SQLBits 8 Agenda Published

The agenda for SQLBits 8, taking place in the UK in Brighton on April 7th-9th, has now been published:

I’m speaking on the Friday – a session on scoped assignments in MDX – along with many other SQL Server experts from around the world. If you’d like to come you’ll need to register quick though, since we’ll be full soon!

Don’t forget there’s also our new event, SQLBits Insight, for CIOs, technical architects and senior IT decision makers taking place on April 7th too. The big draw is the opportunity to meet Steve Wozniak but we’ve also got some great speakers from Microsoft too, covering topics like consolidation, virtualisation and Parallel Data Warehouse. It’s a great opportunity to show the top people in your company, or your customers, all of the cool new stuff in the world of SQL Server.

SQLBits Insight

This week, the SQLBits committee (which I’m a member of) announced our new event: SQLBits Insight. It’s aimed at CIOs, architects and other senior technical decision makers who are interested in finding out what’s new in SQL Server and how it can help their business. Although it will be taking place on the first day of SQLBits, on April 7th at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, it’s a separate event and very different to anything we’ve done before since it’s aimed at a completely new audience for us.

We have got an amazing line-up of speakers for it:

  • Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and Chief Scientist of Fusion-io.
  • Guy Lucchi, CTO of CSC
  • Mark Souza, head of the SQLCat team at Microsoft
  • Ross Mistry, an Enterprise Architect for Microsoft in the Silicon Valley
  • Richard Tkachuk, ex of the SSAS team, now a program manager on the Parallel Data Warehouse team

Topics covered during the day will include private clouds, handling big data with PDW, new storage technologies and more; there will also be a reception afterwards where attendees get to mingle with the speakers, including ‘the Woz’ (as apparently we should refer to him). For full details on the speakers, the agenda and how to register, go to http://insight.sqlbits.com

We’d also really like to get your help to make it a success. If you’re a fan of SQLBits it would be great if you could forward details of SQLBits Insight on to any senior IT people that you know who might be interested in attending. After all, if they come back to the office enthused about what they’ve seen it might mean some juicy new projects being started which you’ll get to work on…

Steve Wozniak will of course be sticking around for the evening to dole out the prizes at the Crappy Code Games, so if you want some free food and booze and a picture of yourself with the great man to make all those Apple fanboy friends of yours weep, then don’t forget to register for it. You don’t need to take part in the games if you’re feeling shy – you can just watch – but of course if you do that you won’t win anything!

Steve Wozniak comes to SQLBits 8!

Today, the SQLBits committee made a really big announcements about SQLBits 8: we’ve got Steve Wozniak coming! Yes, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and tech industry legend will be coming by virtue of his current job as Chief Scientist of our platinum sponsor Fusion-io. If you want to meet him and have the chance to win some seriously cool prizes, you’ll need to come to one of a series of events we’re running in conjunction with Fusion-io called “The Crappy Code Games”, a competition where DBAs and SSIS developers will compete to write the worst-performing code possible. There will be qualifying events in Manchester on March 17th and London on March 31st, and the third qualifier as well as the grand finale will be in the evening of April 7th at SQLBits in Brighton. Prizes include:

  • Gold: A hands-on, high performance flying day for two at Ultimate High plus Fusion-io flight jackets
  • Silver: One day racing experience at Palmer Sports where you will drive seven different high performance cars
  • Bronze: Pure Tech Racing 10 person package at PTR’s F1 racing facility includes FI tees, food and drinks.

…plus iPods, Windows Mobile phones, X-box 360s, t-shirts and much more.

If you want to take part you’ll need to register, and since places are limited we suggest you do so fast; it’s also worth bearing in mind that you’ll have a better chance of reaching the final if you go to the London or Manchester qualifier. For registration for the games and more details (and to kill some time playing a cool retro game) go to: http://www.crappycodegames.com/. Note that registration for the games is separate from the main SQLBits registration.

UPDATE Simon has a lot more information on the event here: http://sqlblogcasts.com/blogs/simons/archive/2011/02/08/what-are-the-crappy-code-games-the-background.aspx

Analysing SQLBits 7 Data, Part 1: Session Selections

As I’ve said before, I’m involved with the organisation of the SQLBits conferences here in the UK and at the moment the SQLBits committee is busy preparing for SQLBits 8 in April (make sure you come – it’s going to be great!). This eats up a lot of my spare time – spare time that I usually spend blogging – so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and blog about some of the BI-related stuff I’m doing for SQLBits (I’ve done this before but there’s plenty more mileage in this subject). It turns out a lot of the things SQLBits needs to do requires classic ‘self-service BI’: solve a business problem as best you can with whatever data and tools are to hand. It’s good to see things from the end user’s point of view for a change!

First of all, let’s take a look at scheduling: how can we make sure that we don’t run two sessions in the same time slot that are interesting to the same type of attendee? If attendees are put in a situation where they are forced to choose between two sessions they want to see they won’t be happy – we want to be able to create a schedule where there are as few difficult choices as possible. Unfortunately we don’t collect data about which sessions attendees actually go to, and even if we did it would be no use because of course by the time the session runs it’s too late to fix the agenda. However, well before the conference we allow people to vote for the ten sessions out of all those that have been submitted that they’d like to see (voting has just opened for SQLBits 8, incidentally), and we use this data to help us decide which ones make it onto the agenda; we can therefore use this data to help avoid overlaps.

This data can be visualised very effectively using NodeXL. To do this, I ran a SQL query on the SQLBits database that gave me every combination of two sessions that had been picked by the same user, so for example if a user had selected sessions A, B and C my query returned the pairs A-B, A-C and B-C. This gave me my list of edges for the graph and for the size of the edges I used the number of times the combination of sessions occurred, so I could see the most popular combinations. Unfortunately with 107 sessions on the list and thousands of edges, I got something that looked like one of my four-year-old daughter’s scribbles rather than a useful visualisation, so I decided to filter the data and look at one session at a time. Here’s what I got for my session ‘Implementing Common Business Calculations in DAX’:


Still not great, but at least with the thicker lines you can see where the strongest relationships are and when you select these relationships it highlights them and the nodes on either end, so you can read the names of the sessions. I then realised you could use the ‘dynamic filters’ functionality to filter out the weaker relationships, making it even easier to pick out the strongest ones:


So we can now see that the strongest relationships were with the sessions “You can create UK maps with SSRS 2008 R2” and “Data Mining with SQL Server 2008”. I’m still getting to grips with NodeXL which, I have to say, I like more and more and which deserves more visibility in the MS BI world.

Anyway, since this is a basket analysis problem I also thought of using the Data Mining Addin for Excel, but since I have Office 2010 64-bit I couldn’t. Luckily though the nice people at Predixion do have a version of their addin that works on 64-bit, and they gave me another eval license to use on my data. Getting useful results out of Predixion turned out to be ridiculously easy: I just copied the raw data into Excel, clicked the ‘Shopping Basket Analysis’ button on the ribbon and it spat out a pair of nicely-formatted reports. The first shows ‘Shopping Basket Recommendations’, ie if you select one session it recommends another one you might like:


And the second shows the most commonly-occurring ‘bundles’ of sessions that were picked together:


It almost feels too easy… but I think you can see that the results look correct and to be honest it’s much easier to do something useful with this than the NodeXL graph. When we close the voting for SQLBits 8 I’ll repeat the exercise and hand the results over to Allan, who’s in charge of speakers, and he’ll be able to use them to put together our agenda for Saturday April 9th.

SQLBits 8 Registration Now Open

We’ve just opened registration for SQLBits 8, which will be taking place in Brighton (in the UK) on the 7th-9th April. Full details can, of course, be found on the SQLBits website at http://www.sqlbits.com/ and you can register here.

It’s going to be a full three-dayer, and we’ve got loads of amazing stuff planned for it that we can’t talk about just yet, but there’s still plenty we can say publicly. For example, for anyone interested in Microsoft BI on the pre-conference seminar day we’ve got Marco and Alberto on their SQLBI methodology and Thomas Kejser on optimising the MS BI stack amongst other things (though not me this time). Also, take a look at the list of sessions that have been submitted – there’s some great stuff there too. It’s the SQL Server event of 2011 in Europe, without a doubt (especially since it doesn’t look like there will be a PASS European Conference this year).

Hope to see you there!

SQLBits 8–Beside the Sea!

The dates for the next SQLBits have been announced: it’s going to be on April 7th-9th at the Grand Hotel in Brighton (for those of you outside the UK, Brighton is a very cool town on the south coast of England, very easy to reach from London and Gatwick Airport). More details, as always, are to be found at http://www.sqlbits.com/

We’ve also posted most of the videos from SQLBits 7, which are available to view for free from the SQLBits site at the link above. Stay tuned for more announcements about the exciting stuff we have planned for Brighton!

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