By: Allan Hirt on November 9, 2017 in PASS Summit 2017, Speaker Idol | No Comments
Hard to believe it’s been nearly a week since the end of PASS Summit 2017 and the last round of Speaker Idol. Congratulations to Jeremy Frye for winning – even though he is a Pirates fan.
For those of you unfamiliar with Speaker Idol, here’s the condensed version:
- 3 rounds of 5-minute lightning talks from people who have never spoken at PASS Summit
- 4 contestants each round, 1 winner, 1 runner up
- 1 wildcard selected from the 3 runner ups to fill the 4th slot in the final round
- Winner of the final round gets a guaranteed speaking slot at PASS Summit 2018 (unless you go to work for MS … which has happened, hence this rule)
The judging panel expanded this year to include Kendra Little (blog | Twitter), instead of four judges plus one extra for the finals who did no see any of the heats. The other judges were myself, Joey D’Antoni (blog | Twitter), Mark Simms (Twitter), and Karen Lopez (blog | Twitter). Bottom line: if you’ve ever seen American Idol, the Voice, or any show, you basically know the format. The emcee this year was Tom LaRock (blog | Twitter) filling in for Denny Cherry (Twitter) as Denny could not be at Summit this year. Denny’s on the mend, and I’m glad he’ll be as good as new soon. Tom had big shoes to fill, and did it well.
Fun fact: I used to judge Speaker Idol back in the day at TechEd before Denny started it at Summit. We did the heats around lunch time. It was a good idea then and still a good idea now. It’s interesting looking back on doing it at TechEd versus at Summit. One thing that I can say for certainty: the quality of speakers has gone up tremendously. TechEd was obviously a more general conference and diverse audience, but with the rise of user groups and things like SQL Saturday in our corner of the world, there’s been a big uptick in quality. There were many more crash and burn moments earlier on with Idol, but now? Not so much. This year’s crop of contestants was particularly good. Our job was not easy – especially for that final round. The smallest of details separated winner from runner up. It was that close.
To me, a five minute lightning talk to me is much harder than a 60, 75, 90, half day, or precon in terms of speaking. To tell a full story end-to-end that is coherent in five minutes or under is not easy. Even harder is cramming a live demo in there. I know people who would say the opposite – especially about a full day precon or a multi-day class. They are hard for different reasons, but I will always contend that being super concise is one of the hardest exercises you can ever do. So kudos to everyone who had the proverbial cojones to not only do that, but willingly be judged by us judge-y types.
Selected notable improvements across board included:
- Nearly everyone attributed their graphics. Whenever you speak, if you use a picture from somewhere else, give credit. Shame on you if you don’t.
- A lot of the contestants had much better stage presence this year. Even veteran speakers get nervous, but very few folks just planted themselves like tree or didn’t use hand gestures, etc.
- Sure, some folks didn’t do the calls and responses right (i.e. always give a number/percentage/whatever if you poll the room as an answer to said question), but there was more audience interaction this year.
- We had more live demos than in the past. You are brave souls!
- Even when people had missteps, there were no moments that devolved into total disasters. Give yourselves a round of applause.
I’m guessing they heeded some advice or attended over the past few years … or just had much better practice, like at SQL Saturday. (Side note – submit for one if you have not.)
Tips for future contestants:
- Make sure your slides are readable. Whether a small room or a big room, a wall of text, small fonts, and bad color choices will give people an unpleasant experience.
- Make sure you get feature names right, down to caps/no caps, etc. We’re looking at that, and may not call you out on it in your initial rounds, but reserve the right to hold it against you in the finals if you make it.
- Since the Idol room is known, maybe at some point go and test your laptop. I know I’ve had laptops that won’t connect (for whatever reason) to some rooms over the years, and best to iron that out ahead of time. When it happened this year things worked out, but they don’t always. You’ll at least have a Plan B – which should always be having your slides on a USB key or something.
- Remember that PASS Summit is not just for US attendees. I keep making this point year after year. If you’re going to use a sports analogy, baseball or football (the US kind, not what we call soccer but the rest of the world calls football) may not translate. Neither will cricket to a US audience, for that matter. Use examples and analogies that make sense and audiences of numerous backgrounds can relate to if possible.
- We do not require you to do a whole new presentation for the finals – you can if you want. That has its own risk/reward. What we generally look for is that you synthesized our feedback and incorporated it for a better delivery in the finals. Remember that you’re going against three other people who either won their rounds or came in second, so they are no slouches.
- Don’t be afraid to tell some downsides/risks/personal experiences/give tips along with the facts. People aren’t there to hear you regurgitate documentation. Why should we care? I am not the deepest guy when it comes to what he talked about, but Jeremy won because of what he did, not the subject.
- We can tell if you’re enthusiastic or not. I don’t need fake cheerleader stuff. Passion goes a long way.
- Remember we’re judging you to speak at PASS Summit, not a backyard BBQ. You don’t have to do a technical talk or even a data-related topic, but it’s hard to judge if you have the chops if we don’t see some technical meat or tie what your doing into something data/SQL Server-related.
- I’m the pedantic judge 🙂 Remember that.
One more thing: from a diversity standpoint, it was nice to see people from all over the world and different backgrounds at Idol, but as Karen mentioned at one point in one of the rounds, there were no female entries this year. That makes me sad, since WIT is a big part of the SQL Server community. I would strongly encourage women to enter for next year’s competition. We have lots of strong women speakers in our community.
Hope to see (and judge) you next year.
By: Allan Hirt on October 10, 2017 in Disaster Recovery, SQL Server | No Comments
There are two concepts we deal with every day: high availability (HA) and disaster recovery (D/R). Being highly available generally means you can recovery from a smaller, more localized failure with realitvely little pain. When your primary data center is a smoking hole in the ground, that is when you need to invoke D/R. Even though D/R may use a lot of the same features and methods as high availability, implementing and executing it is a different story and definitely more complex.
Join Allan and Max along with the experts at Denny Cherry and Associates on Tuesday, October 24 at 2 PM Eastern/11 AM Pacific for a free round table webinar on disaster recovery for SQL Server. Click here for more info and how to register.
By: Allan Hirt on September 27, 2017 in PASS, PASS Summit, PASS Summit 2017, Pre-conferece, Preconference, Presenting, SQLHA, Teaching | No Comments
Can you believe it’s nearly October? I blinked and realized I hadn’t written a blog post since June. Max and I have been super busy with customer work here at the cozy confines of SQLHA. Some of that you’ll see publicly – like the documentation I’ve been writing for Microsoft on the availability features for SQL Server 2017 on Linux. Fun fact: it was announced that it will be generally available (GA) next Monday, October 2! It’s been a fun few months and what I’m working on will be out soon.
I’m heading to Europe to speak at dataMinds Connect next week. I’m looking forward to it – I’ve heard great things about the conference and it’l be my first time in Belgium. I’ll be delivering both a full day precon and a brand new session “Top Troubleshooting Tips for Clustered Implementations of SQL Server“. It would have been nice to also go to SQL Saturday Copenhagen (lovely town – I’ve been there a few times for conferences), but too much going on here to extend the trip.
I’ve also got three other major speaking things coming up (one of which will get its own section below): PASS Summit, SQL Server Live! in Orlando in November, and for the only time this year, the 4-day Mission Critical SQL Server class with labs. The class will be just outside of Philadelphia. There are still a few seats left. Use the code SEPBLOG for 25% off.
For SQL Server Live! I’ll be doing something new a full day of a bit of hybrid lab/instructional on November 12. It’s not a traditional precon, and it should be fun. If you plan on attending, use the code LSPK36 to get $500 off the standard price of $2,395 – you’ll only pay $1,895, or use one of the links I’ve provided. This link goes directly to the registration page.
If you’re in Minneapolis, go see Max at SQL Saturday next weekend, October 7, and definitely come up and say hi to both of us at PASS Summit since we’ll have a booth again with Denny Cherry and Associates.
RunAs Radio #51
I recorded a RunAs Radio session with my old friend Richard Campbell a few weeks ago. It had been way too long, and we had a blast catching up and talking about SQL Server, availability, and a bunch of stuff inbetween. It was just posted today – listen to it here.
PASS Summit and My Upcoming Precon
I want to talk for a moment about PASS as an organization as well as PASS Summit and my upcoming precon. I have only missed two or three Summits since its inception (Chicago, Orlando, and I think one of the Seattle ones early on). Sure, people can complain about the change of the meaning of the letters, etc., but under any guise, PASS – both Summit and the organization – has been a building block in my career. I could have never guessed that attending Summit in 2000 in San Francisco would be the start of a long journey for me from attendee to speaker to precon speaker to having a booth with SQLHA as a vendor.
Years ago the conference landscape 20 years ago was more stuff like Tech Ed than anything else. It’s funny to see now how many options we have now to speak and attend. Some of those events are downright fantastic. However, just because Summit is one of the biggest events in the Microsoft data platform world and one I still love going every year. Let me be clear: by no means do I think Summit is a perfect conference. I have my gripes, and always will, but for me, it is one of the “must do” data platform events even if I was not a speaker. Just the networking alone is fantastic. No, PASS is not paying me to say any of this, but it’s easy to get cynical about PASS as an organization and Summit as an event because it’s always just been there for most of us along with many other events including SQL Saturday. Many folks you know and love today in our small corner of the world got their “big breaks” at PASS Summit. Not all of them still attend Summit, which I understand, but reality is that Summit, and maybe PASS as an organization, worked for them at one point but they grew beyond it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Summit still does a lot right for many folks. I mean it when I say I’m honored to be picked to speak at Summit and any event like dataMinds Connect, SQL Bits, SQL Saturday … you get the picture; I never assume, nor do not take an opportunity for granted. I’m not a DYKWIA (Do You Know Who I Am?) type. I’ve said no, but it’s for reasons like I have scehedule conflicts, etc.
As for my journey as a speaker, PASS Summit was integral for me. I remember my first speaking slot all those years ago, and then finally getting a nod for a precon. Could I fill a whole day’s worth of content? Seems silly now to think I couldn’t, and for those who really know me at this point, you are probably laughing your tuchus off because at this point, I can talk with no slides, no demo, and not even a whiteboard for as long as I need to do it.If you saw my SQL Server on Linux talk at SQL Saturday Boston this year, you know what I mean.
Getting opportunities like a precon challenged me. It made me better. Sometimes I failed. Most times, I succeed. Last year was phenomenal – the most people I’ve had doing labs simultaneously to date. When I introduced a lab component a few years ago into some of my precons, I started way before I did it at a big conference like PASS Summit in smaller doses as a proof of concept. No one else had tried to attempt 100 people doing labs at the same time where there is often crap connectivity. Crazy talk! I had no idea if it would be great or terrible, but I knew I wanted to do more. PASS put their faith in me and I’ve been lucky to be given a chance to do labs ever since, this year included.
I’m putting the finishing touches on the lab for the Summit precon in the next few days . This year’s precon is “Advanced SQL Server Availability and Storage Solutions”. Designing lab content and the instructional design around labs is one of the hardest things I do, and it’s even harder finding that balance in a one day event like a precon where you have a lot to talk about and demo, too. In one of my multi-day classes, it’s much easier. I do enjoy the challenge, and I urge you to reserve your spot because the last few years have completely sold out (and we’re nearly there already). I do cap the number of students who can attend since there’s only one of me and I can only have so many proctors. I hope to see you there.
- I hit a big milestone. In August, I celebrated 10 years of going independent. I remember when I did it I thought let me give this a go for a year and see how it goes. One became two and the rest is history. Thanks to everyone who has supported me over the years and done business with me. I look forward to many more years doing this.
- I was re-awarded my dual Microsoft MVP. I can’t believe I’m coming up on nearly 10 years as a Microsoft MVP. Time flies!
- I did three sessions at VMworld in Las Vegas. Hope to be back next year.
By: Allan Hirt on June 27, 2017 in Distributed Transaction Coordinator, DTC, High Availability, SQL Server | No Comments
One topic that seems to vex people when it comes to highly available configurations of SQL Server is the use (or lack thereof …) of (the) Microsoft Distributed Transaction Coordinator. It seems to be something I’ve addressed at least five times in the past few weeks, so I decided to do a blog post. Sometimes you will see the feature abbreviated as any one of three ways: DTC, MS DTC, and MSDTC. As an aside, I’ve written a few posts already on DTC – including two (this and this) on how to cluster DTC, so I’m no stranger to DTC land.
Back in the dinosaur era when we only had log shipping, SQL Server failover clustering (when Windows Server failover clusters [WSFCs] were called server clusters or something other than WSFC which it is today, and there was no naming conflict with the words failover and cluster together), and (heaven help us) replication, DTC was around, too. DTC is a component of the OS (i.e. Windows Server), not SQL Server.
Going back to those bygone days, the story was this: you had to cluster DTC if you were deploying a clustered SQL Server installation (this is before availability groups [AGs], kiddies). It was not optional. It only became optional for failover cluster instances (FCIs) starting with SQL Server 2008 (but you got and to this day, still get a warning on FCI installs if you do not; you can ignore that for reasons I’m not getting into deeply in this blog post). Clustered instances of SQL Server were the only way to get high availability support for distributed transactions until SQL Server 2016 (more on that in a minute). That means every feature – log shipping, database mirroring (DBM), replication, and yes, even AGs did not support distributed transactions.
What exactly is a distributed transaction? It’s one where the work needs to be completed in more than one database so data is kept in sync everywhere. For example, if you need to update data in Database A and in Database B, and they need to be kept in sync, that’s a distributed transaction. Database A and Database B can be in the same SQL Server instance, or they could be in different instances … or even in different data sources, such as Oracle or DB2. This whole shebang is often referred to as a cross-database transaction. DTC is based on the principle of a two phase commit – for the whole thing to get done, all the little bits need to be committed everywhere before claiming complete success. Otherwise stuff needs to be rolled back so that things stay in sync and all is right in the world.
Why is all of this important? With the HA features of SQL Server, it all boils down to failing over or switching to another server. It has nothing to do with when things are up and running and there are no issues. DTC plays well with everything in those cases. What happens when data commits in A but not B and you have a failover of one of those and the commit did not happen everytwhere? You are out of sync. Now you need to manually deal with the data issue – if you even know you have it. That is the problem with all of the features besides FCIs not supporting DTC, and one reason why FCIs are still popular today (among other reasons).
When I first started talking to customers about AGs even before SQL Server 2012 was released, many assumed that because an AG could be configured with more than one database that it supported distributed transactions. Bzzt! Thanks for playing, we’ll send you home with a lovely parting gift. The story remained unchanged until fairly recently.
At PASS Summit in I believe in 2015, the HA feature PM at the time announced that DTC support was coming for AGs and there was much rejoicing in the land … until it was realized that what was done only covered half the story. What was implemented in SQL Server 2016 was the case where if you had a database in Instance A and another in Instance B (or in another data source), not if you had two databases in the same instance (whether or not they were in the same AG).
Microsoft had originally intended on the full functionality being shipped in a CU or SP for SQL Server 2016, but it turned up in SQL Server 2017 as I blogged about recently. Given the short dev cycles and the amount of effort it took to do, I’m not surprised. To get DTC support for AGs was a cross effort between the Windows and SQL Server teams – and a lot of work. I’m OK with it being in 2017+.
DTC is a huge red flag/lightning rod/insert your euphemism here for some (IT DOESN’T WORK WITH AGs! MS SUCKS!). Do you actually need it? Do you even know if any of your applications use it? Most of my customers do not. I ask the question all the time when I’m helping them architect and implement HA solutions. And if you want help with your HA stuff for SQL Server, contact us. Max and I have decades of experience in this arena – literally.
Anyway, anecdotal evidence: in the near 30 years into my career with SQL Server going back to SQL Solutions in Burlington, MA pre-Sybase, the number of applications I’ve encountered that actually use DTC is probably under 25. The use and importance of DTC is vastly overrated in my opinion, but it’s nice for folks who want to bash on SQL Server and Windows dev to say it’s not supported.
Having said that, and for those of my customers over the years that rely on distributed transactions in their applications, it’s super important to them and their HA story has been not so great. I can see why it is a dealbreaker for those people, but this one is more like a 90/10 or 95/5 rule – the no DTC use case covers most, but for those who it doesn’t work for, if they hate FCIs, and, say are using VMware and really hate RDMs, well … you get the picture.
Bottom line: Do not make a mountain out of a molehill as I see many do with this topic. There’s so much FUD out there with DTC. Here’s a quick bullet list of what you really need to know:
- Know if your app uses distributed transactions, and if you need anything special like XA transactions which is a more detailed configuration of DTC.
- If you deploy apps using log shipping, replication, database mirroring, and AGs (pre-2016), DTC won’t kill you until you have a bad failover and your data is out of sync. So it will work … until it doesn’t. Graceful failovers won’t kill you if you coorindate things.
- Always test your apps in a failover situation with DTC – supported or not. Shame on you if you don’t and assume it will all be honky dory.
- If you require DTC for a highly available configuration of SQL Server, you have two options: FCIs or AGs.
- For AGs, whether you go with SQL Server 2016 or 2017 depends on what flavor of DTC you require.
- DTC support is not enabled by default on an AG in 2016+.
- DTC support for AGs can only happen when an AG is created, and is currently T-SQL only. Want to add it later? Delete and reconfigure the AG.
- DTC support on an AG is enabled by an option (DTC_SUPPORT = PER_DB), and it’s on or off. There’s nothing else you have to configure.
- DTC support for AGs requires Windows Server 2012 R2 or later. Windows Server 2012 R2 requires a hotfix.
- There is no support for DTC at all for SQL Server on Linux. If you need DTC, you’ll need to deploy SQL Server on Windows Server.
- Clustering DTC is not required for AGs or FCIs. Period. There are advantages for doing so with some FCIs, but not getting into that here. That’s a story you’ll have to read my book to get (and it’s coming along nicely, thankyouverymuch) or attend one of my classes.
Hope that clears things up.
By: Allan Hirt on June 16, 2017 in Album Review, Styx, Uncategorized | No Comments
I know I usually do much more serious posts, but anyone who has seen me present may have picked up on the fact that Styx is one of my favorite bands with the way I’ve named some servers, WSFCs, FCIs, and AGs in demos. I have a long history with the band … ’nuff said.
Music is a big part of what I do both personally and professionally. I figured it’d be fun to do a review of the new Styx album The Mission that was released today. I’ve had it for a few days (thank you – you know who you are), so I’ve had a chance to digest it. The Mission is the first Styx album of all original tunes since 2003’s Cyclorama, which is good but uneven effort. If you know Styx at all, you may be saying “But they’ve released …” – yes they have. I’m discounting all live albums, compilations, and even the covers album. Sure, one of those albums had a few new cuts but they were bad so let’s not speak of them *cough* “Just Be” *cough*.
Many bands have had what have been billed as “return to form” albums – Aerosmith has had a million of those since the 90s (spoiler alert: none were a return to 70s form Aerosmith). The Mission has basically been billed as the return to 70s form for Styx, and while not totally that, it is closer to the glory years than Cyclorama ever was. It’s a short album by modern standards – clocking in at just over 42 minutes.
The Mission is partially the brainchild of Tommy Shaw and producer Will Evankovich, who is the third man in Shaw Blades’ live show and has worked with Tommy on various other projects including his orchestra show last year in Cleveland (which I also attended). While it may be driven by those two, it’s clear the whole band made it a Styx album and it’s not just a Tommy Shaw solo project featuring Styx-as-backing-band album.
“Gone Gone Gone” is a throwback to the early Wooden Nickel days of Styx, and is almost a bit of a cross between “Southern Woman” (compare the riffs) and “Rock and Roll Feeling”. “Hundred Million Miles From Home” is a fun song, which evokes some Eagles-esque influences especially in the guitar playing. It also features original bass player Chuck Panozzo, one of my bass influences. It has a bounce that makes it feel more like classic Styx than anything else on the album. Speaking of bass playing, Ricky Phillips does a great job (probably my favorite on the album being “Trouble At The Big Show”). “Locomotive” sounds more like Wish You Were Here-era Floyd than Styx, but that’s not a bad thing. “Radio Silence” has echoes of the Grand Illusion classic “Man In The Wilderness”, is one of the strongest songs on The Mission, and is very clearly a Styx tune.
There’s some nice odd meter stuff on the album such as “Time May Bend” and “The Red Storm”. Todd Sucherman is a beast on drums. Lawrence Gowan’s piano playing on songs like “Ten Thousand Ways” and “Khedive”, which also features some nice nods to Queen, is good. There’s even a nod to the Who on “The Outpost” right around 2:33. I’m glad they used what appears to be a vintage Oberheim (OB-X? OB-XA? OB-8?) along with other analog synths on songs like “The Outpost” which gives many songs that classic Styx keyboard sound (from Grand Illusion on, the Oberheim is closely associated with Styx and former member Dennis DeYoung).
The Mission is not without its flaws to my ears. The effect on Tommy’s voice at the end “Overture” reminds me of the voice effect used to introduce the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disney (that’s not a good thing; it’s one of my favorite Disney things but jarring here). While “Hundred Million Miles” is currently my favorite song on the album, the weird effect used on Tommy’s vocals during the verses seems unnecessary. Since they were going the old school way, having some touches of Taurus pedals would have been nice, too, at points.
What I’m not completely buying into is the concept album aspect of The Mission. For a band that went kicking and screaming into doing a concept album like Kilroy Was Here (and had two loose concept albums prior to that – Grand Illusion and Paradise Theater), the fact they’d embrace one now is baffling. Apparently it’s just as hard to write good songs about going to space as it is about robots and censorship. Many of the songs on The Mission stand on their own (and may become concert staples, such as “Gone Gone Gone”). Others do not work out of context (“Mission to Mars”, which if I’m going to be honest has some pretty bad lyrics and is probably my least favorite song followed by “The Greater Good” which has good vocals and musicianship, but the song is just limp for me). That said, the whole is greater than the individual parts. I don’t feel myself wanting to skip and jump around to different tracks.
Anyone who knows me knows I care about sound quality. Much has been made of the fact that The Mission was tracked to (analog) tape. That doesn’t mean anything if it’s engineered, mixed, and mastered poorly. I’m happy to report that the album sounds very good. It is not brickwalled (but some may still say TOO LOUD), and has benefits from starting out all analog. The Mission breathes more than a lot of albums I’ve heard in the past few years. Drums and bass have a sound that you cannot totally get from an all digital recording. The stereo mix has a nice soundstage, nice and wide, with the instruments all having great placement. While it has touches and nods to the classic Styx sound (such as the way the harmonies are mixed), it’s still a modern mix to me but has a vintage vibe that I dig.
For folks like me, I’m happy to see it’s available in high resolution at 88.2/24 from places like Quobuz, ProStudioMasters, and HDTracks. Comparing the CD quality (44.1/16 non-MP3 thank you very much) to the hi-rez, the hi-rez is clearly the winner. There’s more depth and air than the CD; it sounds much more natural and pleasing. Having listened to the CD-quality tracks for a few days, I hear the difference immediately. If you’re into such things as I am, I’d recommend the hi-rez over the CD. I am curious why they chose 88.2/24 versus 96/24 or 192/24 given they had an analog starting point. No matter, it sounds good. I don’t like vinyl, so I have not heard it nor do I plan on buying it. Having been recorded to analog, it should sound good since it should be analog all the way through. If vinyl is your thing, the LP isn’t terribly expensive.
My only really major disappointment is I have not been able to hear the 5.1 surround mix that was completed. I think it is a huge missed opportunity not to release it as the same time as the regular album or as part of a deluxe package which had the CD (or LP) and that. It is supposedly being released later this year later on Blu-ray (and maybe DVD). I hope it is not shelved.
The Inevitable Comparison
Being a Styx nerd, the question will come up for some: “Is The Mission better than Dennis DeYoung’s 2007 album One Hundred Years from Now?” (and then you could ask … which version of that album – the original Canadian or the later US version which had slightly different tracks). DDY didn’t make a concept album, so doing a straight 1:1 comparison is not easy. Truth: I like both The Mission and One Hundred Years From Now. The fact we have two solid studio efforts that do not suck is a happy problem to have. Both tip their caps to the classic Styx sound, but are also modern at the same time.
However, there is no song on The Mission that is better than “Crossing the Rubicon” on One Hundred Years From Now, arguably the most “classic Styx”-like song (and probably the best track) released on any Styx-related studio album since the 80s. There’s also nothing on either album that’s going to convince you to like and/or hate Styx or DDY more or less if you’re predisposed to one side or the other. For example, if you do not like DDY’s more mid-tempo or ballad-y things, songs like “I Believe In You” or “There Was A Time” are not going to change your mind; also don’t believe the hype, Dennis can still rock with songs like “Private Jones”.
The bottom line: The Mission is a strong showing from Styx and a solid 7/10 for me. It’s a fun listen end-to-end, and with its short running time, goes by quickly. Placing it in the list of “where does The Mission sit in the pantheon of Styx studio albums?”, it’d be somewhere in the middle of the pack. If it is the last studio effort we see from Styx, this is a worthy final Mission from the band.