Today I had the pleasure of talking with Kevin Kline, writer of the Tool Time column here at SQL Server Magazine and current President of the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS). This year’s 2007 PASS Community Summit is being held in Denver, Colorado September 18–21 and is expected to draw at least 2,500 attendees from all over the world. Even though last year the summit was hosted in Seattle and well-attended by Microsoft, including a keynote from Steve Ballmer, this years registration could possibly exceed last year’s record breaking crowd. Of course, being from Colorado, I’m thinking this is a perfect place to host the Summit.

From Kevin’s perspective, some of this year’s highlights include the new partnership PASS has created with the SQL Server Customer Advisory Team (SQLCAT) at Microsoft. Under the guidance of Mark Sousa, SQLCAT specializes in implementing the most challenging customer database applications across the globe. They work directly with Microsoft customers doing some of the most challenging and unusual things with SQL Server. SQLCAT is doing a mini-track on SQL Server 2005 that includes customer presentations and case studies. This is a great chance for attendees to meet members of SQLCAT, share their ideas, and seek advise about solving their particular problems. PASS is planning to continue this next year where SQLCAT members can share some of the first real live experience with SQL Server 2008. This mini-track is available to anyone with a full conference pass.

Another highlight is having a large number of SQL MVPs in attendance. If you have questions about SQL and want to talk to key experts with great depth of knowledge in both product and implementation areas – you should definitely check out the SQLounge.  Sponsored by Microsoft, the SQLounge is a casual area where you can visit with Microsoft developers, Microsoft MVPs and Industry experts to work through issues or to pose your really tough questions.

Microsoft keynote speakers don’t provide previews of their presentations, but Kevin’s speculating there should be a least ‘some cool new announcement’. One keynote will be given by Bill Baker, general manager of Business Intelligence (BI) applications for the Microsoft Office Business Platform team at Microsoft. So, we might hear something about the impending release of Performance Point. Kevin believes that with Bill’s previous work in the SQL team (Analysis Services, Reporting Service, and Notification Services) there will be positive alignment with the Office and SQL groups. Another keynote speaker is Ted Kummert who replaces departing Paul Flessner. Kevin is very interested to hear the direction and strategy Ted plans to take with the SQL Server group.

We also discussed how PASS has struggled with knowing how to service the Business Intelligence professional.  The BI professional, in contrast to the traditional DBA and developer, draws more from the business side of the house.  Kevin says it’s been harder to reach into that group and know what they’re looking for. His hope is that providing an emphasis on BI in the current PASS tracks, will help answer the community’s current questions and draw this new BI professionals into the existing SQL Server community. SQL Server is a very mature product in the market, whereas BI is a much younger product area with a large growth potential.

I did ask Kevin his thoughts on the uptake of SQL Sever 2008. Kevin’s been speaking to user groups across the globe over the last six month’s and is surprised with the slow uptake of 2005.  Kevin estimates users groups in early 2007 reported about 15% of attendants had migrated, increasing to about 30% around mid-year. Now he says the ‘show of hands’ is closer to 60%. Kevin says, “User group attendees are really questioning what to do about 2008.  If I were a Microsoft sales rep, I’d be wondering who is going to buy 2005 between now and 2008 RTM. And, why should I upgrade to 2005 if I don’t have a pressing need.” On the other hand, he does see and increasing momentum in organizations migrating and thinks more people will migrate to 2005 before moving to 2008. 

While Kevin is a big fan of Microsoft SQL Server, he has concern that the two-year release cycle Microsoft has adopted will create a lot of leapfrogging of releases by the SQL community (migration from SQL Server 2000 to 2008). It’s going to take some convincing by Microsoft that this two-year release cycle is really good for SQL customers. Kevin cautions Microsoft of adopting an attitude that all technology is good, new technology is better, and you should upgrade as soon as you can. “Many organizations aren’t willing to upgrade when they have stable applications that are working. Organizations tend to take a more conservative attitude of change, especially when things are working.”

Our reader feedback certainly seems to confirm Kevin’s opinion. We’ve received an overwhelming response from readers who think it’s too soon for another major release of SQL Server. (See more reader feedback in the October issue of SQL Server Magazine.)

A few last notes on some of the trends we might be seeing in the coming year. PASS is holding a pre-conference session on MDX, with the belief there’s a ground swell of interest in MDX from both the traditional DBA and developer audience, as well as the BI audience. This MDX track responds to the needs of Excel experts in trying to hook into the data warehouse and data marts and the DBA or developer using MDX for internal projects. The popularity of this track will determine whether or not additional tracks are included in next year’s program.

So, if you aren’t already registered for this year’s Summit and you’re still thinking it might be worth your while, consider these additional highlights. Microsoft is running a series of SQL Server Focus Groups at the Summit – this is an excellent opportunity for you to participate in defining priorities for the next generation of offerings!  Pre-registration for these sessions is required – to register click here.

The four focus groups offered (first come, first served basis) are:

  • Database Administration:  Productivity and Services needs.   Wednesday, September 19,  11:30 a.m. – 1:30 pm (lunch provided)
  • Enterprise Information Management: Business ETL, Master Data and Metadata Management needs. Thursday, September 20, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 pm (lunch provided) 
  • Business Intelligence Administration: Tools and Advanced Analytics needs .  Thursday, September 20,  4:00 – 6:00 pm (refreshments provided)
  • Information Lifecycle Management:  Security and Compliance needs.  Friday, September 21,  11:30 a.m. – 1:30 pm (lunch provided)

There’s a great opportunity for you to do some performance testing with your own cubes and queries. The Analysis Services team is hosting a lab to compare Analysis Services query performance on SQL Server 2005 to 2008 with your own cubes. Performance is one of the themes of Analysis Services in and early build of SQL Server 2008. Bring your cubes, queries and MDX questions into the lab and see how things compare.

This year’s Women in Technology lunch celebrates it’s fifth year.The topic of the event is: Women in Technology: Reaching Our Goals.  Panelists include Sharon Dooley, Lara Rubbelke, Andrea Schneider, and Buffy Ransom. I attended this last year and really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to several of our readers in a very personal setting. It’s a great place to network, find a mentor, or make a new friend. Be sure to save some time to check out the Exhibit Hall during open hours and don’t miss the Exhibit Hall Reception (Wednesday, Sept 19 from 6–8 p.m.).

Looking forward to PASS’s 2008 Summit, the Summit will return to Seattle and anticipates a strong participation from Microsoft experts in the area. PASS is also planning a European event in April 2008. Details and pre-registration will be available at this year’s Summit.

On a final note, Kevin will be ending his term as President of PASS in January. He has been with PASS through it’s formative years and looks forward to seeing the next leaders take PASS forward. We wish Kevin the best and extend a big thanks for all his service to the SQL Server community.

Hope to see you at the SQL Server Magazine booth where our regular author, Michelle Poolet will be actually servicing readers, answering design questions, and being her engaging self. It’s also likely you might run into some other members of the SQL Server Magazine family at our booth including, Itzik Ben-Gan, Kalen Delaney, Allan Hirt, Stacia Misner, Brian Moran, Andy Kelly, Douglas McDowell, Michael Otey, Erin Welker, and more. Stop by, say hello, give us your feedback, and enjoy the 2007 PASS Community Summit.

-Diana May

Sr. Technical Editor