SQLBits 7 Conference Report

I am finally back home after an excellent but exhausting trip to SQLBits 7 in York, where we attended the Friday and Saturday sessions. It was a very friendly atmosphere and it felt great to rub shoulders with the many leading lights of the SQL Server community who were in attendance, and even chat to some of them. And the grub was delicious too. I can only apologise for the dreadful sound I made at the after-conference party whilst playing ‘Beatles Rock Band’.

Friday started well when we stumbled into a room serving full cooked breakfasts, and only later did we realise these were intended for people staying overnight at the York campus. With considerably fuller bellies, we headed into the conference. My colleagues and I were looking to cover all the BI related talks, so we split up to make sure we didn’t miss anything.

First off I really enjoyed a talk about how to automate SSIS by Andre Kamman, which gave me some good ideas for using those techniques on our own projects.

Next was a tour of some new SSRS 2008 R2 features by Chris Testa-O’Neill, which also showed off some of the things that can be achieved with maps, shapes and layers. This was followed up by a tour from Chris Webb of the DAX language, which is part of PowerPivot in Excel 2010- something that is bound to be of growing importance and use in MS BI.

Then came lunch, which was, as I have already mentioned, really tasty. I wasn’t sure which lunchtime session from the sponsors I wanted to go to- I had thought I’d go for Attunity since CDC is of interest, but I plumped for Quest Software and quickly realised I had made a good decision. Led by Kevin Kline and Iain Kick, the session was entertaining, funny and gave some good insights too, helped along by special guests Buck Woody and Brent Ozar.

I then headed into a session about high scale data warehousing, which unfortunately was aimed a little bit over my head. The day finished on a more understandable note in a talk from Sascha Lorenz which covered much the same material as Andre’s talk at the start of the day, but applied to the whole MS BI stack.

There was beer and pizza after the last session, huge Connect 4 and Jenga, table football and Xbox video games, and some prize giving which rounded off the day excellently.

We were hoping for more of the same high standards on Saturday and we weren’t disappointed. An excellent explanation of mapping in SSRS 2008 R2 from Robert Edgson was followed up by some SSAS best practices by Ashwani Roy. I carried on with the SSAS theme by visiting Andrew Baker who shared his 25 years of experience in OLAP and in doing so gave us a unique perspective on the OLAP field.

At lunchtime I again chose the Quest talk, which this time was in the form of a quiz, and was just as hilarious as the Friday.

The afternoon was comprised of a well thought through and inspiring talk from Rob Farley (all the way from Adelaide), followed by some great best practices and guidance from Darren Green, which will be very useful for anyone looking to build framework packages in SSIS.

Elsewhere I heard rumour of heated discussions about visualisations and pie charts, of all things. I hope people can re-assess pie charts as a visualisation worthy of inclusion in useful reports, and so I am here sharing my favourite example:

After the conference there was more partying and chatting with fellow attendees- unfortunately we missed out on the rather fetching orange beanbags that were on offer. But a good time was had.

On the BI front several of the talks covered similar ground, which was useful as we gained different perspectives on the same topics, such as mapping and automation of the BI tools.

I’d heartily recommend SQLBits to anyone working with SQL Server- roll on SQLBits 8!

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