Farewell, Sony Vaio

Today is a bittersweet day for me. No, it’s not because my class in London is concluding (more on that in an upcoming post). Today, Sony announced that they are selling the Vaio division. While it looks like the company buying it, Japan Industrial Partners Inc., will pick up some of the business and people (I guess somewhat like when IBM sold their PC division to Lenovo), it is the end of an era.

Before you say, “It’s just a PC, Allan,” I have a sentimental relationship with Vaios. I’ve also had a love-hate relationship with owning them, too. The first laptop I truly lusted after was the Vaio TR as well as the still enviable X505 which was thin before thin was even cool. It’s still a wonder to behold. My first Vaio (which I still have) and UMPC was the U70P (see Sony’s old site in Japan here) 10 years ago. It’s still, like the X505, a marvel (I’m using its keyboard with the Tap 11 today). It was certainly ahead of its time and to this day remains one of the favorites of any laptop I have ever owned. Heck, one of my music players – the VGF-AP1L – was Vaio branded. It sounded great and had this cool touch interface, and it had a color screen which was unusual at the time.

Since then I have owned a VGN-SZ90 (which I wrote Pro SQL Server 2005 High Availability on), a VGN-Z90 (the Z that kicked off the modern line) which boasted one of the first proprietary RAIDed SSD configurations, two Gs (my favorite ultraportable PC ever if I was honest with myself), the Vaio Duo 11, a Vaio Pro 13, and finally, the Vaio Tap 11. [As an aside, I love how Sony has maintained all of those old sites ...]

The Z90 and the Pro 13 were really the only ones I never bonded with in any way. The Pro 13 I would argue is still one of the best ultrabooks made but I didn’t love the keyboard; as someone who does a lot of writing, that was an issue. Sony unfortunately these past few years couldn’t always deliver the specs I wanted – enter the Panasonics I’ve owned from Japan.

Sure, Sony’s laptops could be expensive (especially if you ordered them from Japan as I often did; the Pro 13 and Tap 11 are from the US, though). They had one thing most PCs did not have: a bit of style. The Japanese models – until recently anyway – had higher specs or different options you couldn’t get outside of Japan … but they offered US keyboards. The U70P, SZ, Z, and Gs were all Japanese. Think about your average ThinkPad – black, square, businesslike – boring. Do they do they job? You bet, but when one wants their laptop to look a bit better, outside of Apple, people thought Sony. In fact if stories are to be believed, Apple wanted Sony to run OS X.

While my daily driver is not the Tap 11 today, I will always have fond memories of some of the marvels Sony produced when it came to laptops. When you see a boring Lenovo, Dell, or HP, remember what Sony once gave us. Sometimes unusual, often flashy, not always practical, but they did some cool stuff. Rest in peace, Sony Vaio.

Wherefore Art Thou Mission Critical SQL Server Book?

Hello everyone. As we are closing in on the end of 2013, I wanted to update everyone on the status of my new book Mission Critical SQL Server which you can find all of the information about here. If you haven’t figured it out, the book is not done. My hope was to have everything done by the end of this calendar year (2013). I put this on the order page which I will update in the next few days:

NOTE THAT THIS IS A PREORDER. THE BOOK WILL BE DELIVERED LATER IN 2013.

I could sit here and make 1,000,000 excuses like nearly two months straight on the road from mid-October to mid-December (Charlotte for PASS Summit 2013, Australia, Seattle, Washington D.C., and Chicago for example), customer work, and so on, but the reality is that doesn’t matter to you. You want the book especially if you preordered. I truly am sorry it’s not done, but believe me when I say my intentions were paved with gold. The truth is I need to sleep and eat and at times, not think about SQL Server. You may not think so, but I find it incredibly difficult to write when you’ve just spent 8 hours delivering training. My brain needs a break. That said, things are back on track and I’m in the final stages of finishing another chapter which will be uploaded for those who purchased the Alpha content, with many more started or in flux and will be delivered over the next month or two. The book is not dead, it’s very much alive and well.

What I am now shooting for is to be content complete by about mid-February and then things will progress from there. Remember that it’s not just as simple as me writing; I have reviewers and then there’s incorporating comments and editing. Finally, I need to take all of the final raw product and make it pretty (indexing, production ready, etc.). I’m shooting for late Q1 of 2014 as a new target date. It may be slightly later than that but I don’t anticipate it being outside of that scope. I’m gunning hard for it. Self publishing is not easy, folks. The first one is always the learning curve and I’m in the first speedbump phase.

There is some upside to all of this: you’ll get more Windows Server 2012 R2 content and depending on when SQL Server 2014 releases, that will be the first set of updates (assuming you subscribed to them) post-RTM. It feels weird saying RTM in context of a book, but that’s what it is: a milestone.

I also realize that those of you who were early adopters and bought the updates or Alpha content to date may be a bit disappointed. I know that, and for that I apologize. When you see the Alpha content I hope you’ll be pleased. As for those who purchased the updates, don’t worry. I’ll take care of you. You’ll see an e-mail from me soon if you purchased that option.

So that’s the update. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come.

The SQLHA University Backstory

Hello everyone! Long time no speak. Now that I’m back from Chicago and delivering my last class for the year, I can catch up on quite a bit – including working on the book. I know I’m a little behind on that but I promise it will be done soon. I’ll give more updates on that soon in another blog post; this one is about something completely different.

It’s no secret I do a lot of training and public speaking; I always have. I wanted to get into the online side of things but because my training is not your garden variety stuff, I did not just want to do something quick, down, and dirty only to regret the results later. There is a lot of great SQL Server training out there, and I definitely did not want a “me too” kind of thing, either. The genesis of SQLHA University, also known as SQLHAU, started in the fall of 2012. I had just converted my 3-day Mission Critical SQL Server class to a 4-day with labs. Not just any labs, mind you – I went for broke and did something stupid. I crafted it so that one of the labs (the one for clustered instances of SQL Server) had three different levels – Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. Everyone I’ve talked to over the past year has said to me I’m crazy for doing it, but think it’s cool.

Why did I put all of that extra work on myself? Well, if you’ve ever taken some classes there is just one lab for everyone. Yet within one class, everyone is at a different spot. Advanced users may be bored, and newbies overwhelmed. So I came up with a way to get students to the same point but taking different paths. I’m really proud of that work. The problem, however, is that it depended on physical hardware. That has been the crux of my pain for the past year – everywhere I’d deliver it despite giving out minimum requirements, the experience was always different.  Setup sometimes was a nightmare. I needed to find a better way, which is how all of this started.

The logical step was to find somewhere online to host the VMs. Azure or Amazon EC2 are not the answer; I needed somewhere that got the ‘training’ side of things for labs. Lo and behold I found a company who specialized in this in the springtime of 2013. I only initially looked at it as for my labs, but it was a platform that could do more. I was impressed with the demos I saw, but timing was not right to go forward then. I wanted to get the work done by the Melbourne and Sydney classes in October and November but that also wasn’t meant to be. I finally got things all squared away for the delivery of Mission Critical SQL Server last week in Chicago. Before unleashing this on the world and as part of a bigger initiative, I wanted to use it in a real setting with students to see how they would like it; they loved it. I also needed to get the branding just right (see the logo below). Needless to say, here we are with the announcement of SQLHAU.

SQLHAU

SQLHAU logo

Why do I care so much? First of all, the training platform I chose will allow us to deliver not only labs, but on-demand as well as live training or seminars. We own all of our own IP (which is important to me), and there are lots of things the platform gives us that we can grow into and expand our offerings. One of the key differentiators with the platform we chose is that the labs for most – but not all classes depending on how complex they are – can be made available to students after they walk out. That is a huge advantage. Potentially labs could be available for up to six (6) months after the class. I can also provide students with ongoing learning such as new labs and scenarios we could never cover in a 4-day class. We’re sorting out how all of that will look like for our classes and what those types of options will cost (and trust me, they’ll be reasonably cheap), but imagine starting out as Beginner and over time working your way up to Advanced. Also, forget about setting up your own virtual environment – this one is done for you already. It’s an incredible advantage. The possibilities are nearly endless with this capability available to us. Heck, I can do a hybrid in-class and online delivery. Look for a lot of innovative hopefully coming from us through SQLHAU.

As we were developing the SQLHAU concept, I thought, “Why not let others be part of it, too?” We’re not territorial over here at SQLHA; there’s plenty of room for everyone out there since people learn differently. I figured why not start by inviting others who want to put great stuff out there and love to teach. Hence us inviting our friends Denny Cherry (blog | Twitter) and Grant Fritchey (blog | Twitter) who most of you know and love already. We’re also working with others to get them on board as well, but I think that’s a pretty fantastic start. It’s not going to be all high availability classes, either :) First up will be Grant’s course on backups which we’re planning on having labs as well. I can’t wait to see what he does!

If you couldn’t tell, I’m thrilled to finally let the cat out of the bag. We almost did it at PASS Summit in October, but everything didn’t line up right for that to happen. Good things come to those who wait.

What classes would you like to see at SQLHA University? Who else would you like to see under our SQLHA University banner? Let us know either by contacting us or in the comments below.

CONTEST! Win A Seat To Allan’s Mission Critical SQL Server Class in Chicago

We here at SQLHA had a chat and we decided that besides what we already do already, we want to give back to the SQL Server community at large. We started somewhere and people gave us a helping hand – we’d like to do the same and pay it forward. That’s why we decided for selected deliveries of my in-person Mission Critical SQL Server class we put on, we are going to give away one seat to a lucky winner … and we’re doing it for Chicago from December 9 – 12.  Classes like the upcoming London one (and Australia which I just finished) would always be out of scope since those are not put on directly by SQLHA. Remember that there is still a discount (see the link above) for the Chicago class if you want to outright purchase a seat (and I encourage you to sign up!).

If you don’t win for Chicago, don’t fret – we’re looking at the 2014 calendar now and scheduling additional dates in the US and maybe Canada. Outside of North America – stay tuned.

Good luck!

The Rules

To win the seat is simple: send us an e-mail as to why you think you deserve the seat and how it would impact you. It’s just that simple. Don’t send us one sentence, or just “Pick me!” We also don’t need a tome. As I said above, we want to give back so give us a heartfelt answer as to why you should be chosen. We are not going to make you do anything outlandish or record a video (if you want to, that’s fine but we are not asking for it); we’re going to keep this simple.

Send all entries to: sales@sqlha.com with the this as your e-mail subject: Windy City Here I Come

All entries must be received by 11:59 PM Eastern US time on Friday, November 22, 2013. No extensions or amount of begging will change that.

The Fine Print

  1. One entry per person per class. Entry is only good for the class submitted. You must submit individual entries for different classes.
  2. Winners will not be eligible for a free seat in a future class and are ineligible for winning any other free SQLHA giveaway for 12 months after winning the seat in the class (excluding any giveaways in the class). If you cannot attend the class where you are chosen as a winner, you forfeit the prize. Please do not enter if you cannot attend; it is not fair to those who can.
  3. You (or your company) are responsible for all travel and expenses including, but not limited to: airfare, taxis, food, hotel, and so on. If you cannot meet this obligation for the class you are thinking of entering, please save it for one you can.
  4. Entries without the proper subject will be disqualified. Sorry.
  5. While we do not have delicate sensibilities, keep your entries clean.
  6. You are responsible for any taxes you may need to pay as a result of winning this contest.
  7. You must be eligible to win. For example, some who work in certain jobs or roles (such as some government agencies) would be ineligible. Know if you can before you enter. I apologize in advance if what you do rules you out, but we don’t want to waste anyone’s time or cause issues for you OR us.
  8. While we understand that writing is not everyone’s forte and English may not be your first language, anyone who uses text speak such as ur will be disqualified as well.

Advice for the Wannabe (International) Road Warrior

It is no secret I spend a large amount of time on the road. That means lots of hotels, airplanes, trains, taxis, and rental cars – not to mention where I wind up having to eat (more on that in a bit). A friend asked for general advice about travel internationally, but I figured what I have to say may help others, so here goes. I’m sure I missed one or two things, and I’ll indicate if I update this post.

Hope this helps some of you! I would love to hear your tips or things you think I missed … or you may not agree with.

Watch what you pack.

This goes both domestically and internationally – and covers all modes of transportation. Remember that you’re going to have to schlep whatever it is you bring. Granted, longer trips sometimes get challenging (see: Melbourne/Brisbane/Canberra/Tokyo in 2012 when I was gone for 30 days). I had two large suitcases, a smaller one inside one of those suitcases in the event I needed it later (which I did … Tokyo is always bad for my wallet), a carry on duffel bag, and the bag that had my laptop and such. But outside of being gone for a month, take only what you need. You’re only going away for a little bit; you don’t need your household. Over the years I tend to try to take less if possible. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. The one thing I do miss is playing bass, but for me, it’s just not worth schlepping something around even if it is travel friendly.

Also, the more you carry, the heavier things are. One of the reasons my back hurt years ago and I switched to lighter laptops (even with rolling cases – they didn’t solve the issue since you need to still lift it at points) was a weight issue. I have had nary a back issue due to weight in 10+ years now. I’ve done other stupid things to cause back issues, but what I carry around hasn’t been the cause.

I do recommend having comfortable shoes. You may be doing a lot of walking. I also would suggest having a pair to switch off to as well, but it’s not 100% necessary.

I do know some people that cannot live without their home pillow or whatever. That’s your prerogative to carry it around the world. I don’t need to. Other things are essential to me that others may find silly.

Do not assume where you are going has what you need if you forget something.

A key example here is toiletries. Different countries have different brands. So if you need/like/require brand ABC for your toothpaste, you may be disappointed if you forgot it. Also, if you have prescription drugs (and knock on wood, I don’t take any) or drugs you need of any kind (stomach medicines, cold pills, etc.), you may want to take some with you. For prescriptions, I would take them in the original bottle and possibly – if necessary – get a doctor’s signed note on official paper. You never know. I don’t think you need to go to that length, but how anal are you?

Redundancy. It’s not just for high availability and disaster recovery.

I’m a mission critical/high availability/disaster recovery guy. To a large degree, my spiel revolves around some bit of redundancy. The reality is that $!&% happens. Just see my recent blog post. As my demos grow (both in the sheer number of configurations as well as complexity), I’m finding that I need to have some bit of redundancy in my on the road setup. This to some degree – and unfortunately – goes against my usual “keep it light” policy. The good thing is that what it takes to be redundant today is much lighter and I can still be pretty light. For example, my new main laptop is just about 3lbs and can be an all-in-one. For Australia, I had a different setup (Vaio Pro 13 using Remote Desktop into a Foxconn AT-7700 configured with a 1TB SSD internal and 1TB SSD external along with 16GB of memory running Windows Server 2012 R2 with Hyper-V and had all my demos). That setup was just over 4lbs total. I put the Foxconn in my carry on, not in my messenger bag (but did when going onsite and didn’t have other crap in there like headphones). I can always see carrying the Foxconn around or even going slightly smaller and getting the newer generation Gigabyte Brix i7 (really I could use an i5 or i3 … i7 gives me more headroom). The main difference is that the Foxconn can use a 2.5″ drive. The Brix is mSATA; they do make one that takes 2.5″ drives but it’s only SATA II (blech).

With a setup like that as long as I have my slides on a USB stick, the small form factor PC (under 2lbs) can have all of my demos and all I need is to connect into it … or switch to it since it has HDMI/VGA/DVI out. Lightweight, portable, powerful, and redundant. Done.

Layers. It’s where it’s at.

Unless you’re going somewhere that truly has cold weather (and even then …), I recommend you think in layers and not pack a lot of bulky clothes. Bulky stuff may look nice, but it takes up a lot of room and can be heavy. When I did the big jaunt mentioned above last year, Australia was hot and Japan was not. I had to pack for basically summer as well as fall/possible early winter. If you pack things that can be worn as layers, you can shed or put on as needed. Many companies sell lightweight jackets that are warm, can zip out lining, etc. They are worth the investment. Also bring things that mix and match. If you’re only going for work, take outfits that go with a pair of shoes and you don’t need more than one pair (for example: needing both brown and black shoes if you’re a guy).

And no, I don’t do laundry. I take enough with me … in all respects.

Carry on or check?

This is always the debate with frequent fliers. If I’m traveling abroad, it’s usually for more than a week, and I may also be doing some sightseeing/buying some tchotchkes, so chances are I’m going to check a bag. When you go overseas, most airlines give even non-frequent flier passengers at least one – if not two – bags to check for free. That is a good thing. However, pay strict attention to their weight limits. The airline you fly going out may have different limits than the ones you fly overseas, and I can tell you from experience, the ones here in the US are more lenient if you are a little bit over. Overseas? Good luck trying to argue that 1 or 2 kg isn’t a big deal. I recommend buying a small travel scale (such as this; there are many others) to see where you are at. Some airlines will have higher weight allowances depending on your status.

Also be mindful of luggage size. If you are the carry on type, a lot of international overheads are smaller, so what works here in the US may not work overseas. Plus, I find the attendants before you get on the flight will scrutinize your bag size even more than in the US – especially if you are in coach. Many companies sell carry ons specifically rated to work for international flights. You may need to look into them. Size matters in other ways – as in total dimensions. If they think your bag is too big, they will measure linear dimensions and if too big, be prepared to pay (much like weight). It may be better both from size and weight (and portability) to take two smaller suitcases than one large one.

In some cases, it may be easier to ship some stuff home (this is true even domestically). For example, both Disney resorts here in the US will send your trinkets home. It’s not free, but if you bought something valuable or large (such as a picture), it may be better to take advantage of that.

Domestically, I try to do carry on especially if I’m going to be gone for a short period of time. Assuming I’m flying my preferred airline (or their affiliates), I can board earlier and I know I will get overhead bin space. However, if you are in Zone 6, don’t assume your bag is getting on the plane and get all huffy when you’re told you need to check it.

Be considerate when flying.

There are few things I hate more than the boarding process in the USA. Each airline is different which is part of the problem. But you see all kinds of rudeness and inconsiderate people. I usually sit in an aisle seat, and the amount of people who whack me in the head with nary an apology (or even fake concern) appalls me. Same goes for putting things in the overhead and reaching over me, dropping things on my head, grabbing your luggage on the way out and whacking me … you get the idea.

A little soap and water goes a long way. I’ve sat next to that person who, shall we say, had less than stellar personal hygiene. It’s really bad when it’s a loooooooooooong flight. Enough said. Similarly, don’t douse yourself in perfume or cologne. That is just as bad.

Unless you are in business or first, space is a premium. I understand for people of larger stature (mainly height), things are not all sunshine and roses in economy. But I also need my modicum of personal space, too. I’m not Mr. Big, but I’m not invisible, either. If you are invading mine (such as a 6’3″ guy whose arms go well over the armrest), it’s not fair. I feel for you - I really do - but realize it’s not all about you. We’re both trapped in the same tin can for hours so let’s make the best of it.

As kids we learned about indoor voices. Put that to use. The last thing I want to hear for six hours on a plane is you babbling at the top of your lungs. If it’s a night flight and they’ve dimmed the cabin lights – get the hint. People are probably trying to sleep.

Be comfortable, but not a schlump.

I’ve stopped counting the number of times I see people getting on planes like they just rolled out of bed and are basically in pajamas. Stop it. On a 15 hour flight, I get needing to be comfortable. I’m not saying go spend stupid money on a nice outfit, but you don’t need to be THAT lazy and roll up out of bed.

Airline clubs and showers rule.

Whether you get membership or access as part of a credit card (such as American Express), buy it, or just purchase a day pass, an airline’s club can be a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of a crowded terminal – especially if you have a long layover or time before you fly out. Most clubs have showers. I have used them on occasion and I can tell you it helps. For example, before flying out to Australia, I freshened up before 15 hours on the plane. I had been in LA all day and if I didn’t do that, it would have been nearly 40+ hours without any kind of feeling clean. And when flying back through, after the 15h flight back but before getting on the plane to Boston, I freshened up at the Admiral’s Club to get rid of the flying funk (as I like to call it). Don’t underestimate the ability to clean up and feel human.

To SIM or not to SIM … that is the question.

When traveling abroad, unlike days of yore when you used a calling card or called collect back home, as long as your cellular phone has the right bands, chances are it will work in nearly every country you visit. Always check the bands your phone has versus where you are going. For example, if you have an AT&T phone without the 3G 2100 band, it probably won’t work in Japan. Going abroad you have two main options: get a SIM card and a plan there, or use yours from your home country. That is an it depends.

First, you’re going to need a GSM-based phone that takes a SIM card. As I already mentioned, check its bands. You may even want to get a dual SIM phone to keep your existing SIM card in and you just stick in that country’s SIM card in at the same time, and you can use the one you need. Most dual SIM phones are dual standby, meaning one SIM card is active at a time. others are dual active, meaning both SIM cards can be used at the same time. Know what you have if you get a dual SIM phone. I recently picked up the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini GT-i9192 which is dual active (uses micro SIM) shortly before I went to Australia. It works great. I do not use it for data, just incase you are wondering. It’s just a phone to me.

I’m not even going to cover data because I don’t use it on my phone, but needless to say, I’m sure it’s not cheap if you try to use your domestic (wherever that is for you) cel plan abroad and you are roaming. If you need cellular data, look into plans overseas for the country you are going (such as a hotspot rental)

Prepare to be shocked at the cost of Internet in hotels.

Luckily, I have status at Marriott hotels. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it), I am close to hitting lifetime Platinum, and have hit Platinum as a regular status for as long as I can remember at this point. Worldwide I get free internet. Most hotel chains do that for upper tier folks with status. However, when I stay in a non-Marriott property where I don’t have status – especially overseas – I’m always floored at the prices. It has not been uncommon for me to see hourly pricing or capped plans (i.e. the amount of data you can send or receive). The worst in recent memory was in Canberra, Australia in 2012 – I think I spent something like $150 for a week on crappy bandwidth and capped data.  Consider this a warning to you data addicts.

Choose your headphones wisely.

It’s no secret I am a music guy. I still use a dedicated device (a Sony Walkman – the modern kind – from Japan and am eying a new one). I care about sound quality (SQ), but I also realize on the road that to some degree it’s a compromise between SQ and portability. That is a blog post unto itself. For years I went small and light with in ear headphones (not buds) also known as in ear monitors (or IEMs – think what musicians and singers wear on stage). I’ve even had custom molded IEMs. The truth is while good IEMs can give you awesome (and passive) isolation with a great seal, on longer plane rides they are insanely uncomfortable. About two years ago now I made the decision to switch back to more regular, over the ear type headphones and it’s been a quest for the right balance of portability (which includes size and weight) to sound quality tradeoffs.

When it comes to regular headphones there are two kinds of isolation/noise cancelling: active and passive (yes, I get the irony here …). Active noise cancelling uses electronics to help remove ambient sounds such as airplane engines, while passive noise cancelling relies on fit and seal to give you that isolation and reduction in sound. Active affects sound quality, while passive may not block enough sound so you need to crank the volume – which can lead to hearing problems. I like my hearing intact, so I try to listen at lower volumes. I’ve heard most of the active noise cancelling headphones (as well as quite a few of the passive ones). I have a whole thread here on head-fi.org about my thoughts. Too much to say that I couldn’t fit here and have the space there. I’m still updating that thread … more stuff after my trip next week :)

Splurge for Global Entry if you live in the USA and fly internationally fairly frequently.

If you are a US Citizen and plan on traveling abroad, I highly recommend you sign up for the Global Entry program. It speeds your time coming back through customs immensely. Some credit cards will even reimburse you for the sign up fee. Ask anyone who has it – you won’t regret it. Plus, it helps out with whether or not you get selected for TSA Pre Check on some airlines.

Find a credit card that supports chip & signature (or chip & pin) as well as no foreign transaction fees if you will frequently travel abroad from the USA.

This is one area the US is backwards. Quite frankly, our domestic credit card companies suck. In the rest of the world, they usually have a form of chip & pin, which means you insert your CC into a machine, enter a code (not unlike an ATM), and you’re done. There’s a variant called chip & signature (no pin, but you sign instead). In the rest of the world, swiping credit cards has largely become outdated and some places won’t even take credit cards without chip & pin. Try using your US credit card in a French train ticket machine. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Most countries and places do accept swipe-able credit cards, so don’t worry. But if you have an option here in the US of getting a chip & signature card (some of the companies offer it on certain ones – like American Express Platinum) as well as getting one with no foreign transaction fees (meaning every time you use it outside your home country, you won’t get whacked with a monetary conversion fee which can be a percentage of the sale or some flat rate – understand what you will be charged) may be beneficial. I used my American Express with chip & signature for the first time when I was in Australia and it worked most of the time. Rarely did I need to swipe and it made things SO much easier.

Have cash. Will travel.

Even in this day and age, many companies are still cash-based. Not everywhere takes credit cards, so wherever you go, plan on having some of the local currency with you. Major hotels and shops are usually no issue, but other places? Do not count on being able to use your card. This happened to me largely in places in Europe (Germany specifically) and parts of Japan. Some stores haggle, so cash may also get you a better discount on items in some cases.

ATMs and Foreign Countries

Most US banks (and foreign ones as well) have affiliations with banks in other countries so you can use your ATM card to get local funds when overseas. This may decrease your need to take cash to convert, but if your bank does not have an arrangement with where you draw money from, you can pay a fee. Understand what that will be. Some countries are easier than others to use ATMs. In Japan I can tell you it’s a bit harder but not impossible. One bit of advice: do not think you are super-smart and have a PIN for your ATM card that is more than four (4) numbers. I tried that once and I had major issues in the UK withdrawing money a few years back. Yes, it’s more secure but the world standard is four numbers. Keep yours four and you will not have any issues in places that accept your ATM card. Have more than four? You may find an ATM that works but it may take a bit of effort.

Inform your banks and credit card companies you are going overseas.

While some credit card companies say this is not necessary, it is. You don’t want to find the trinket of your dreams only to get declined because they earmark it as fraud. Heck, I’ve been flagged and I have called. I was at Tokyo Disneyland and got flagged (you’d think they’d know my spending habits by now, right?). I had another card on me (another tip: have a backup payment method). I called the card company after and it got cleared up, but it was annoying. And it cost me about $40 on my cel bill. Yay. Sometimes they will put you on the phone if they call it in, but this is also a case where having a cel phone can be handy.

Your bank and ATM card are more important here to deal with. I guarantee you they will most likely flag you if you try to use it overseas and have not told them.

Do your homework.

No matter where you are going, do a little bit of advance work and see what some of the local customs are – especially around things like tipping in restaurants. Knowing some local customs goes a long way. Also, do a bit of leg work to see how you are going to get around be it from the airport or where you are trying to go. Unlike a good deal of the US, most countries in Europe and in places like Japan have wonderful rail and subway systems. Some you can even buy passes before you go that make travel cheaper. For example, when going to Tokyo, I carry a book with maps of the area (this is my tried and true, but this isn’t bad and a bit more updated). If there’s someplace specific I’m trying to go I’ve never been to, I’ll print out the address in English and Japanese. The books have both so if I have to ask for help, I’ve made it easier for the person who may not speak English.

Also, know if where are you are traveling to requires you to have a visa. Get that sorted out BEFORE you leave.

DO NOT ASSUME PEOPLE SPEAK ENGLISH

This should go without saying, but I think I need to remind some people. I’ve been going to Japan since 2004 and outside of the hotel while more people are doing it, by and large people will not speak English to you. The same could be said for parts of Europe. Speaking slower or louder will NOT help the situation. Have a phrase book or a way to communicate (see: map idea) and all will be fine. If you act like a jerk, people will be less inclined to deal with you.

Be smart.

Don’t be a typical tourist or traveler in your home country or overseas. By doing things like homework, you can blend in as best as possible. Don’t walk with your passport out, just have it sitting in your back pocket, etc. Common sense rules here.

Don’t Change Your Routine

One summer, I learned the hard way on the road that it’s easy to pack on the pounds. Since then I got wise. You need to be active on the road and not indulge (too much). In the US and abroad, I try to have the same diet and not eat stupid portions (easier to do overseas where they generally don’t serve huge portions). It’s easy to let go on the road, but you will hurt if you do.

Chicago Mission Critical SQL Server Class – Grab Your Seat Today!

Hello everyone. Now that I’m back from Australia after two very successful weeks in Melbourne and Sydney delivering my Mission Critical class, I am putting the final bow on preparation for the Chicago class (December 9 – 12, 2013) at the Microsoft Technology Center. I’m very excited to bring this class back to the US (it has been nearly 18 months outside of quite a few private deliveries), and it will be the first US public class with the labs. Seats are limited, so grab yours today. Do not miss out on your last chance in 2013 to take this class! The next scheduled delivery is in London in 2014.

Need incentives? In each class we give away:

  • 5 individual licenses of SQL Sentry’s Power Suite – a $2300 value
  • An electronic copy of my new book Mission Critical SQL Server (after it is published) with a free 1-year subscription to updated content (an $85 value)

The labs cater to those at all levels whether you are a novice or have plenty of experience. This is not your average course.

Sign up at this link and use the code BLOG20 to get 20% off the price of the Chicago class.

A Look Back at PASS Summit 2013 and Two Weeks of Training in Australia

Hello everyone! Sorry it’s been awhile, but I’ve been quite busy. I’m writing this in my hotel winding down from two weeks of delivering my Mission Critical SQL Server class in both Melbourne and Sydney here in Australia. I fly back in just over 12 hours. The past month or so has been a whirlwind starting with PASS Summit 2013. For my trials and tribulations with what happened there, see my previous blog post. But what all of this means is I’ve basically been on the road (except for about three or four days) over the past month or so. It is just now I’m starting to reflect on everything since I’ve had a moment to breathe.

As some of you may have heard, the Summit scores were released to speakers today. No, I was not top 10 but my scores were definitely up from last year (yay), and given my trials and tribulations (see said blog post mentioned above), that’s no mean feat. Both of my talks could have been disasters – and they were not. Less than one point separated 200 or so sessions, so the margin of error between top of the pack and towards the bottom was very small. That also says with most people scoring a 4 or above, the quality of presentations and speakers has gone up immensely over the past few years. I consider that a good thing.

Looking at my pre-con (Plan and Deploy Successful Clustered Solutions for SQL Server), I felt the scores were very fair (all above 4) and the highest one was 4.72 (“How would you rate the speaker’s knowledge of the subject?”). It was a very Windows-centric talk (and I advertised it that way) but with a SQL Server slant which I think hurt me (comments like “I learned a lot but I was expecting more SQL.”). Love some of the comments (“Allan is enthusiastic and very clear in his explanations.”; “There’s a reason you’re a cluster MVP. You know your stuff…thanks for sharing the knowledge!”;”Allan is a great presenter. I hope he is asked to speak in the future. “), but I felt some of the criticisms of the content (basically, I tried to cram too much in one day which led to a few time management) were also fair. If I do another pre-con, I’m going to go more deep than wide. Some things I couldn’t control (“Improve the sound quality”), and some things I never really said I’d cover (“I wanted a deeper understanding of clusters. This season [sic] spent to much time reviewing basics and corporate politics and not enough time in the deeper aspects of clusters”) – it was never advertised as a WSFC internals class. Always interesting to read the comments and I do pay attention.

The spotlight session (Troubleshooting Clusters) was a bit of a riskier talk all around (but I did get a 4.93 for “How would you rate the speaker’s knowledge of the subject?”, so clearly I know a thing or two about clusters haha). That one I did say was also very Windows-centric and gave people an out at the beginning. I talked a bit about the non-tech stuff which helps in a troubleshooting effort and a lot about the setup stuff because things like screwing up your AD/CNO/VCO stuff is what causes, say, a lot of Setup failures. But it appears people wanted to see more broken stuff and how to fix that (and part of that is preventing it from happening in the first place!) as well as be more SQL Server – not Windows – centric (which is nearly impossible with AGs and FCIs …). Having done this for so long, I know why people step in deep doo doo with clusters. Someone got what I was going for (“Great session.  I agree that a dba really needs to know functions from windows, networking, storage, etc.  I see this everyday in my job.”). So did this person (“Cluster issues were well explained. Even for VMs”). But for  every one of those, I got one like this (“Did not get much info on troubleshooting ag groups on cluster as described. Lot of time spent on describing where log files are and less on content.”) Because log files (and explaining things like log gaps in the WSFC log) and how to generate them have zero to do with troubleshooting. <rolling eyes> This session is up on PASS TV – I don’t recall spending eons on it. My aforementioned woes bit me a tad more here (“Demos could have been better prepared for us.”), but I didn’t get up there and do a woe is me – I just got on with things. I even got a few comments like “Make room cooler” for good measure. There was plenty of great feedback on how I can tweak this for future deliveries, though.

The biggest problem I face with sessions like these is even though I wind up putting prerequisites, you get people who are not at that level so you have to wind up explaining some basic stuff quickly to provide context or you get dinged for them not understanding. Then you get dinged the other way (“Beginning was vague and assumed a lot.”) – well no !@(& Sherlock – it’s a 300 level session! Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. And then there is the fact that what is 300 to one person is 100 to another and 500 to someone else. You can’t please everyone. I made peace with that long ago.

Thank you to everyone who provided constructive criticism. I truly plan on using it to improve and tweak these sessions should I deliver them again.

The two weeks down here in Australia were a whole different level of preparation and work. Two four-day weeks of teaching with labs. Trust me when I say that at the end of each four-day cycle, I’m spent. But the scores were fantastic and so were the comments. I even got this one (and no, not making it up) “Best SQL training course I have ever attended.” Wow. Seriously. Wow.  I am very humbled.

What’s interesting is that in Melbourne, I had four (4!) people do the advanced FCI lab which is all Server Core and scripting, and some folks in Sydney did a hybrid of a few of the levels depending at points what their comfort level was. That gave me some ideas for tweaks to the labs. What is interesting is that I’m getting a lot of comments saying I should expand it to five days (which I will take under advisement) and now that it is over a year since SQL Server 2012 RTMed, I’m getting comments for people wanting even more availability groups content and to dial back some of the FCI stuff. We’ll see. The course has settled into a nice groove and pace, and I’m happy about that. People really seem to love it, especially the hands-on component.

Based on Melbourne and Sydney, I’m really looking forward to the upcoming deliveries in Chicago (December 9 – 12, 2013) and London (February 3 – 6, 2014) even though I am exhausted at the end of the four days; it’s a good exhaustion . For the Chicago class, seats are filling up quickly. Use the promo code BLOG15 to get 15% off to grab one of the remaining seats. Hope to see some of you at one of them because it really is a fantastic course I am very proud of. I’m also going to announce other dates for the class in 2014 hopefully sometime soon as they get solidified. We’ve also got another big announcement around training coming soon …

Before I move on from Australia, I want to thank Peter Ward and the crew over at WardyIT for bringing me to Australia both last year and this year, as well as the staff over at Saxons Learning Solutions in both Melbourne and Sydney for all of their assistance in getting the rooms and PCs set up. It would have not been a smooth couple of weeks otherwise.

The book is kicking into high gear so you’ll hear even more about that soon as well. Should be content complete (or close) before the end of the year – fingers crossed.

I’m going to go get some sleep after packing, but I’m excited about what’s coming down the pike! It certainly does not hurt that I have a job I love where I get fantastic opportunities like these.

Even If You Are Prepared, *&%$ Happens

Good morning from the last day of PASS Summit here in Charlotte, NC. All in all, it’s been a great week but it has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me. Why? Let me explain.

I got in on Sunday and we had our first company meeting with Max on board. Since Ben lives around here, it made a lot of sense to do it pre-Summit. After we were done and I was in the hotel room, I went to tidy up some things in VMs I had done for demos as well as for the upcoming Australia classes in a few weeks. I was going to hand off the drives here since the guys from WardyIT were going to be at Summit. So far so good.

Then I plugged in the drive – a Mushkin 480GB mSATA SSD in an external USB 3.0 enclosure.

Dead.

I discovered this late Sunday night and did all I thought of to try to resuscitate it. I made sure it wasn’t my computing devices, since I had a new Samsung 840 EVO 1TB SSD (nice drive BTW – super fast)  in an external enclosure as well as the two external Touro 500GB 7200rpm drives to give to Wardy and a Patriot Supersonic 256GB Magnum USB 3.0 flash drive. All said and done, 2.75TB of external storage, and 1.25 in my machines for a total of 4.0TB of storage (most of which is full at this point, sad to say). The VMs I needed were only on that SSD which worked fine the day before. I powered down, unplugged, and just put it in my bag.

What did I do? Well, after a few hours of trying, I went to bed. I knew deep down that the next few days were going to be long, so some sleep would be needed. I got up around 9AM on Monday and started redoing all of the VMs I needed for my pre-conference session on Tuesday. We also had a SQLHA party Monday night, which given where I was, turned out to be a bit problematic personally. I did show up for a bit (Ben and Max were there, so it was OK). I finally stopped working on VMs at 6:30 Tuesday morning, got showered, delivered my pre-con, and just collapsed after. When all was said and done, I was up for approximately 36 hours. On Wednesday morning, I got up and worked until about 4:20 in the afternoon for my 4:45PM spotlight session. On Thursday morning, luckily the Patriot had older versions of the lab VMs and I just used those to do what I needed to do to hand off the Touro drives to Wardy last night.

They say never let them see you sweat, and that is exactly what I did. I sucked it up and got stuff done. Needless to say, I have not been at the convention center too much nor did I go to the NASCAR party last night. I came back to my hotel and just went to sleep.

Before I left on Sunday morning, I (ironically) made a backup of my main laptop (I’ll be on the road quite a bit the next few weeks so it’s always good to do something like that before) and I’ve never had an external SSD die like that on me. I did not think that roughly one day later I’d be looking at having to redo nearly 4 days worth of work, but that is where I wound up.

This does beg the question – how much redundancy do you need when it comes to things like backups? Up until now, I’ve never really had an issue on the road. Now? It has me thinking quite a bit about my demo situation. I was lucky I had that new Samsung drive to be able to rebuild things otherwise I would have been doing a bit of a song and dance both on Tuesday and Wednesday. So I did have the right tools with me, thankfully.

I’ll just chalk this one up to *&%$ happens since in all my years of doing demos, I’ve never had a massive hardware failure like this. I’ll see when the scores are tallied, but I felt really good about my pre-con and the Troubleshooting Clusters session (which was also rebroadcast on PASStv). I may wind up doing the Troubleshooting Clusters session again at some point since it was a lot of fun to do. I am thankful for everyone who came out to both.

Oh yeah, and we had a booth (Consultant’s Corner – #129) down on the exhibition floor with two others (Denny Cherry and Linchpin People). Luckily Ben and Max picked up the slack since when I wasn’t presenting, I was back in the hotel reviving VMs. I will be down there for a bit today, so stop by and say hello. I should be there later in the AM until the exhibition hall closes.

That’s been my week here at Summit. Net positive, but definitely some hard lessons learned. I hope you filled out your evals and left feedback – good or bad (and if bad, constructive) – so I can improve the next time out. See you at an event soon!

Do More With Less

Happy Monday, everyone!

Despite the title, this isn’t going to be a blog post on consolidation. This past weekend I was attending services for Yom Kippur, and had an experience I wanted to share which fits in with some things I think are applicable for those of us who speak or are aspiring speakers. And for the record, I’m not going to turn this into a blog about religion, either.

On Saturday morning when it came time to do what I will call the sermon (and it wasn’t that, but it’s a word most people can identify with), the person who did it had no notes, no microphone – nothing. Now, just to level set here – where I was wasn’t terribly small, but there were no audio visual aids like a microphone (which some synagogues do use, and we can argue as to how that may or may not be good as it relates to general Jewish law about the holidays and Shabbat, but that’s not the point here). For most speakers – that would be a no go. I mean, use the power of your own voice. Oh, the horror!

A little digression before I continue. Being a musician and as someone who used to play in pit bands for musicals quite often, I was used to singers belting out tunes with the power of their own voices. We would sometimes have to adjust to make sure they stood out over us, but that’s one of the wonderful things about music – the interaction. When it all works, it’s simply perfection. Dynamics are a wonderful thing. It’s about using your ear and making adjustments- there has to be blend. These days, I don’t think there’s a musical (as in show, not band) production in the world (maybe some, but it would probably be a small number) that don’t use some sort of small “well, you can barely see it” mic close to the singer’s head to amplify their voices to everyone. I’m not saying technology is evil (says the guy who doesn’t have an affinity for smartphones), but I sometimes wonder if singers are being properly trained or are they now relying on a microphone to assist what would normally be someone who would be middle of the road? We could even extend this argument to tools like auto tune which can be used for good in small doses, but become tools to cover up really bad things.

The same holds true for those of us who speak, too. For better or worse, my voice has always carried. I was always the kid being told to shush and to keep my voice down. Even today, some of my friends give me ‘the look’ if we’re out and about because I can unkowingly be loud. I think if you’ve ever seen me speak, you know my voice can carry even in a pretty large room. Outside of needing one for recordings, I generally wouldn’t need a mic and truth be told, I’ve had those working the sound in the room turn my input level down because my voice can get loud. SPL levels are not my enemy!

I think it’s important as a speaker to be able to command a room both physically and verbally. Forget about content for a second. If you come across as meek, shy, and not confident, you will lose your audience. Even experienced speakers lose audiences, but more often than not, you have a higher chance of success from minute one if you grab the room and never let them go. At services, this particular gentleman had a great presence and captivated the room from the second he opened his mouth. He varied his voice, changed pacing a bit – all the standard stuff, but it was clear to me how this guy got to where he has in life. He is an excellent communicator.

This brings me to the other part of this equation: content. One of the things I always espouse whether I am writing or speaking is that by and large, you have to tell a story. It has to have a start, a middle, and a conclusion. I don’t care if you are talking about the most complex techinal thing – you have to get people to care and follow along. There has to be a logical flow. The biggest problem I have: PowerPoint. Yes, I said it. When we speak at conferences, we’re expected to have slides. Whether it’s a 60 minute talk or a full day preconference session, there’s a lot of work that goes into them. There are problems with this.

  1. Once you have slides, you’re essentially stuck with them. Change them and you potentially screw up printouts (see: preconference sessions), or if you don’t upload them in time (or they don’t exist), people can get cranky. I’m a tinkerer by nature, so locking things in weeks or months in advance is hard – especially if what you’re working with (say, a pre-release version of SQL Server) is a moving target.
  2. Slides give you structure and flow - but sometimes they also lock you into something in a way that you can’t alter dynamically if you have some good questions. You need to think ahead of how to get back on track if you get deralied or logical jumping points. There’s more to structure  than a deck – you need to know how to navigate it.
  3. To a degree, I feel slides and notes are a crutch. The one rule which is always true is a good one – never read your slides. You insult your audience – if they wanted to read your slides, they’d just download your deck. Add something. Use the bullet points as talking points, not just what you’re going to say. They are there to hear you and your insights.

I can track my progress as a speaker clearly. For example, I remember my first TechEd in I think 2001. I was speaking on HA or clustering, and for a 90 minute session I had 90 slides. Boy did I have a lot to learn! One minute per slide, no questions … riiiiiiiight. Needless to say, it was not my best performance. It was far from a failure, but these days, I look at the time I have and judge accordingly, especially if I have demos. Quite honestly, I would rather do all demo and live stuff than slides – but that’s not the expectation. I know if i have an hour with a few demos, I’ll have at most 15 – 20 slides. That’s a far cry from 90 in 90 minutes! These days I love doing talks that are more demo than slide. Believe it or not, I find it much easier.

What that person showed me on Saturday – and I’ve always known and do myself when I’m totally on - was that you can stay on track, on point, and have an engaging talk all without the use of anything but your mind, your body language, and your speaking ability (or possibly also using, say, a whiteboard). It’s interesting to watch others do it when you do the same thing because there’s always something you can pick up from successful speakers. When technology and crutches fail, what do you have left? This is what separates good speakers from great ones. A perfect example in our world is when demos fail: how do you deal with it? Can you explain the same concepts without the visual aid? Can you improvise and do something else? Or do you just clam up and get silent where seconds start to feel like hours to both you and the audience to the point where they start walking out or dropping off a webcast?

Another interesting thing that this gentleman brought up as he was talking was he could go micro or macro drash (drash is short for midrash, which simply means a way to explain things in the Tanach, or Old Testament). He did a little bit of both – the simpler along with  the deeper dive. That was interesting. Think about the way we segment content at conferences: 100, 200, 300, 400, 500. Is that not just another form of micro or macro? Speaking at any one of those levels is valid. You get a good picture at 100 or 200, but you get new insight above that. Sometimes 100 or 200 is enough, other times it isn’t. I found that concept fascinating relating it to what I do day in and day out, and the struggles I sometimes I have with putting some talks together because I think some things need to start out much lower to build to a deeper discussion otherwise you lose people later. This isn’t always the case, but I wish sometimes you didn’t have to level a talk.

In the USA right now, there’s a commercial for Google’s Nexus 7 tablet centered around public speaking. While it’s meant to be cute and show off how the tablet can be used, it raises the question of how one gets to be such a good communicator. You can read books, take classes, and so on. Heck, if you’re so inspired, go purchase a Nexus 7 if you want (but I can tell you that’s not the solution). The only way to get good as a speaker outside of just innate talent is to get out there and do it. Don’t be afraid to fail. Success comes to those who earn it. I’ve had failures – plenty of them. There’s always something you can take away from an experience. Learn from your failures and get better.

I’ll sum things up this way: think of the best movie or concert you’ve ever seen. That’s what you have to do to your audience whether you’re talking about C#, clusters, the blue sky, or anything and everything inbetween. Entertain them. Inform them. Relate to them. Maybe tell a few jokes (but definitely know your audience if going down that road). But don’t ever pander to them or insult their intelligence. Developing intuition about the pulse of an audience is something you will acquire. But most of all: have fun. If you’re relaxed and enjoying yourself, your enthusisam can be contagious.

Collateral Damage

I think it’s pretty clear I am a Microsoft ‘guy’ – heaven knows I make my living on their server platforms and am a 5-year Cluster MVP. Believe it or not, I’ve used many platforms over the years (NetWare, HP-UX, Solaris/SunOS, Oracle, Sybase, Informix, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten).  At the same time, I’m also outspoken which has gotten me into trouble in the past (including when I was a blue badge/Microsoft employee, but I’ll take those stories to the grave). I call things as I see them, and I think there’s one recent thing that needs to be called out for what it is – how not to handle your business.

If you haven’t seen or heard by now, Microsoft has killed their advanced certifications (MCM and MCA). Jason Brimhall (Twitter | Blog) wrote a great post on the topic, which not only has good commentary but has a link to a lot of the reactions, so I don’t need to rehash any of that. Brent Ozar (Twitter | Blog) also has another blog post which I don’t think is in Jason’s list.

Although I am not a SQL Server MCM (MCSM, or whatever they were calling it at the end), I did teach a few rotations of it. I was very honored when they asked me the times I did get to speak to those folks going through the process. The way the program was initially structured – and apparently the other disciplines were still for the most part – was that it was a 3+ week investment of your time in Redmond and anywhere from $15,000 – $25,000 (they lowered the price over time). Now, that’s clearly NOT a certification for everyone. I think the statistic used in that Microsoft response in the Connect item listed below was .08% – less than 1% – of all people who get certified went for this advanced certification. From a business standpoint, I can see where that is not necessarily where you want to be. Having said that, I also think it’s not a bad thing. It shows that it isn’t a paper certification that just anyone can get. You have to earn it by (shockingly!) knowing what you’re talking about. All of these programs started back a long time ago with Microsoft Certified Architect and the Exchange Rangers. I remember talking to some Exchange Rangers in about 2003 at TechEd when I was still a blue badge. Those were some really smart guys.

Anyway, I can remember chatting with Joe Sack (now of SQLskills; TwitterBlog) after I taught at what I think was the last full SQL Server MCM rotation (or one of the last). We were talking about how he needed to scale the program (both in terms of making it cheaper and repeatable)  to make it survive, yet still make sure it hit all the right marks and ensure it still was a high level certification. I would call what Joe was able to achieve a success, and it looked like the other disciplines (Exchange, Active Directory, Lync, Sharpoint) were heading in that direction, but the costs were still astronomical. I think that the SQL Server one was attainable. It still was not ‘cheap’ per se – $500 for the knowledge exam and $2,500 for the lab, but it wasn’t so unattainable that many people couldn’t either save or convince their company to pay for it. I mean, 3+ weeks away plus hotel, travel, and $20,000 is a hard pill to swallow. $3,000 is much more affordable in relative terms. I have many friends who are SQL Server MCMs, many of whom acquired it after Joe scaled things. Every single one deserves it.

The problem here I think is partially a business one: with less than 1% of the people going for it, is it worth keeping? At a pure pragmatic level, absolutely. You want to recognize some of the best of the best. That said, I understand the financials. Microsoft just paid Nokia $7 billion, but that doesn’t mean Microsoft Learning has access to more capital. Like any business unit, they have a budget. “But they’re Microsoft!” you may scream, and on one hand, I agree with you. You want to be taken seriously in the enterprise space? Have advanced certifications.

I know there was growing concern among some MCMs because there was not a SQL Server 2012 version of the exams, and what the upgrade path would be especially with release cadences being upped. Now we have our answer – Microsoft essentially killed all of the advanced certifications, even MCA which has been around longer than the rest of them. It does make me sad.

What bothers me is how they went about doing this. I run a business. Part of the success of any business is its reputation – mindshare if you will. Another part is, to a degree, goodwill and treating your customers fairly. I think in this case Microsoft got some bad advice. They dropped the news late on a Friday before Labor Day weekend here in the United States. Maybe they figured no one would notice. Oops. As of now, there is a Connect item to bring back the SQL Server MCM. As well intentioned as it is, and Microsoft even responded (see Tim Sneath on 8/31/2013 at 1:32 PM), I doubt it will change things but I certainly encourage you to +1 it if you believe in the MCM program and advanced certifications.

If Ben or I ran SQLHA like Microsoft Learning just treated its best customers, we’d be out of business. There’s a lot of anger and resentment from passionate folks who are now saying, “Why bother getting certified at all?” This is going to present a big challenge for people like Microsoft Gold Partners if they can’t force their people to get certified – they’ll drop their Gold status. So if Microsoft wanted to cause the maximum amount of damage, they found a great way to do so. The collateral damage has the potential to be huge.

At the end of the day, a certification like MCM or MCA helps  you differentiate among many of the people out there. People hire Ben and myself, or Denny Cherry, Brent Ozar Unlimited, SQLskills, etc., because we’re established and know what the hell we’re doing. We’re all very lucky. But for those who don’t have a presence and track record out there like we do – how do you know they are good? Heck, we’ve cleaned up a ton of messes over the years that some supposed ‘consultants’ caused. I’m sure the other folks I’ve listed could say the same. Good for our respective businesses, but bad for you. MCM went a long way here. I saw in one of the Sharepoint MCM posts in the aftermath something to this point about how the Sharepoint MCMs cleaned up a lot of messes. Anyone can claim they know what they’re doing, but we’ve seen the results. It can be ugly. Most folks are honest and do great work, but it’s those few bad eggs that spoil it for everyone.

I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds me (to a point), but Microsoft dropped the ball here. I have no doubt it was a tough decision. But sneaking out in the dead of night hoping no one would notice? That’s bad business that I think has caused more ill will towards Microsoft from its staunchest supporters than any other action they could have done. I truly hope they mean what they say and are looking into ways to implement advanced certifications that work for them (and us, too), but I won’t hold my breath forever. Friday was a sad day, especially for those who spent a lot of time, effort, and money to get those well deserved certifications. Let’s hope Microsoft makes the right decisions long term to do right by them.

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