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PASS Summit 2011 promises news, networking, instruction

PASS Summit 2011 for SQL Server professionals is just around the corner, and expert Denny Cherry gives a sneak preview of what’s in store.

The PASS Summit 2011 is quickly approaching and this year’s Professional Association for SQL Server conference is gearing up to be the best yet. The session lineup is studded with top-notch SQL Server professionals speaking on everything from data warehousing in health care to professional development. Oh, and Microsoft might have a few things to say, too.

The summit is a three-day blitz of training and professional networking with some of the best independent educators in the business. If you’ve never attended the PASS Summit before and you work with SQL Server on a regular basis, you’re missing what is probably the best training opportunity available. There is still time to reserve a spot and get to the Seattle conference (Oct. 11-14), so stop sitting around and go register already.

Yes, there will be some pithy announcements from Microsoft; as for what those are, I can’t say. So for those of you itching for the latest on Denali, the next version of SQL Server, or SQL Azure, Microsoft’s cloud database platform, I counsel patience.

I know that lots of others are headed to sessions on self-service business intelligence (BI). If you have BI in your shop, this is something you should spend more time looking into. Businesspeople today want to be able to dynamically build reports on the fly without having to bother (or wait for) IT to do it for them. These talks will teach you to leverage your existing BI systems to make everyone happy.

In fact, BI is so hot today I am devoting a session to it. It’s  a three-hour talk co-presented with author and BI guru Stacia Misner. Together we’ll examine the impact the BI process has on the production online transaction processing and data warehouse engines, including a quick rundown of the BI process for IT folks who don’t normally work in the space. In another session, I’ll discuss data encryption, examining the various ways to encrypt data within your application.

There are tons of other meaty topics to tuck into. This year there are around 170 sessions presented by more than 100 speakers, so you’re guaranteed to find subjects that interest you.

Quest Software’s Kevin Kline is leading two sessions this year. In the first, Kevin and longtime PASS regular Buck Woody, of Microsoft, will discuss the ins and outs of SQL Azure. In his second talk, he’ll explore ways to catch problems as they appear in your database environment. He’ll also lead a panel discussion with eight other SQL Server experts on career management lessons learned over the years.

Jason Strate, a database architect at Digineer, will be on hand to talk about the plan cache, the repository for execution plans, and how to use the XQuery language to browse and search. He’ll also present on using the event-handling system SQL Server Extended Events to work smarter, not harder. During the talk, he’ll count off the ways to get detailed information on the errors and events that happen within the SQL Server engine and how to dig into the information that Extended Events can provide.

SQL Server MVP Jessica Moss will be at the summit as well, examining issues that come up when building a data warehouse in the health care industry. She’ll also delve into the underlying data behind SQL Server Reporting Services that enables administrators to track problems and get notified before receiving phone calls from management.

For first-timers, here’s how the PASS Summit works. Content is broken down into six tracks. These are enterprise database administrator and deployment, database and application development, BI platform architecture, development and administration, BI information delivery, professional development and SQL Azure. You don’t need to stick to a single track to get the most of PASS Summit 2011, however. Pick sessions that interest you, not just those that align with your job description; you’ll learn things you can use when you get back to the office.

Here’s one thing that I can’t stress enough: If you go to a session that doesn’t match what you’re looking for, go find another one. Be respectful, but don’t feel bad about it. People leave sessions all the time.

The PASS Summit is also one giant networking opportunity. There’s a special two-hour workshop Tuesday with networking specialist Don Gabor. You’ll need to shell out $70 to attend, but from what I’ve heard from people who have attended in the past it is well worth it. Also on Tuesday, there is a first-timers orientation and networking discussion. Afterward, there is a welcome reception, where you’ll run into attendees, speakers and sponsors.

Another event is the “Monday Night Networking Dinner,” put on by Microsoft MVPs and bloggers Andy Warren and Steve Jones. There is no cost to attend, but you’ll be on the hook for food and drinks.

Gatherings will continue after hours (and before hours) all week in Seattle. You can find out about a lot of these on the PASS Summit Events website. If you don’t attend one of the formal after-hours events (some are invite-only, so they aren’t listed on the site), head down to the Sheraton hotel bar or to the Tap House Grill. There are almost always chatty PASS Summit attendees at both haunts.

As you move around the week of PASS Summit 2011, check out the Twitter feed by searching the #sqlpass hashtag. People will be talking up a storm on that hashtag, and most importantly, you’ll find out where people are going after the sessions. If you don’t have a Twitter account, check a Web browser instead. But if you set up an account, grab one of the Twitter apps for your phone. You don’t need to be tied to a laptop to see where all the fun is. If you are flying in from outside the U.S., pick up a data plan for your phone or make friends with a stateside person so you’ll have Twitter access on the go.

And don’t forget the most important thing about the PASS Summit: If you are spending the night sitting in your hotel room, you are doing it wrong. 

Denny Cherry is an independent consultant with more than a decade of experience working with Microsoft SQL Server, Hyper-V, vSphere and enterprise storage systems. A Microsoft Certified Master and MVP, Cherry has written books and technical articles on SQL Server management and integration. Check out his blog at SQL Server with Mr. Denny.

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