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Aftermath of a PASS Summit Preconference Session

By: on October 27, 2015 in Conference, Lab, PASS, PASS Summit, Pre-conferece, Presenting

It’s currently the Tuesday morning after my PASS Summit 2015 preconference session “Advanced SQL Server Availability Architectures and Deployments“. Before I say anything, I wanted to thank all of the attendees for taking the time out of their schedules to spend a day with lil’ ol’ me and using their training budget for my session. I really do appreciate it. I know they have a choice, and it’s why I do things like stay for an hour after the session to answer questions. Needless to say, I was a bit fried by the time I was done. I grabbed dinner with my business partner Max Myrick, and as soon as I got back to the hotel, it was time for la la land.

The early buzz on Twitter so far has been very good. I am both humbled and pleased since I never make any assumptions going into things. When you put an event like this together, you sometimes have no idea how it’ll go. There were more, but below is a sampling of some of the comments posted (with their relevant links … I don’t make this stuff up).

“RDMA? RDMA! Happy as a pig in poop at @SQLHA presentation …”

“Geek heaven, lots of hardware discussions because guess what SQL runs on…:D”
@Ms_Alaina

“Best session ever! Addressed many pain points in design and implementation! Thanks!”
@mssqlranger

Thanks for the great session today @SQLHA lots of stuff I can use when I get back to work
@RutherfordTX

Lab creation setup for @SQLHA #PASS #Summit15 precon is *really* cool. I’d like to see something like that for training/sandbox inhouse 🙂


great class material, great class vibe 🙂

@sqL_handLe

I will admit – it’s always fun to see 100 people doing labs simultaneously which are all hosted in the cloud (and no, not Azure or Amazon). This is the second year in a row I’ve done had labs at a PASS precon, and it’s gratifying to see months of hard work come together. Last year was the grand experiment. I remember many people thinking I was insane for even attempting it. And yes, the rumors are true – I demoed an Availability Group that spanned both Azure IaaS and Amazon EC2. Maybe I’ll blog about that configuration at some point.

Labs are fun ...

Labs are fun …

You don’t just show up in October and do a precon with labs at a major event. The process begins much earlier in the year when the call for speakers happens. In my “go big or go home” philosophy, as if doing what did last year was not hard enough, I decided to one up myself and submit a higher level session that was more advanced. Why? Taking the challenge aspect out for me (I love a good one …), there’s a lot of people who have been asking for more than “What is clustering?” type of content. There’s always a risk in submitting something more advanced because one person’s 200 level is another’s 500 level. But what the heck, you only live once, right?

Before I even submitted another precon abstract with labs, I asked PASS if they would let me do it if it was selected. There’s a practical reason for this: cost. There are some very tangible things that are not free when it comes to doing a precon with labs. They said yes, so abstract submitted, and thankfully, accepted a few months later. Away we go – the real work now begins.

I truly believe that everyone learns differently, but for what I do, hands on experience is pretty essential. My labs are not some canned thing someone else does and I’m reusing; I spend time doing instructional design so it fits the content I will be presenting. I try to add a hands on component where I can in all that I do. It’s not always possible. For the lab portion, each student gets their own lab environment. The labs for this one had two main lab exercises which encompassed 10 VMs (six for Lab 1, four for Lab 2). That’s just under 200 GB of VMs for every student.

While doing my four day Mission Critical SQL Server class is one thing, making sure 100 people can all do labs at the same time is another. There’s a lot of back and forth making sure that not only the venue has enough bandwidth, but the company that I use for the labs will have enough horsepower reserved to ensure all of the attendees can use up to 1000 VMs simultaneously. There’s also the fact that all of this, again, costs money so it has to be practical. This is why PASS and I agreed both years to cap the attendees to a maximum of 100 people.

When labs start in a session of this size, there are always some issues to deal with (for example, resetting login or password information, various connectivity issues), but time in and time out, things have worked with only minor things to deal with. I want to give a quick shout out to the Washington State Convention Center folks. They handled a few issues with the wired connections as well as power pretty quickly yesterday. They’re also very nice to deal with (they even remembered the requirements from last year). I also need proctors – it’s nearly impossible in a class of that size to answer everyone’s questions on my own. A special thanks to Max as well as Nic Cain (blog | Twitter) for helping out yesterday. I also have to thank the folks back at PASS HQ, especially Leeza Zelmer. None of this is possible without them, but Leeza really was my main contact and helped facilitate quite a bit behind the scenes.

Will there be another precon at PASS Summit with labs in my future? Who knows … let’s see what 2016 brings. At the moment, I need a bit of time not to be worrying about VMs, connectivity, or labs for a few weeks, but chances are high I’ll be having the same “Will you allow me to do this?” conversation with PASS in the spring again. All the effort and time is worth it when students have comments like the above because the day really isn’t about me; it’s all about them and for them.

I’m looking forward to the formal start of PASS Summit tomorrow morning. See you at the keynote!


2 Responses

  1. […] Aftermath of a PASS Summit Preconference Session by Allan Hirt […]

  2. […] and family, but for all of you. You make what I do worth it. All of the behind the scenes hours I put into the labs for a precon, class, or presentation do not go wasted when I get the wonderful comments and scores back that I […]

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