By Art on October 8, 2011

SQLBits9 – ‘Query across the Mersey’ was held in the majestic Adelphi hotel. This was my first SQLBits experience and was fortunate enough to be able to attend all three days. I was not disappointed! Walking through the main door and up the stairs into the main conference hall, I could see that the hotel was steeped in history. Huge open rooms with high ceilings gave you a sense that this was going to be a bit special. The first thing to greet me, other than the guys dealing with registrations, was the smell of bacon and eggs! Fantastic breakfast buffet and to be honest, the food throughout was plentiful and top notch.

Thursday was a training day and although there were a number of great sessions on offer, I was ultimately torn between two of them. The first was Mark Rasmussen’s dive into the depths of the MDF file. This fascinated me as I knew that Mark had been working hard on the OrcaMDF project and had spent months reverse engineering the MDF file. The second session was Maciej Pilecki on controlling and optimising execution plan compilations. After much thought, I had decided to go to Maciej’s session as I felt that I could probably apply more to my day to day work and I could go and see Mark doing a deep dive on the Friday.

The daylong session on execution plan compilations was simply out of this world. Maciej is an MCM and although I had thought that I was fairly handy around a SQL server, Maciej (and the other speakers) are in a different league. I aspire to being an MCM in a few years time, but a day spent with Maciej showed me just how much I need to learn to just get in touching distance of being an MCM. I was able to briefly catch up with Maciej during the Friday evening entertainment whereby he gave me a good subject matter to blog about which I hope to do in the run up to Christmas. The early bird cost for the Thursday training was £250 which I think is an absolute steal. I had three good quality meals, unlimited coffee/water throughout the day and evening entertainment with a live band. I didn’t actually stay at the hotel and instead chose to stay at a Travelodge about 15 mins drive away. On reflection I wish that I had stayed at the hotel now to get that extra bit of time in bed in the mornings!

Friday started with me shaking off the mist from the previous night with a good bacon roll and strong coffee before sitting down for the opening keynote – Appliance Roadmap. The session no doubt would have interested the architects/DBAs more, but it was still interesting nevertheless. Then it was onto the first of two sessions before lunch. The first one that I choose was Simon Sabin‘s ‘Performance tuning from the field’. Great session and well balanced to get the grey matter thinking. The second session for me was really hard to choose as I wanted to go to three of them! The ‘READPAST & Furious’, ‘Around the world of query operators’ and ‘MDF internals’ all sounded great but ultimately I went for the Marks ‘MDF Internals’ as I sacrificed that from the training day. Mark started the presentation and he immediately stated that the session was to inspire and not teach! He wasn’t wrong. The session was delivered at a fast pace and seeing a glimpse of how he used a hex editor and battled against a limited amount of documentation to reverse engineer the SQL MDF file was brilliant.

Lunch time was here and after a quick plate full of good food, I headed into the Quest’s ‘Horror stories’ session for some light hearted humour. The session was actually mainly stories from the audience which made some of them hard to hear so I would have liked to hear more from the presenter. But nonetheless it was pleasant being in one of the few rooms with some kind of air conditioning. It was starting to get very hot outside and the hotel was starting to absorb that heat to make some of the smaller rooms without air conditioning that bit more uncomfortable.

Anyway, two more sessions to go before the Casino night and the first one was one that I was really looking forward to. This was Gert Drapers session on what SQL could learn from NoSQL. Many of us are feeling the pressure from application developers and others that NoSQL is just better and it scales and queries are faster blah blah blah. Sure there are a number of NoSQL vs SQL articles on the web but ultimately most are biased either way. This session was good as Gert explained why the NoSQL movement has gathered some serious pace and why some of the features are seemingly better than what SQL can offer. The session carried on to show how these design patterns of NoSQL could be applied to SQL with a little bit of thought.

The final session of the day was James Rowland-Jones giving a session on Fast Track Data Warehouse & Fragmentation. I believe that a few people were struggling during this one as it was in one of the smallest rooms and by now the heat levels were getting really high. Even so, it was still a good session as internal fragmentation is probably not something that many of us really strive (or want) to deal with. The session ended with James remotely logging onto one of these fast track servers and running a query that scanned 300 million rows in a couple of seconds! A great way to end the day.

A nice cold pint was next on the agenda before heading into the evening entertainment which was a James Bond themed night with a collection of casino games. Everyone was given a number of play chips and there was a sideline competition to get the most number of chips by the end of the evening. I had fun playing a bit of poker, but I didn’t have any intention of trying to win the competition as I was enjoying having a drink and a chat with the many people there. At around 9.30pm though I decided to burn the rest of the chips that I had at the poker table and head back to the hotel. But, for some strange reason, the dealer just couldn’t get a hand and I ended up doubling up my stake on nearly every hand. The one time the dealer did get a hand, a pair of jacks, I still beat it with a pair of queens and I had a huge stake in the pot. Then time was called, so out of the blue, I had won the completion by quite a margin and with it a limited edition xbox was now mine. Fantastic!

Saturday started very early for me as the first session kicked off at 8:10 and it was one that I didn’t want to miss – Database unit testing with Anthony Brown. Anthony went through a database project in Visual Studio and showed how developers can quickly and easily create unit tests for their databases whist writing very little if any C# code.

I went over to see Milos Radivojevic session on TSQL performance recommendations next but I must admit I was finding it hard going now. What with the session being oversubscribed with delegates (many were sat on the floor) and the heat levels rising quickly, I did struggle to maintain concentration. I was a bit gutted actually as the effects of the past two days were kicking in. The early mornings/late evenings, the heat and if truth be known, probably one or two too many beers, I had over-indulged in the conference. I guess that I just enjoyed myself too much.

I had always planned to leave the Saturday after the lunch time exhibitor session to make the 3 hour drive back to Milton Keynes but I decided to bring this forward and hit the road early. Shame really as I was really up for seeing Gerts other session on project Juneau and Thomas Kejser pushing the limits. Hopefully the videos will be available from these sessions and others soon so that I can put my feet up and enjoy SQLBits9 all over again whilst eagerly awaiting details of SQLBits10.

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