Transmissions from TechEd USA 2009 (Day 3)

Today was a long day. I started by attending the Richard Tkachuk’s A First Look at Large-Scale Data Warehousing in Microsoft SQL Server Code Name “Madison”. Those of you familiar with Analysis Services would probably recognize the presenter’s name since Richard came from the Analysis Services team and maintains the website. He recently moved to the Madison team. Madison is a new product and it’s based on a product by DATAllegro which Microsoft acquired sometime ago. As the session name suggests, it’s all about large scale databases, such as those exceeding 1 terabyte of data. Now, this is enormous amount of data that not many companies will ever amass. I’ve been fortunate (or unfortunate) that I never had to deal with such data volumes. If you do, then you may want to take a look at Madison. It’s designed to maximize sequential querying of data by employing a shared-nothing architecture where each processor core is given dedicated resources, such as a table partition. A controller node orchestrates the query execution. For example, if a query spans several tables, the controller node parses the query to understand where the data is located. Then, it forwards the query to each computing node that handles the required resources. The computing nodes are clustered in a SQL Server 2008 fail-over cluster which runs on Windows Server 2008. The tool provides a management dashboard where the administrator can see the utilization of each computing node.

Next, I attended the Fifth Annual Power Hour session. As its name suggests, TechEd has been carrying out this session for the past five years. The session format was originally introduced by Bill Baker who’s not longer with Microsoft. If you ever attended one of these sessions, you know the format. Product managers from all BI teams (Ofice, SharePoint, PerformancePoint, and SQL Server) show bizarre demos and throw t-shirt and toys to everything that moves (OK, sits). The Office team showed an Excel Services demo where an Excel spreadsheet ranked popular comics characters. Not to be outdone, the PerformancePoint team showed a pixel-based image on Mona Lisa. Not sure what PerformancePoint capabilities this demonstrated since I don’t know PerformancePoint that well but it looked great.

The Reporting Services team showed a cool demo where the WinForms ReportViewer control would render a clickable map (the map control will debut in SQL Server 2008 R2) that re-assigns the number of Microsoft sales employees around the US states. For me, the coolest part of this demo was that there was no visible refresh when the map image is clicked although there was probably round tripping between the control and the server. Thierry D’Hers later on clued me in that there is some kind of buffering going on which I have to learn more about. This map control looks cool! Once I get my hands on it with some tweaking maybe I’ll be able to configure it as a heat map that is not geospatial.

Finally, Donald Farmer showed another Gemini demo which helped learn more about Gemini. I realized that 20 mil+ rows were compressed to 200 MB Excel file. However, the level of compression really depends on the data loaded in Excel. Specifically, it depends on the redundant values in each column. I learned that the in-memory model that is constructed in Excel is implemented as in-process DLL whose code was derived from the Analysis Services code base. The speed of the in-memory model is phenomenal! 20 mil rows sorted within a second on the Donald’s notebook (not even laptop, mind you). At this point Microsoft hasn’t decided yet how Gemini will be licensed and priced.

As usual, after lunch I decided to hang around in the BI learning center and help with questions. Then, it was a show time for my presentation! I don’t why but every TechEd I get one of these rooms that I feel intimidated just to look at them. How come Microsoft presenters who demo cooler stuff than mine, such as features in the next version, get smaller rooms and I get those monstrous rooms? It must be intentional; I have to ask the TechEd organizers. The room I got was next to the keynote hall and could easily accommodate 500-600 people, if not more. Two years ago, I actually had a record of 500+ people attending my session which was scheduled right after the keynote.

This year, the attendance was more modest. I don’t have the final count yet, but I think about 150+ folks attended my session so there was plenty of room to scale up. I think the presentation well very well. The preliminary evaluation reports confirm this. I demoed report authoring, management, and delivery tips sprinkled with real-life examples. We had some good time and I think everyone enjoyed the show.

It’s always good to know that your work is done. I look forward to enjoying the rest of TechED and LA.