In addition to the two key things I picked up on at SQL Pass I also wanted to put together a more detailed trip report with a bit more detail.
The SQL Pass Summit 2010 conference was well run with an audience that is focused on Microsoft SQL Server. The attendees were mostly SQL Server DBAs and all of the sessions were pretty technical from what I saw. There were about 3000 attendees which is much smaller than the 40,000ish that were at Oracle Open World - but this conference is just for a single product, where Oracle Open World is actually the conference for Oracle DB, Oracle Apps, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Java, and the many others that Oracle has in it's portfolio.
I arrived on Sunday evening so that I would be there early Monday morning when the conference started. I found out when I checked in a registration that Monday was a pre-conference day. This meant that while there were sessions going on all day, you had to pay extra to attend them. So I ended up working from my hotel room for the morning and then working from the very nice hotel lobby lounge in the afternoon. The moral of the story is that SQL Pass has a pre-conference to the conference. (There was also a post-conference day as well!)
On Tuesday I attended the opening keynote address which was very interesting. Ted Kimmert from Microsoft talked about the next version of SQL Server - codename Denali. Skip to about the 80% point in the keynote and watch Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Amir Netz. Very good demo and presentation. Amir manages to make managing a billion rows fun.
I then ended up spending the rest of the day in the VMware booth talking almost non-stop about virtualizing SQL Server. Just about everybody was already doing some amount of virtualizing on vSphere and many had virtualized most of their SQL Server databases. So the conversation usually centered on what SQL Server databases had not been virtualized yet. These tended to be big and performance sensitive database instances. This is where Storage I/O Control comes into play to be able to give these high performance databases a higher priority in terms of storage. This is a big deal and gives a virtualization admin the ability to configure a VM to be able to support performance intensive database the storage performance it needs.
I also did quite a bit of talking about how important it is to understand exactly how the storage is configured and deployed for the SQL Server VM. Mis-configured or under sized storage is the primary reason that I see for poor performance with SQL Server. After some analysis of the storage configuration it usually tuns out that the SQL Server data is on the same physical disk spindles as a bunch of other stuff (file servers, web servers, dns servers, etc). While this sharing of disks works out great in many scenarios, it can lead to a disaster with databases if there are not enough IOPS to go around. The solution to this is to get to know your SAN and/or virtualization admins better. Get them to understand that your storage requirements are more than just capacity in terms of gigabytes. The number of IOPS and disk latency are important to ensuring good performance.
On Wednesday morning at 6:45am I was on panel with Brent Ozar, Donny, and Wanda He to answer questions on virtualizing SQL Server on vSphere. Brent acted as the panel moderator and also answered most of the questions and generally did a great job (even though he was wearing a kilt!).
I spent some more time in the booth on Wednesday. There was some discussion even at SQL Pass about Oracle change in their support stance for Oracle RAC. I also talked to several DBAs about the perfmon counters that are added by VMtools to allow for more transparency in CPU and Memory usage for the VM from the vSphere ESX server level. These counters give information that will indicate if they are in contention for resources with other VMs on the same host. When having a discussion with the virtualization admin (or analyzing the performance if you are the virtualization admin) these perfmon counters are very useful.
I also went running every morning before the conference. I ran down Pike street to the famous Pike Street Market. One day I turned north and ran next to the water on sidewalks and pedestrian/bike lanes. There was an incredible view of the mountains through a few clouds as the sun was coming up. But it was kinda cold and windy running right next to the water. So the next day I turned south at the market and ran down to the where the Seattle Seahawks play on Sundays. Cool to see the stadium. Even though it was cold (and just a tiny bit rainy one day) I would highly recommend running down in this area of Seattle if you get the chance.
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