July 21, 2015 — Go inside PASS Summit 2015 session in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this interview, Allan Hirt takes us inside his Pre-Con, “Advanced SQL Server Availability Architectures and Deployments”.

Q: Who is your favorite super-hero, and which SQL Server or BI super-power do you hope your session will give attendees?

Allan: When I grew up and started collecting comic books, I was more drawn to the DC characters, specifically Batman. He is a guy who is a mere mortal, yet can outwit and has the strength to stand up to people who have powers that could literally crush him. I think that is the challenge a lot of DBAs and IT workers face. We are given some parameters and limitations and have to make magic happen. More often than not, we can. I think we are at our best when we think outside the box.

Q: What’s your origin story? How did you become interested in working with data, and how did you take that initial interest to the expert level?

Allan: During college, I was an intern at SQL Solutions in Burlington, MA; it was bought out by Sybase while I was there. So I started using SQL Server in the pre-Windows days—I even remember helping someone install Windows NT 3.5. My internship was with the QA folks, so testing has and continues to be intrinsic to what I do. But the obvious link from then to now is the fact that I was exposed to relational databases so early. I have always been more interested in the infrastructure side of things, even before my internship (which involved that stuff). But I was lucky in my career path to be exposed to things like clustering fairly early into my career, which clearly had a profound impact on who I am today.

I would say that to become an expert, the key to success is to follow your passion and keep learning. You will hopefully have good mentors along the way. Do not be afraid to fail or make mistakes.

Q: What’s your favorite data solution’s secret power—the biggest strength that most people don’t really know about or use to full advantage?

Allan: The Windows platform has a lot of cool things that are prevalent in the non-SQL Server world, such as Scale Out File Server and Windows’ native ability to use RDMA. Such things could be used for SQL Server but are not. If DBAs understood what lies under the hood a bit more, I think we would see more innovative solutions. I will be talking a bit about those kinds of things throughout my Pre-Conference session, “Advanced SQL Server Availability Architectures and Deployments”.

Q: What about data’s biggest kryptonite or nemesis--the biggest mistake you see data professionals make?

Allan: The two biggest mistakes I see are:

· Not understanding what it is you are implementing. That leads to a lot of assumptions and bad decisions in architecture, which ultimately results in bad solutions.

· Not doing the basics well. You cannot have a good availability solution if you are terrible at, say, backups. If you start from a solid foundation, your chances of succeeding at the more advanced stuff increases significantly.

Q: What still excites you or trips you up in the real world when working with SQL Server or BI?

Allan: There’s plenty that can trip all of us up, expert or not; too many things to list. That said, I think that because SQL Server is such a deep and broad product, there is some aspect of it for nearly anyone who is interested in databases, whether BI or relational. That by no means equates to queries and data itself. Sure, I’ve done a lot of that over the years, but the infrastructure side is a whole other aspect of SQL Server that many people do not dabble in—but is immensely rewarding.

Q: What do you see as the next step after attending your session?

Allan: I truly believe that people learn better by doing than by just seeing slides and demos. As with my Pre-Con session at Summit 2014—which sold out, so don’t wait to register this year; the number of students is capped—everyone will get hands-on experience via lab exercises designed specifically for that day. Each attendee will access, via a browser, their own set of virtual machines (VMs), which simulate a full working environment (domain controller, cluster nodes, and so on). I know many attendees will want to try the labs again and will most likely not have time during Summit to do that, so my plan is to provide access for at least a few days post-Summit so that you can do them again back home.

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2015 speakers.