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Thomas LaRock's Articles

SQLRally: A Chance to Inspect and Adapt

After running three SQLRally events, both in the US and overseas, the PASS Board feels it’s the right time to step back and re-examine our SQLRally event options in the US. Orlando, Dallas, and Sweden have all been well supported, community-oriented, and successful events, but we’ve observed that the North American SQLRally events, compared to the international one, are more resource intensive for PASS.
So instead of charging ahead with the next SQLRally in the US, we want to take some time to review the model and determine what will work best going forward. This means no US-based SQLRally event will take place in 2013.

It is important to note that SQLRally is not going away. The event is modeled differently overseas and is so far working very successfully and efficiently. We hope to learn more from the international model with SQLRally Nordic taking place in October. We are also planning one or two more international SQLRally events in the upcoming fiscal year.

In the meantime for the US, our widely popular SQLSaturday events—40+ events in 2012, several with pre-conference days—are cropping up everywhere and giving members ample chance to improve their SQL Server skills in person. And, along with a review of the SQLRally model, we’re actively investigating other types of US-based event opportunities.

As always, we welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.


The New PASS Community Connector

Welcome to the new PASS Connector. Over the years we have received a lot of feedback regarding how PASS communicates to our members through the use of this newsletter. What you are looking at today is our latest effort at responding to that feedback. Besides a new skin this updated version of the Connector has some key features that you may not notice right away. I want to take a moment to explain some of the features that exist today and some that will be rolling out very soon.

  • The Community news section is in a distinct section, as well as the SQL Server product news. This makes it easier for readers to discern what information they are consuming.
  • After many years of using a basic email marketing tool we have partnered with ExactTarget to help us bring you your local news and in your own language. We expect to have this feature rolling out by the end of April.
  • The new design allows for more dynamic content, making it easier for us to update sections of the newsletter but also the skin itself. So if we wanted to make some minor changes we will be able to do so without it being a laborious process.

The use of ExactTarget will also make it easier for us to send out targeted emails for events such as a SQL Rally. This was something that PASS has been needing for a long time. It is also one feature that I am really excited about as it will also allow for PASS to do deeper analysis of our membership to make certain we are providing the very best services that our members are asking for.

As always we welcome your thoughts. Please let us know what you think of the new design. We value all feedback.

Thanks for reading, and welcome!


PASS Board Appointments - additional explanation

Recently the PASS Board of Directors confirmed the appointments of James Rowland-Jones and Kendal Van Dyke to serve the remainder of one year terms that had been left vacated. This action has caused some members of the PASS community to question the methods in which members to the Board are appointed.

The current process is as follows: The President puts forth a recommendation, the Board discusses, and, the entire Board votes. Typically the pool of candidates for an appointed seat comes from the candidates that were not elected and this year we also had the opportunity to consider a current advisor (Rowland-Jones) to the Board as a candidate, an option not available previously. 

It is not the case – as some community members have stated in the last couple of days – that the next highest vote getter in the PASS election is automatically asked to serve for an appointed Board seat. I know this because in 2007 I fell 13 votes short of winning a seat in the general election and was not asked to serve a vacant seat for 2008. That honor went to Pat Wright. I was disappointed, to say the least, but I knew it was the right thing for PASS. Appointments are chosen in order to give the Board the best combination of skills to be successful in the coming year. That was true in 2007, and it is true today.

For these most recent appointments, the Board had thoughtful discussions and gave careful consideration to several potential candidates and the vote was 11:1 to appoint James and Kendal. This was not an easy choice for the Board to make. As is often the case, the hardest thing to do is also the right thing to do. And this was the right decision for the upcoming year.

The process for selecting the appointments used to be done solely at the discretion of the President. It was only recently that the bylaws were altered–based on community feedback–to have it go before the Board as a voting matter. In acknowledgement of some of the questions and concerns we’ve been hearing, I will ensure that some time be set aside during the next Board meeting (in two weeks, in Seattle) to discuss a method or process to properly address community concerns over Board decisions – maybe we can look at some type of PASS Ombudsman role to fill that need. Happy to hear about any other suggestions you may have. Leave comments below or email me your thoughts at


Enhancing First-Timers’ Summit Experience

I attended my first PASS Summit in 2004. Why did I go? Because of two words: professional association. I wanted to grow my professional skills as a DBA, and I knew that meant more than just technical knowledge. I knew I needed to join a network of like-minded individuals where we could learn and grow together.

The first morning there I met Pat Wright (blog | @SQLAsylum). Well, more like he met me, as he lumbered over and sat down at my table during breakfast. We ended up attending Kimberly Tripp’s (blog | @KimberlyLTripp) pre-conference seminar together and met Allen Kinsel (blog | @sqlinsaneo) there. The three of us hung out together all week, sharing meals and talking about our shops. We came to the Summit knowing nobody but were fortunate to have met each other. We left the Summit and stayed in touch, returning the next year, and every year since.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that many of our first-time attendees arrive at the Summit knowing nobody. They meet no one, they eat alone, they leave, and we don't see them again. How do I know this? Because every year, we have roughly 800 people at our Summit for the first time. If those 800 came back every year, we would be over 7,000 attendees by now.

Clearly, we need to improve our customer retention. That's what led me to think about putting together an Orientation Committee (OC) to help first-time attendees get connected, share experiences, and learn from each other. I believe this will translate into more repeat attendees, which will result in more knowledge, more sharing, and better growth opportunities for everyone.

We launched the orientation program for first-time Summit attendees last year at PASS Summit, and we are doing it again this year. That means we need Summit alumni to volunteer to serve as "Big Brothers/Sisters" for a group of new members – and we need new attendees to sign up to participate.

We are thinking most groups will have about 9 people (8 newbies and 1 alumni). The Big Brothers/Sisters will help the first-timers feel welcome, introduce them around, help facilitate discussions, answer questions, etc. The alumni volunteers will be in contact with their assigned group well ahead of Summit and ideally will arrange a meeting with their group before the Welcome Reception. In case that is not possible, we are going to reserve a room at the Convention Center so that all Big Brothers/Sisters can meet with their groups just prior to the Welcome Reception

If you are interested in serving as a Big Brother/Sister, drop us an email at And if you are attending the Summit for the first time and want to participate in the program, I encourage you to sign up – just email Watch for updates on Twitter as we finalize the details, and participate in the discussion by using the #sqlpass #firsttimers hashtags.

See you in Seattle!
-- Thomas LaRock


Upcoming 24 Hours of PASS

We are four weeks away from the next 24 Hours of PASS event, and the registrations continue to mount. I have participated in all four 24 HoP to date and each one holds a special memory for me. But when all is said and done this coming event has the potential to be my favorite of the bunch.

Past 24 HoP events have been focused on giving viewers a preview of PASS Summit content. The event last Spring was focused on SQL 2008 R2. This event is not a preview. Instead it is simply full of SQL-goodness and I can't wait for it to get started. I'll register, and likely watch, all 24 sessions so it would be hard for me to pick a few favorites that I want to see next month. But here goes anyway:


Tools for troubleshooting performance issues. Best practices around troubleshooting methodology, SQLDiag/PSSDiag, SQL Nexus, Profiler/Trace, and PerfMon. Narrow down a performance problem & focus on where to spend your time.


"Code sins" are those things we do to our code that make stored procedures wish they’d never been created. Learn common code sins that make it difficult to read, support, run and extend.


There are some truly awesome ways to make your data do just what you need it to do, while improving performance and/or readability. Come learn new-school ways to expand your T-SQL repertoire.


This in-depth session covers the internals of indexes including index filtering and partitioning. Walk away with a better understanding of indexes, which is helpful when designing and tuning databases.

If you haven't taken a moment to visit the 24 HoP website and register, what are you waiting for?


PASS Summit 2013

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog at]

As some of you are aware, the PASS Summit for 2013 does not yet have a home. We have already sent out an RFP to roughly 15 cities. At the most recent PASS Board meeting we narrowed the list of cities down to five. I am not able to name those cities at this time, as we have asked those five cities to prepare their final  numbers for us to review. We expect to have those numbers in about a month or so at which time the Board will call for a vote and we will select a city.

Even though this decision is weeks away I have been spending a good amount of time trying to figure out what would be the deciding factors for me to support a Summit in one city versus another. My short list is as follows:

  • Microsoft support (in terms of employee attendance, not in terms of sponsor dollars)
  • Location to a safe, walkable downtown (ideal for networking and socializing)
  • Easily navigable conference center (you don’t need to walk for 20 minutes to get from one end to the other)
  • Affordable hotels
  • Affordable dining
  • Airport hub (need to minimize travel for all attendees)
  • Length of travel time to and from Summit

Those are the ones that immediately come to mind. Please let me know if you feel there is something else to consider, I am certain I am forgetting something.

In addition to the list of considerations I also need to weigh the importance of each. So, which would have more weight, affordable hotels or Microsoft support? Maybe being a downtown is better than having affordable dining? I don’t know I have the answers. But I do know that the more people I talk with the more I find that everyone has a different focus. Some people want a city like Seattle strictly because of Microsoft being there in full force, while others are tired of traveling to Seattle every year (myself included).

It is not an easy decision for us to make and I wanted people to know and understand it is on our minds now, well in advance of the decision. If you want to provide feedback in the comments below, please do.



Grab Your Seat

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog at]


I could not have said this better myself: 

Denise was able to summarize everything we are trying to accomplish with the next 24 HOP event. If you have not yet submitted your abstract you should consider doing so, and before the deadline of next Friday.



I Need More Women

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog at]

While sitting at the WIT lunch during the PASS 2010 Summit it was mentioned that the percentage of woman MVPs overall was less than the percentage of WIT in general. With my thinking cap engaged I had a crazy idea: why not do the next 24 Hours of PASS and feature only women speakers, and do it in March ( which also happens to be women’s history month). I turned to the person sitting next to me on my right and asked a simple question: “Do you think I should do this?” That person was Jen McCown (blog | @midnightdba) who said “yes”, then paused to reflect, and then said “HELL, yes”.

I then went about engaging various members of the SQL Community to get some feedback on the idea. After about two weeks we had an outline for the next 24 HoP event and there was much rejoicing. But we have some other work to do first.

The current 24HoP structure doesn’t work anymore, it just isn’t transparent enough. Even as I put together the last event I knew that changes needed to be made. So here is what I would like to see done.

The call for abstracts has gone out already. (If you have an abstract in mind or have suggestions for specific speakers or topics, send us an email at Deadline for abstract submission (max 250 words with a 125 word bio) is January 14.) That part was easy. The next part is not as easy: how do we get the Community involved in selecting the sessions and speakers?

Right now the 24 HoP Committee is actively working on how to implement this change. My current idea is to use UserVoice and have voting open for about a week after the deadline for abstracts is complete. What I would like to do is find a way to have people vote once for a list of speakers (with no mention of abstracts) and also for a list of abstracts (without knowing which speaker submitted the abstract). I feel that by doing so we would have an idea of not only who the Community wants to see speak, but what they want to hear. We would tally the two lists and come up with 28 speakers (24 and 4 alternates).

I will be the first to admit that I have no idea if this is the best way to get the Community Choice done, but it is the only idea we have on the table right now. And it is also the reason I am writing this blog post: if you have suggestions, please send them along. Drop us a note at and tell us your suggestion. The 24 HoP Committee will be spending the next four weeks trying to find a way to let the Community decide the sessions for the next 24 HoP and we don’t pretend to think we have all the right answers.




Mr. LaRock Goes To Washington

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog at]

Well, technically I think we would just call it Virginia, but I am speaking this weekend at SQL Saturday #61. My talk is ‘Performance Tuning Made Easy’ and you can read a little bit more about it here.

I am always trying to find ways to help people who are new to MSSQL to understand the basics and give them a solid foundation to build upon. Performance tuning is hard for a lot of people because there is little to no structure put around the idea of performance tuning. My talk helps to give some structure where none previously existed.

I even spend some time going over a process to help anyone (newbies and veterans) have some structure when trying to tune a particular query. I borrow the SQL Diagramming method from Dan Tow and summarize that into a 12-step process. Why 12 steps? Because every other program I have entered has 12 steps so it just seemed natural. In my mind I wanted to create a process that anyone, no matter how many years of experience, could follow and have the end result be a step in the right direction. I’ll give you the rundown:

  1. List all tables in the query (what??? I don’t start by examining an execution plan? NO! you need some details first in order to be efficient in your tuning process)
  2. Gather rowcounts for each table (yeah, you’ll need this. I see people who dive into execution plans only to come back later to ask ‘how many rows in that table anyway?’, so do yourself a favor and get the info first)
  3. Find all filters (get info on the JOIN and WHERE clause of the query, list out the columns used)
  4. Calculate the selectivity (remember the rowcounts? good. now using the info from the filters, figure out how many rows are being returned from each table. So if we have an orders table with 12,000 orders but we filter to only want 3,000 of those orders, then our selectivity is 3,000/12,000 or 0.25)
  5. Gather info on any additional columns used (look in the SELECT clause for this)
  6. Gather info on existing keys and indexes (some newbies may not have any idea about this stuff but now is the time to learn. Dive in and make certain you are aware what exists currently)
  7. Examine the execution plan (finally! go ahead and run the query and examine the execution plan, use SET STATISTICS IO ON and SET STATISTICS TIME ON as well, you’ll want those numbers)
  8. Record your results from step 7 (otherwise how would you ever know if things are getting better?)
  9. Adjust the indexes for tables with the lowest selectivity first (by ‘lowest’ I mean the tables that are closest to zero from the calculation in step 4)
  10. Rerun the query and examine the results and execution plans
  11. Rinse, lather, repeat on each table in increasing order by selectivity
  12. Continue onward, reducing your logical and physical reads (you can focus on logical reads, ideally you wouldn’t have any physical reads. now is a good time to remind you that this is simply a process to help people get some structure around performance tuning, it isn’t meant to be something that is infallible for each and every query in existence)

That’s right, you need to examine the other DUI (Deletes, Updates, Inserts) statements that are hitting those same tables. If you are working with tables that have lots of modifications being done then adding the additional indexes could hurt performance in other areas. Oh, sure, your query may run better, but you would have hosed someone else. And while I have come across MANY developers that don’t care about anyone else except their own performance I am here to tell you as a DBA it is your job to stand up and make certain that you help maintain a performance balance for all users, not just one user and one query.

I hope to see you this Saturday!


Upcoming Changes to 24 Hours of PASS

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog at]

Last week I told you that I would let you in on what changes we have in mind for the 24 Hours of PASS event. Well, today is your lucky day!

At the PASS 2010 Summit I was asked by our President, Rushabh Mehta, to focus on the 24 HoP event for the first part of 2011. This event has become so popular that it is now a dedicated portfolio for a PASS Director at large (namely, me!) Rushabh and I sat down to talk about where the event is heading and we both agreed on where it needs to go.

Last year I realized we needed to make changes but was not able to get them implemented in time. Before our next event I want to make certain we get a few things rolling. First, lets talk about the four areas that needs to be re-thought:

  • Platform – do we stay with LiveMeeting, or go with a different platform for the event? A new platform means we would have to incur some costs.
  • Format – do we go back to one day and 24 hours, or stay with the 2×12 format?
  • Speaker selection – this needs to be done as a community choice, no question, and I have some ideas.
  • Sponsors/ads – in addition to selling some title sponsors we need to think about selling slots to vendors (“this hour sponsored by Confio” sounds nice)

Rushabh and I also agreed that the event itself needs to be driven by the Community and less than from a BoD member. To that end I am putting together a committee of three trusted people to help ensure we can transition the 24 HoP into the hands of the Community. My selections for the committee were based upon their proximity to myself last week, combined with their current country of origin. So, for Europe I asked Charlie Hanania, for North America I asked Jorge Segarra, and for Australia I asked Rob Farley. All three have agreed to serve. It is my hope that once we get through the four items listed above we will be in good shape to announce the theme for the next 24 HoP event.

Just to be clear, the committee will be leading the event. My role will be to help steer them through the next year and two events and for future BoD members to provide oversight only. It is very important to me that this event be placed into the hands of some respected Community members, as that will ensure it continues to be a successful vehicle for spreading the good word of PASS in the future.




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