SQL Saturday

SQL Saturday has been running for a number of years around the world, I went to the first one ever held in Australia. It had a huge turnout with around 20 different events to choose from over the day. It had a fair few sponsors present as well as lots of Microsoft Valued Professionals (MVPs).


Of the 20-ish sessions to choose from I went to these:


1st session: Kick-ass Ad-hoc Cube Browser build in SSRS 2014

I’ll freely admit I went pretty much for the session title alone. Creating MDX driven reports from SSRS has never as smooth as should have been so I did have some genuine technical interest though.

Grant Paisley showed his Reporting Services generic cube browser report. This was a nice way to have a single report that offered enough parameters you could create virtually unlimited reports from it without having to create new reports. A huge time saving win if you are working with SSRS and Analysis Services.

He has a site that hosts lots of free SSRS report templates you can can try online:  http://www.reportsurfer.com/ReportLibrary.htm


2nd Session: I have the data now what! (Troubleshooting problems using logs)

The most mundane sounding session but pretty interesting so bear with me on this one. The demo by Henry Rooney walked us through using LogParser http://technet.microsoft.com/en-au/scriptcenter/dd919274.aspx. This a free Microsoft tool that basically puts a SQL queryable interface on lots of different Windows & SQL event logs. Being able to use SQL to search for the text “Failure” across Application, Security, SQL Server & Cluster logs is a lot better than manually sifting through the Windows event logs for strange looking events around the time something broke. Even better – you can automate this and get it in a daily report.


Lunch was spent with 11 MVPs discussing all things SQL Server while eating the largest apple I’d even seen.  Questions were asked about Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW) as Matthew Winter was there (My notes on his presentation at Microsoft a few months ago:https://uxcpsim.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/parallel-data-warehouse-sql-servers-big-brother-presentation/ ).  Most discussion was a bit DBA-ish for me but it did strike a chord when there was mention of the difficulties of trying to track down performance issues on a shared SAN. I think a lot of people in the room may have had a little cry at some stage over that.


3rd Session: The Incredible Shrinking Execution Plan

Back in developer territory, Rob Farley suffered a gargantuan bout of demo-laptop-fail but managed to get back on course to show the evils of using table valued functions. Summary: these execute per row so are slow where-as in-line table value functions are set based and can be fully utilized by the query optimizer. See a related article here: http://blog.waynesheffield.com/wayne/archive/2012/02/comparing-inline-and-multistatement-table-valued-functions/

Mental note: if you are writing a view that has a begin and end statement you probably need to reconsider what you are doing.


4th session: Event notifications for the proactive DBA

Seeing as how I normally work in development databases with no DBA coverage to speak of, having another free tool to help figure out why the application has just stopped working is always good. Martin Catherall  walked us through using the built in SQL Server Event Notification mechanisms with Service Broker to enable asynchronous handling of events that are placed on a queue. Getting told when deadlocks happen and disk space runs out is valuable not just on production environments.


There was a lot of information to digest in just one day but a great opportunity to stay ahead of the game technically and do some quality networking. If you can’t make the regular user groups in the city during the week then this is a great way to get all that content all in one hit.


Power BI Presentation with Chris Webb

It’s always nice to have world class acts down here in sometimes sunny Melbourne, especially if you can have a chat with them after the gig. I missed out on that earlier in the year with Aerosmith but made up for it by going to see world renown B.I. specialist Chris Webb present on the future of Microsoft’s Power B.I.

He covered the following topics:

  • Power Pivot
  • Power Query
  • Power View
  • Power Map

I had taken a couple of clients along to the presentation and they were especially interested in Power View & Map  (not just the free pizza & beer MS put on)  as the nature of their business was geographically sensitive and the way postcodes could be looked up automatically into geographic co-ordinates to enable mapping of customers metrics impressed them. Power Map Video


There were a fair oohs and aahs from the room as the camera flew around the 3-d objects being generated on top of Bing maps. Good stuff but not the bread and butter of your average data worker.

Chris recommended this video as a good Power BI demo – it’s actually pretty watch-able as the presenter keeps things moving quickly across all the products & manages to squeeze some classic pop & rock references in there.

Power Query stood out for me as very interesting if not 100% usable yet as it can search for data sets to download/purchase from within the UI. This is great in a demo but without a dazzling array of available data sets, only great in a demo. I found it hard to think of a lot of businesses that would find useful data sets on the open market that don’t have access to them already.

Power View as it has done for a while now, looked like a very visually pleasing & usable dashboarding solution especially now the mobile version has arrived. I know several clients that would kill to have their favourite charts/KPIs available on the go. Not everything quite works yet, some functionality is still outstanding but when complete (HTML 5 version) it will be the kind of thing that offers the people that sign cheques a lot more than an automatically emailed spreadsheet.


As Chris is not a MS employee he doesn’t have to sell anything so he has some refreshingly honest view on the product.

As I’ve said here before, Microsoft is (very wisely) building on the familiarity and ubiquity of Office and in particular Excel, so while Power BI might lack some specific features, customers will want to use it because they already have Excel skills and don’t have to learn something completely new. Why pay a large amount of money for QlikView or Tableau licenses if you’re going to move to Office 365 anyway and everybody already knows Excel?…

There are a lot of “ifs” here though, and the current mess of Office SKUs and licensing could strangle it at birth… read more…

The necessity of having an Office 365 license for some of the cloud components was what Chris was referring to in that last comment. This will be a sticking point with larger enterprises that take years to get onto the latest version of software but less so with smaller companies that upgrade tactically and will see immediate benefits from the per user/per month licensing model of Office 365.

All in all a great non biased presentation of the new tools which wasn’t just tech demos but a dialogue about the usefulness & drawbacks of the product as well as it’s fairly impressive feature set.