ctesta_oneill) delivered what was easily the most full-on session of the day, but also incredibly interesting.  Being a former network tech, he knows exactly what he’s talking about when it comes to hardware and domain setup, so I really enjoyed comparing our demo environment setup in the office to the way that he advised to do it.  He testified to having spent several days setting up this environment in the past (something to which our resident SQL guru, Ibrahim Naji can attest) so it was definitely worth getting the benefit of his experience.

Finally, to round off what was an extremely interesting, if long day, was Bill Pearson (@bill_pearson) with his introduction to the MDX language.  MDX has been about for several years, used as the language powering SSAS cube definition as well as being used for PowerPivot.  It’s one that still confuses a lot of people with it’s complexity though, so it was great to get an entry level run-through from someone who could write it in his sleep.  As someone who hadn’t started with MDX it was the perfect introduction to get me up and running.

The day rounded off with a few beers and a raffle with some great prizes, including one coming back to Edinburgh, although unfortunately not with me.  A long day by the end of it but thoroughly enjoyable and definitely worth the 5am start.  SQL Saturday’s are happening all over the world with increasing regularity (there are another 15 in April alone), so there’s really no excuse not to go if one lands near you.  I really recommend the experience to anyone who uses SQL Server technology, whether you’re an enthusiastic amateur or a seasoned veteran, you’ll find something worthwhile.

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