SQLRally Nordic – My Reflections

This week I attended SQLRally Nordic edition which was held in Stockholm and I must start by saying how grateful I am to my boss for sending me. Second, thanks to all the Swedish people that spoke English to me, I had some really nice conversations with people, most of them started off “You’re Australian, but you live in London?”.

Monday: Pre-Con: Data Warehouse Modeling – Making the Right Choices

This workshop was the main reason I came to SQLRally. It was an entire day talking about data warehouse modeling! Both Davide and Thomas give a very thorough overview of the entire process end-to-end. This part of the description really stood out to me before the event:

In this workshop, Thomas Kejser and Davide Mauri will share all the information they learned since they started working with data warehouses, giving you the guidance and tips you need to start your BI project in the best way possible―avoiding errors, making implementation effective and efficient, paving the way for a winning Agile approach, and helping you define how your team should work so that your BI solution will stand the test of time

I was particularly interested in hearing about how to take an agile approach to building a data warehouse, and in future posts I’m going to cover more of what I learnt.

To summarize their approach:

  • Implement BI Design Patterns (e.g. loading staging tables, dimensions and facts, these are all well known and repeatable)
  • Automate everything, after you’ve standardized your solution with the above design patterns. Davide showed some really excellent demos of how to use BIML to create a bunch of SSIS packages based on meta data
  • Focus on the “business” processes – after automating all the “technical” processes (the repeatable and well known parts) you will have more time to focus on the parts which are business specific

Their key mantra throughout the whole day was: avoid the monkey work.

Tuesday’s Top Session: Index Impact Analysis (with Klaus Aschenbrenner)

It is a classic problem that everyone who works with SQL Server faces, how do I measure the impact of adding an index.

In this session Klaus showed how easy it is to:

  • Capture a workload of real transactions on a production OLTP database
  • How to use this workload to establish a baseline in a test environment
  • How to use the baseline to measure the actual impact of adding an index

His approach (using the Distributed Replay feature of SQL Server) is definitely one that anyone who was listening to him could reproduce. This is something that I’m going to be looking into further when I’m back in the office!

Wednesday’s Top Session: Automating Your DW Development (with Davide Mauri)

This was a more in-depth session on BIML (Business Intelligence Markup Language) and BI Design Patterns. During Monday’s pre-con Davide talked at a high level about design patterns and how to automate their implementation, however only gave a few simple examples.

In this session he showed a number of different design patterns and then demoed how they could be implemented and automated using BIML, as well as another custom tool which he developed specifically for creating packages which deal with Slowly Changing Dimensions.

The other thing that made this session stand out was the presentation style, Davide is a very energetic speaker, he spoke very quickly and still didn’t finish all of his slide deck. There was no point when I thought “come on, hurry up”. 10/10 in my book.

In Summary

I can definitely say that my expectations were met and exceeded. The pre-con was excellent, I learnt a lot of very practical things which I can start doing straight away, as well as a good amount of theory to backup the “why” I should start doing these things.

The sessions I attended were varied, but overall the quality was excellent. There was one session I ended up in which was way over my head and in hindsight I wish I had recognized this in the first 5 minutes and gone to another session. My take away from this is to actually take note of the session level before it starts.

SQLRally Nordic – What I’m Looking Forward To

This year I have been fortunate enough to have been able to attend a few different SQL Server community events.

Back in May I attended SQLBits XI, which was a fantastic experience and opened my eyes to the #SQLFamily. I learnt a lot about SQL Server, but I think what I really learnt is that there is an amazing online community for SQL Server professionals.

Then a couple of weeks ago I was at #sqlsat228 in Cambridge, where I attended a Friday pre-con on Big Data with Jen Stirrup and Allan Mitchell followed by a full day of sessions on the Saturday.

At the beginning of November I’m going to Stockholm to attend SQL Rally Nordic. So this post is about which sessions I’m planning to attend.

Pre-conference Seminar

Monday: Data Warehouse Modeling – Making the Right Choices

I’ve learnt a lot about data modelling especially over the past year and so this session is coming at a good time.

It sounds like it is going to be a full on day. I’m planning on writing at least one or two blog posts to solidify what I learn, so stay tuned.

Conference Sessions


Time Track Session
1030-1130 BI Optimizing Data Models in Tabular & PowerPivot
1145-1245 BI 10 Tips and Tricks for Better SSIS Performance I attended this talk at SQLSaturday Cambridge
1145-1245 DEV Powerful T-SQL Improvements that Reduce Query Complexity
1400-1500 DBA Getting the Most from Your SAN – File and Filegroup layout
1515-1615 BI Optimizing DAX Queries
1645-1745 DBA Index Impact Workload Analysis


Time Track Session
0900-1000 BI Analysing Data with PowerView
1015-1115 BI Data Warehouse in the Cloud – Marketing or Reality?
1015-1115 DBA The Day After Tomorrow: Why You Need a Baseline
1145-1245 DEV Cloud Optimizing Your Database App
1400-1500 BI Use the Power of Analytical Hierarchies in Your Cubes
1515-1615 DBA Architecting SQL Server HA and DR solutions on Windows Azure

As you can see, I’m planning to attend a number of sessions that are directly or indirectly related to SSAS Tabular model (DAX, PowerPivot or PowerView sessions).

Of late I have been using PowerPivot to build quick proof-of-concept BI models to get people’s attention. What I really like about PowerPivot is how quick and easy it is to build a data model, write some simple DAX formulas then use PowerView to show people the story of the data.

As well as attending some quality sessions, I’m also really looking forward to catching up with new and old friends.

So I hope to see you there 🙂