Some of the biggest news from PASS this year revolved around a joint announcement by Microsoft and Dell introducing a new range of reference server configurations for BI and Data Warehousing.
Three systems will be offered, with each including a database, analysis and reporting server, running off Dell PowerEdge hardware. Each can be configured with either 1TB, 2TB, or 4TB worth of Dell PowerVault disk storage, and will ship preconfigured with SQL Server 2005, Windows Server 2003 and other BI software.
Microsoft General Manager of SQL Server Tom Casey mentioned during an interview at PASS that these configurations should help customers take the guesswork out of assembling an optimal platform for BI. Both Casey and Dell Spokesperson Andrew Hargett explained that these new packages are designed to make selecting a BI solution more straightforward.
"These new configurations don't require customers to learn new skills to solve their BI problems," said Casey. "This makes BI easier to deploy and will speed up initial adoption of BI capability.
Microsoft's presence at the show was significant, including a massive booth in the main expo floor and a large, bus-sized vehicle parked outside the convention center entrance. Microsoft developers were also featured in many breakout sessions and talks throughout the event, underscoring Microsoft's support for PASS and the SQL Server customer community.
SQL Sentry Proves Popular with PASS, SQLNitro Accelerates Network Performance
Speaking of supporting the event, database application provider SQL Sentry took that concept literally and announced that PASS had selected SQL Sentry Event Manager to manage their SQL Server enterprise, which is hosted by MaximumASP.
"The growth of our organization's membership and several new technology initiatives have placed large demands on our underlying enterprise," said Rushabh Mehta, Director of Technology for PASS, in a written statement announcing the SQL Sentry product selection. "SQL Sentry Event Manager allows our DBA team at MaximumASP to see, understand and manage SQL Server more efficiently than the native tools. The PASS organization then invests that time savings on the more strategic tasks of serving the growing SQL Server community."
Another provider of SQL Server utilities present at PASS was DBA 24 Hours, which was demonstrating DBLaunch 2.5 and SQLNitro 2.0 at their booth. DBALaunch lets DBAs automate and standardize many of their deployment and maintenance activities, while SQLNitro optimizes data on the network going into and out of SQL Server databases."
According to DBA 24 Hours Product Manager Bob Boule, SQLNitro manages to achieve those goals by optimizing the TDS protocol. "The native network protocol may transfer one
packet of 4096 bytes into one TCP buffer," explains Boule. "SQLNitro can pack more than a dozen packets in a single buffer, which greatly reduces files sizes."
Boule also indicated that SQLNitro relies on an adaptive compression technology that can sense whether compression would be usable in each instance. "SQLNitro will turn itself when it can make a positive change, but it's also smart enough to turn off compression when it encounters uncompressible data."
SQL Server and Virtualization: A Good Match?
One of the most well-attended sessions at PASS was an expert panel discussion hosted by Quest Software called Virtualization and SQL Server in the Enterprise. Quest Software Vice President Billy Bosworth introduced the speakers, which included PASS President (and Director of Technology for the SQL Server Solutions Group at Quest Software) Kevin Kline; Microsoft's Matt Hollingworth (Senior Program Manager on SQL Server); Allan Hirt (Consultant and Author); Ron Talmage (Co-Founder of Solid Quality Mentors); Scott Herold (Vice President of Product Engineering for Invirtus); Darren Bieniek (Global Practice Manager for Microsoft SQL Server at EMC Corporation); and John Paul Cook (a database and system architect).
Most of the discussion revolved around how virtualization could best be used with SQL Server, and all agreed that virtualization was a good choice for backup, disaster recovery, testing non-critical systems and development testing.
All the panelists had reservations about using virtualization in conjunction with live, transaction-level SQL Servers, but a good percentage of the audience didn't agree: a good number (by show of hands) were already running their production SQL Server environments on top of a virtualization solution. While most of these attendees seemed to fall into the SMB category, it was clear that virtualization will continue to have an impact on how SQL Server is used and deployed.
The panelists remained more conservative in their approach to virtualization, and suggested that the modest performance hit involved in running SQL Server with virtualization still made them reluctant to endorse its use on live, production and clearly critical SQL Server installations.
"Note that this is the answer that we're giving this year," said panelist John Paul Cook. "Come back to PASS next year and some of our answers may have changed."
Look for Technical Director Michael Otey's take on SQL Server and Virtualization in the December 2007 issue of SQL Server Magazine.