Thomas LaRock
SQL Down Under Show 56 - Guest: Thomas LaRock - Published: 2 Mar 2013
SDU Show 56 features SQL Server MVP Thomas LaRock discussing DBAs migrating to architect roles, big data, Azure, and upcoming PASS events.
Details About Our Guest
Thomas LaRock is a seasoned IT professional with over a decade of technical and management experience. Currently serving as a Technical Evangelist for Confio Software, Thomas has progressed through several roles in his career including programmer, analyst, and DBA. Thomas holds a MS degree in Mathematics from Washington State University currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) and is a SQL Server MCM and MVP. Thomas is an avid blogger and is the author of DBA Survivor: Become a Rock Star DBA.
Show Notes And Links
Thomas blogs (
He shares his thoughts on DBA life (
Thomas mentioned Pro SQL Database for Windows Azure (
PASS Business Analytics Conference: (
We discussed Microsoft's Channel 9 site ( (Note the RSS feed option at the top of the page)
Show Transcript
Greg Low: Introducing Show 56 with guest Thomas LaRock.
Welcome, our guest today is Thomas LaRock. Thomas is a seasoned IT professional with over a decade of technical and management experience. Currently serving as a Technical Evangelist for Confio Software, Thomas has progressed through several roles in his career including programmer, analyst, and DBA. Thomas holds a MS degree in Mathematics from Washington State University currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) and is a SQL Server MCM and MVP. Thomas is an avid blogger and is the author of DBA Survivor: Become a Rock Star DBA. So welcome Thomas!
Thomas LaRock: Thank you. Thanks for having me Greg!
Greg Low: All good of course where I met Thomas was because I was involved with PASS and so you on the PASS board still at this point?
Thomas LaRock: I am and yes we pretty much met each other through PASS years ago and we actually served on the board together briefly.
Greg Low: Indeed, so what I get everyone to do when they first come on the show is just to describe briefly how did you ever come to be involved with SQL Server?
Thomas LaRock: Well let’s put it this way it was purely by accident. I was a developer and I was doing if you are familiar with PowerBuilder was what I was using so that tells you how old I am. I was using PowerBuilder on top of Informix, then PowerBuilder on top of Oracle and then PowerBuilder on top of Sybase. Sybase was the how would they say the keystone kind of thing. The gateway platform the company had Sybase and then SQL Server was coming up at the time and SQL Server 2000. I along my way of being a developer I started to want to gravitate towards the database administration so I started doing some backup and restore on Sybase and helping troubleshoot basic issues. One day they just came to me and said hey all the other DBAs just quit, you have done a re-store before? How would you like to be the new DBA? I am like yes alright I will do it and so we had three instances of SQL server at the time and when I left that company we were managing 180.
Greg Low: Yes that’s great so a lot of people never totally planned to go into it and sort of ended up there that is not uncommon at all. That’s good, listen you obviously an avid blogger and Twitter I might add as well but one of the topics that you raise a bit is the growth of this accidental architect I would just like to hear your thoughts on that?
Thomas LaRock: So the accidental architect, there is a whole concept of being an accidental DBA. I mean I consider myself this accidental DBA, I didn’t go to school to be a DBA, and nobody really does. It is one of those things that you kind of fall into or somebody gets identified like a company says you know we have grown to a point where we probably need to have somebody from specializing in this area of administration and you are a developer that we think you know that would fit this role or you are sysadmin we think that might fit this role. A lot of people might fall into it or either gravitates towards it or just having it dumped in your feet, so there is there an accidental DBA. What I have seen over my career and I have seen this happen for others is what happens especially true for SQL server and you know this right? Everything starts with SS, SQL Server something, SQL Server analysis services, SQL Server reporting services, SQL server integration services. What I would find is that somebody would come up to me and say that we are having trouble with these reports. Oh okay, I guess I can take a look well we just need you to fix it, we need you to do this now. But I go yes but it is report services, I don’t really know anything, yes but it says SQL Server. Aren’t you there DBA? You kind of take a step back and go I am the DBA but that doesn’t mean I know everything that starts with SQL Server, but the perception is that you do.
Greg Low: I would suggest that is impossible. I often say to people I think there was a time in the 70s when you could know most things about computing and I think there was a time in the 90s you could know most things about SQL Server.
Thomas LaRock: Yes but not anymore.
Greg Low: Not even now yes, I think it is long gone past that. The product is so broad and there are so many areas where you could have significant depth. I simply don’t think that is possible any more.
Thomas LaRock: Like me you have your SQL MCM, in fact you are one of the first people I ever met that had the certified masters in SQL server. I joke with people that mean I know a lot about, maybe 20% of the platform.
Greg Low: yes.
Thomas LaRock: There is a lot of stuff that I just don’t know, so what happens is it is all data. You get this question and somebody says hey I think I needed big data solution aren’t you the database guy? Shouldn’t you know something about this? And these other people are called accidental architects because now it is more than just backups and restores all learning about analysis services. Now it is about making decisions about pay may be Azure is the right choice here. I don’t know. I have got to go and learn and you are learning things that are much higher level it is an architectural level. I know people who started out as developers and ended up as CTO’s for start-up software companies because they have fallen accidentally into that role.
Greg Low: Yes that is interesting I think if I look forward and look into my crystal ball and think about what the world looks like in the future. I have no doubt that the typical technologist that will be successful will have a breadth of knowledge but depth in only one or two areas.
Thomas LaRock: I would say I completely agree. There is no question about that you will find that are really going to need to have familiarity with a lot of different things. Not just one company stack either, like I mentioned Azure but I need to be aware of what Amazon offers. Right, I need to know if somebody comes up to me and says please help me make the right decision. I need to be able to help them make the best informed decision possible so you really need to be able to know a little bit about a lot. You know we used to say what made a senior DBA administrator, it wasn’t necessarily knowing everything but being able to open up the manual and get up to speed very quickly and that is what I think the accidental architect have to do as well. They have to know a little bit, they have to be able to read the documentation and get up to speed and know the concepts and figure out what is the right choice.
Greg Low: Yes, I think one of the challenges in the industry is the, that as a whole. I often say to new students when they are thinking about working in IT, I think it is the only discipline that I have ever come across where I would suggest that 80% to 90% of what you know today is almost useless in four years’ time. The other had 10% to 20% is what keeps you out of trouble. The things that you get to keep in their but unless you are prepared to be doing some sort of ongoing learning just absolutely constantly it is probably the wrong industry.
Thomas LaRock: I agree yes.
Greg Low: I suppose then that leads a question like how do you break your day up? Do you have a percentage of your day trying to learn new things?
Thomas LaRock: Me personally yes. I think I am kind of lucky my job in that I get to learn new things as part of my job. I don’t have to necessarily set-aside an hour day to do it sometimes it gets a forced upon me. So for example yesterday I had a customer who needed help with then equal logic SAN, right? I am somewhat familiar but needed to get more in depth information and up to speed in order to help so little things like that will happen to me throughout my day and somebody will come up to me and asked questions about Amazon RDS versus Windows Azure SQL Database and the differences. It is kind of lucky for me right? Not everybody has that opportunity.
There are times when I say, all right I will block out the next hour because I am going to do something here with power pivot and I want to see how I can visualize the information, performance data? Can I put it and make it pretty and help someone get some insight here? If I can do that, then I would spend the time. Sometimes I get lucky.
Greg Low: That is largely on demand. Do you try and do any other sort of proactive things about? All maybe due you get enough from your job but a lot of people will find that they just need to constantly have a trickle of new things going on in the background as well. In the case of MCMs or MVP’s and so part of that is going to be the fact that mailing lists that you are on just keep raising topics all the time that you think I know I do, I look and think wow I haven’t even thought about that. The sort of things almost come up on it daily basis.
Thomas LaRock: Yes I agree with that as well. The mailing lists that we are part of definitely help, the distribution list for the MVP’s and the MCMs. What was the one the other day about billing? A simple question about billing in Azure and you look and go wow I never thought about the struggle that I see here and so now I need to go and learn more.
Greg Low: I think that is one of the interesting things about the technical community been global now to is that you just quickly get opinions from, the needs from all over the world rather than just in a specific area as well.
Thomas LaRock: That is definitely a point right, because you get people would just thinking of things for their particular locale which is much different than yours. You must have a much different perspective, something as simple as Gail down in South Africa and she talks about the bandwidth issue. For her certain things there are no question that she can’t do certain things because she can’t download because she doesn’t have the bandwidth with the technology. You never think about those things and the struggles that they have because you get used to where you are.
Greg Low: Yes in fact Gail Shaw in South Africa and it is interesting when we have that because people will just post something up and say yes just download this. Then Gail will be the one say yes yes please someone download it somewhere else and send it to me or something. It is a real struggle when they have is that sort of thing. Do you tend to go back and watch, with PASS, the content that comes with the previous summit, my take is that when I tend to go to these things I don’t get to spend all that much time attending all the sessions actually? There is usually so much more networking and other things going on. Even if I did want to there are so many sessions that I would like to watch, I can never get to see them during the week that I am there anyway. Do you spend much time going back to look at them later? The sessions I know that is one of the things that I find useful resource is the pass sessions, Tech Ed sessions, and a whole lot of sessions on Channel 9 ( I find these very very good resources of getting up to speed on topics.
Thomas LaRock: Absolutely what I try to do is I try to make a list of all the things I want to try and see, like if I am going to the summit I will know what will be the top 10 or 15 sessions that I definitely want to attend right? Most likely I am not going to attend a session, I already know that because I am busy with the board all just busy in general networking.
Greg Low: Yes.
Thomas LaRock: If I can get them off the DVD as an attendee later, it is just if you have a chance of having a conversation with a group or sitting in the session, you know you make that choice there but going afterwards what I do with that list I sort of say alright here are the 10 or 15 I wanted to see then I try and find the time to watch those again. I mean I don’t get through the whole DVD but a highlight that, Channel 9 is another one out of Tech Ed that has a lot of sessions at Tech Ed. A lot of sessions at Tech Ed and I am not going to see them all, sometimes I find them through a Google search. It’s like oh yeah there is a video on Channel 9 let me watch so-and-so from Tech Ed. I remember I wanted to go and see this and I missed it.
Greg Low: I find that people don’t seem to be or that aware of Channel 9. Another thing to be aware of with them is they have an RSS feed and so if people do blog reading just get the Channel 9 RSS feed and plant those in there as well. That just gives a constant stream of things as they are being posted up. The volume of content up there is just amazing.
Thomas LaRock: Absolutely, I was in a where they had an RSS feed. You need to include that in this.
Greg Low: Yes I will put that up there in the show notes. I find that is a very good one to use and having posted videos on behalf of Microsoft on Channel 9, the number of people that view them is astonishing. It is quite common for me to have videos that I have posted up there and you just see tens of thousands, you know 30,000 or 50,000 people, you know people viewing them it is quite high.
Thomas LaRock: I didn’t even know about the Channel 9 videos until last year at Tech Ed when I saw people talking about and using it. I was just unaware of it, but since now that I know about it you are right it has a lot of views and a lot of great content. For some reason it just doesn’t seem to get as well publicized.
Greg Low: And look so thinking about this whole topic like how to keep up to date the other one that comes across is I mean if you are doing architectural work, rather than just DBA work. So if you just wanted to grow into just doing architectural work, the other thing that you just need to be aware of other technologies and the interaction of the technologies that you are into with those other technologies and so this is a again while you might get questions as you said about Azure things or whatever but you just may as easily be getting questions about MVC or node JS or current things about HTML 5 interaction and Ajax and so on. These are the sort of territories that you are going to be able to field some level of familiarity with this as people with more and more into an architectural role. There is a significant challenging keeping across even base level knowledge in all those sorts of areas as they expand?
Thomas LaRock: Yes I’m not sure how anybody could expect to keep up with the volume of information that is coming our way. Like you mentioned, you are going to have to have a lot of breadth but you are only going to dive so deep into it just a couple of those pockets right?
Greg Low: Yes, I think one of the challenges though is you well increasingly be dealing with development teams and I think a critical thing for architects is you are going to need to be able to understand what they are talking about.
Thomas LaRock: Yes, absolutely I agree.
Greg Low: Now you mentioned also that you have gone through the MCM program and so congrats on passing them masters cert. How did you find the process for studying that? Or did you study or was it more experience?
Thomas LaRock: I have blocked about it as you mentioned I do tend to blog a bit. It was a combination of a lot of things and it took me a long time to get through it all. Back in the day of course you could have gone on campus for three weeks and that is third rotation that you are familiar with. I try to get in but it was very difficult for me to find the time to get some support in all the different areas that I need. I mean that is a real bootcamp style where you get to case your life. That was going to be an option for me, so I had to take a little bit of a slow route and around that time they change the program to be more distributed right? You could go to a testing centre to achieve their goal. That was great for me, but in order to study it required if you think different things; one I needed Microsoft to point in the right direction for the materials. Joe Sac I thought did a great job, making that material available. The SQL videos that they had done, the videos by Paul, the videos by Kim especially. They were very, very helpful.
Greg Low: Joe is working with them but we should point out that Joe was actually heading that program for a period of time as well.
Thomas LaRock: Joe was the MCM program director at Microsoft at the time but he now works with Paul and Kim. So you had the material and it was a matter of having the experience and that took a little bit of time as well. As you know certain things are in the material aren’t necessarily something you touch every day. So then you have to go through the process of building out these instances on VMs and just tweaking things and figuring out basically you want to do it until it breaks, understand why it broke and what you can do to fix it. Then to be at the master level, is to put things in place so they never have a chance to break to begin with right?
Greg Low: Yes I suppose one of the questions that come to mind all the time, is why did you put yourself through it in the first place?
Thomas LaRock: So that is a great question. I mean there is value because I work for a software vendor; there is value in my company hat having an MCM on staff right. There is also a lot of value for me personally; it is one of those things that you push yourself. I mean if I already have all the certifications except that one so what is stopping me, it is just the effort to get out there and do it, so you push yourself to a little more successful. I will be honest that I had my eyes set on the MCA, aren’t you one of the few that have the MCA?
Greg Low: No I ended up not doing that as yet and again that is another one that takes a whole lot of layer, it is aboard interview type of thing and it is a bit of a challenge to get those organized in particular from other parts of the world as well. There is a relatively small number of MCA’s but again the focus is different it is more on project management so on rather than technical. They keep the masters one as the technical level there but the other one is more I suppose the architect and project management sort of side of things.
Thomas LaRock: I am thinking about that one these days I really am. I am just wondering if that would be right for me as well as I continue to progress but.
Greg Low: Yes I suspect it’s not for everyone I think. If you look at the people that are largely in that group, it is very much tends to be internal Microsoft folk in particular that one. I think that is more about the practicalities of achieving it is probably the reasons for that.
Thomas LaRock: Is that a Bootcamp type one too?
Greg Low: No, no it is not sort of a formal training type thing it is much more a preparation thing. You have to prepare turn up and deliver case studies and answer questions and things. It is more about the challenges of getting appropriate panels in place to do the assessment and so on. There is role-playing and things like that. It is more that sort of thing.
Thomas LaRock: Yes that sounds that it would take a real long time to pull together.
Greg Low: Yes, I actually did get to do sort of kind of beta run of that at an early stage but it was, I will be kind to it and say that it was not well organised at the time. They were still very much in the formative is stage of getting it in place and things like I have lined to stay an extra are week in the US to do it and they told me they couldn’t do it and then a couple of days before they said hang on they can do it again. I started to try and then prepare these staff that was prepared and there were no resources at all and at 9 o’clock the night before I was supposed to do it first thing in the morning, they then published these stuff that told you what you need it and so on and so on. It was a very disorganised thing at the time I was doing that but I have no doubt it is evolving to a very organised programme as time goes on now.
Thomas LaRock: Yes I’m sure.
Greg Low: Listen one of the things I also wanted to ask you about, I noted an interesting comment you made where you are talking about data and analysis providers and you say that they are a key into the snake oil tales of 100 years ago I would love to drill in to know why you are thinking that?
Thomas LaRock: I work for a company and it is in financial services and one thing that you learn that past results do not guarantee future returns right? In other words you cannot predict the future, if you made 5% of your money last year it doesn’t mean that you are going to make 5% this year. So you start to understand a little bit about what you can and can’t do. And it comes through the whole thing of predictive analysis, data analysis but that goes back several years. Just in the past few years the explosion of just big data, just the term, just in terms of marketing aspect. What it leads to is it leads to the accidental architect because people inside the company start asking all these questions and guys like me have to figure out what are we talking about? What do we need?
Greg Low: In fact one thing before we go any further I will just asked you about is the thing I posted about a little while ago myself is the term big data concerns me. To me seems like an inappropriate term, one of the guys and answering on my blog said he thought awkward data was probably more of an appropriate terminology for it. I think it is worth just sort of, it is not really about volume necessarily, it is techniques that would allow you to deal with volume but techniques to do new ways of handling things that would be kind of awkward data to deal with. So when you are talking about big data, what is your take on the meaning of words because I think they are much hyped words?
Type was LaRock: I like the way, I remember your blog post I like the way they said awkward data. That is a good way of putting it. At the MVP summit last week, somebody had a quote that essentially said big data lets you understand the question you didn’t know you needed to ask, right? That is another way of putting it, so big data has to be big but doesn’t necessarily have to be awkward, it has to be something that is unstructured. It just has to be, you just need to have access to it to the information. It doesn’t matter what format it is in, it is information that helps you make a business decision, right or any decision. The word data that they use is insight. That is kind of the term that I am attacking when I say think oil salesmen because they are promising you these insights, they are promising people if you have a see CPL that is reading all these buzzwords about big data and thinking about to themselves what do they need. The problem is that people are coming forward to make all these promises, and they are saying we are going to give you all the insights so you can be ahead of your competition and I am here telling you that they can’t promise that. They are but they can’t really promise and deliver that and a lot of times all that they are doing is giving you training on how to use power pivot.
Greg Low: Yes.
Thomas LaRock: They are not spending time with you on understanding your business and trying to figure out what questions you might have or you might need. They just drop in and say here is big data, this is what HADOOP means, here’s some data files for you, here is some weather patterns in Chile for you and none of that is going to help you get to where you need to. You really need to be wary of the people who are overpromising things, a lot of things they are just capitalizing what is essentially a marketing term at this point.
Greg Low: Yes I think that is what troubles me about I see it as just a very you very marketing term. It was interesting some of the blog posts from Stephen Phew and a few others and they were questioning a lot of the terminology around this and certainly probably the most offensive part is simply the word big. Because in many cases you are not talking about big, and I think nowadays if you think about big by computing terms I mean a lot most of these things a lot of people are talking about are simply not big any more at all, it is just ridiculous. Yes I think it is more how do we deal with something that is awkward to process, and basically the techniques for dealing with that that could scale potentially to very large numbers but it just fascinates me the number of sites I see all particularly consulting that specialize in big data and what fascinates me is that barely any of the customers have big data at all. I think this is very much a marketing term and more targeted around techniques but one of the things I should do at one point is I should get someone on the show talking about page the insight and HADOOP and so on perhaps Cindy Gross or someone but we will bring that up in an upcoming show I think.
Thomas LaRock: One other thing I would like to mention is I think another part of the issue is a real lack of understanding of basic statistics. Something like what does it mean for correlation versus causation, right? The snake all salesmen I think show up and try to bring you to a conclusion but the reality is they don’t have the basic statistics skills to really make heads or tails of the information right and because of that I think we are also seeing just a lot of people just being victims. They are throwing good money after bad.
Greg Low: Yes that is interesting actually it is one thing I suppose is the left brain right brain thing too. I find it is amazing number of people in the community struggle with basic logic and so it is lit interesting when you talk about causality. The idea that you look at something and you see something doesn’t necessarily define how it came to be that way and so on. I think understanding causality staff is an interesting question in itself.
Thomas LaRock: Absolutely I think that is all a part and why I would just tell people if you are thinking that you need big data, you need some analytics and you need to bring some people in-house. You could just do a few basic checks and if they are not there to talk about your business and what your needs are, they are spending 25% to 35% of the time upfront just understanding you then they are probably not the right solution provider for you right. They have got to come in and understand your staff and the other thing like the basic stats correlation causation and the logic and these are basic skills. Believe it or not! Not a lot of people have them. Right you are talking about people who would have been heads down coding or something to them logic is then else statement, there is more to it than that. Sometimes I think that gets lost.
Greg Low: Even a basic understanding of logic does amaze me around the community I mean the classic example that comes to mind was the Da Vinci code the book. I had so many friends who read that and they went wow look at that and so on. When I read that book and I did pick it up and read it from beginning to end and it was great to read it through but the thing that offended me all the way through it was the logic. What he would do was all the way through the book he would say here is a preposterous suggestion A and you know if A was true then B would be true. Where B is already something he knows is true and you go oh B is true and you go A must have been true and you go no. It just doesn’t work like that and the entire book was just one series after another of that sort of logic or non-logic. Wow that just grated on the mathematical side of me the whole time.
Thomas LaRock: Yes I haven’t read the book or seen the movie but I could certainly see what it is one of those things that you say no I think you’re drawing a false conclusion there.
Greg Low: There is just no possibility you could draw the conclusion that he was just actually drawing, so it is interesting. So listen, another topic that you comment on is that you see Microsoft as the new electric company. I remember you noted complete with billing problems. How do you see this evolving?
Thomas LaRock: Amazon, Microsoft they are really switching into full service provider mode these days, right. Everything you see coming from them is subscription based, service based, just like the electric company. Just like the waterworks right? My electric company is just a service they give me my lights I just pay a bill, it is a nice little relationship we have, right I pay my bill on time my lights stay on. Same thing with Microsoft and Azure, I mean this is what they want they want people to be giving them money every month on a reliable basis. They want to be a utility, they want to provide service, they want to provide platform, infrastructure, and do whatever it takes to make our lives easier and in exchange for that they get a steady revenue stream. That is a utility and complete with utility problems because you have seen the discussions where people say pay such and such just got shut-off and I had no idea I was new my limit. All why can’t I change easily from this credit card to this are the credit card, I don’t understand why, how did I charge of thousand dollars last month, can someone explain my bill to me? And I laugh and I say they are building like a utility company, complete with billing problems not just them but Amazon they all have it. It is all new for them, it is growing fast, they are getting better at it but it is kind of funny to see how they are really trying to.
You know if you have a company and you were making software and that is a product in a box and the future of the world is getting away from this boxed product what would you do? You could either stand your ground or say boxes for everybody or you get on board with distributed computing and everything else and that is what they have done. It is not a bad thing it is where the technology is headed now.
Greg Low: It absolutely use in fact I was teaching a class this week, BI core skills class and it was actually is great to see the numbers was actually full again this week it was really interesting. The interest is there at the moment. I look at a lot of these things and I just see there is just a total movement in that direction. I look at, if I look at data quality as a good example I have got customers around the country who their IP is around cleansing of data in various ways but they still very much think of themselves as somebody sends them a batch of data, they do cleansing of it. Via addresses whatever the thing is and they then back this stuff up and sends back chunk of data and I keep talking to a lot of these guys and saying look somehow you have to set yourself up as a service. The interesting thing is they will work end up with a much wider variety of customers coming to them as well. If there are small as incremental services available but it is a complete shift from them even for people who use to doing chance of data as a service. A lot of them are very used to the idea of doing it in big batches sort of chunks and they all have to move to some sort of service based model.
Thomas LaRock: Okay, you are saying this is mostly for data quality?
Greg Low: Yes in this case yes, so for people who do really good work address cleansing for example. Again I think they need to wrap that up and have that available as an online service rather than focusing on customers who are going to bundle up a whole lot of addresses data that they have received, send it to them, get it cleansed and get it sent back. Over a period, it is not where it is heading and if I look at even in the Azure data market things like Melissa and so on are starting to head down that path but the other thing they add a richness to it that you wouldn’t are the rise have. For example, I send to a service you know an address and say please cleanse this but as well is just sending it but back, it sends things like by the way we have geo-located it for you and all these sorts of things come back as additional value add on that data when you send that off and call these services.
Similarly I have seen US phone numbers where I send a phone number in but it sends me back details that say hey that looks like a valid phone number. The area code is actually valid, like last time we had an idea of the location it was kind of here and it was a voice over IP phone and so on and so on and so on. That sort of info comes back not just be cleaned up phone number, but the idea that all these sorts of things are available as online services that you call on demand I think it that is where that is all heading.
Thomas LaRock: I think so too, you know it is actually not new right? Based on SOAP and things like that, getting big into SQL Server with 2005, I mean the idea you know once we talked about we were going to publish some stored procedures as a service or something I forget what we were building but the idea was to architects something that might be a little more stable than whatever we had been using. But we were looking at publishing our own service based things. So is somebody in the company needed to know end of the month date, right and you declared a function and we could publish it as a service and the people could pull it down and then you would have the company using one function instead of everybody writing their own end of month functions as an example. So it has been there all along but for were whatever reason, this kills me Greg. It has been there all along, but all of a sudden in the last two years it is not a new concept but people fear it. They are like no I am not sending my information to the cloud and I laughed because you have been doing it for a decade. What is different now? They say privacy, this that and the other and I go those concerns were always there to begin with. They just fear change, they are just afraid and I don’t get it.
Greg Low: It is interesting again a lot of organizations that we go into say they are really worried about the security of our data and so on and I same where is your payroll data? Oh actually will yes we do use this service, and I go where is this and they say that is up. They say that their data is all over the place most of these organizations but the thing that strikes me when I look at, I mean the Azure guys and Amazon and others to but the thing is that they do have problems no question. Like things will happen occasionally, but on their worst day, they do a better job than almost any company that I ever walk into.
Thomas LaRock: You know there have been times when I know the cloud has gone off-line but honestly I would have to agree with that. They do a really good job of it and they are getting better at it. Pretty soon my kids aren’t going to think twice about it. They are just not.
Greg Low: I think some of it like, there is a protection of it. I have done some work with some aged health providers in the country here. I think what happens here is a bit that they are all concerned is something does go wrong at some point then even though it was probably a saying or rational decision they’d don’t want to be the one that somebody points to and go you did something different and that was the thing that led to the issue. You know so then they are going to get nailed. What a lot of them are looking for is just a whole body around them to all start doing the same thing because then it becomes the norm. When they feel that they are the odd one out doing it that is the real problem.
It was interesting I noted a few weeks back Sweden coming out and saying you know we are just totally happy with our citizen’s data and stuff like that living in Azure. They just came out in did that at the government level and that is interesting.
Thomas LaRock: That is very interesting because I just know how regionalized Europe is but I am guessing that they are saying they are comfortable with it because their data centre sits inside their border. I am going to assume that is the case because that is usually.
Greg Low: No that wasn’t actually the case.
Thomas LaRock: Oh okay.
Greg Low: In that situation.
Thomas LaRock: In some countries they are very particular I believe Germany, France are very particular about how the data is accessing it inside their borders. So if an entire nation says we are comfortable with being, that is a huge first step even if they weren’t and you were Germany, France and you say you know it has to sit inside our borders and the answer is fine. We will give you a data centre right there it is yours right?
Greg Low: Yes I think it is interesting that analogy you are talking about the electric company I mean people don’t realise as well there is a reason they build data centres in certain locations. I know the guys were telling me that two thirds of the cost of running a data centre is cooling. It is basically power that is it and so it is interesting the analogy with electric utility companies and so on because in fact there is discussion down the track you will probably be charged by the kilowatt hour for computing instead of four disks and CPU and things like that because actually nothing else matters in the data centre except cooling. It is all about power, that is the only thing that comes into it.
That is why I am saying it is interesting that they started building data centres in the sun belt areas of California for example and then realised that is not the cleverest thing that they are ever going to do. They started to build them around the bottom of the Lakes area in Chicago and at least it was cold and so on. I notice now that there is a huge race that is on in place like Iceland and so on where it is just interesting. They have virtually unlimited geothermal power but now you have got to wonder as soon as you have virtually unlimited geothermal power, do I want my dates are sitting on a volcano should be the next question? Basically they don’t need raw resources, they just need money and of course they have the best Internet connectivity in the entire world in those areas because the US, Europe interconnect runs through Iceland and Greenland. So they are actually latency wise positioned right between US and Europe and they have more bandwidth than anybody else. They have amazing power resources and it is cold and remote and so this is a good thing for Iceland.
Thomas LaRock: It sounds like it, it sounds like it is a good thing for all of us though. It is very interesting that I am going to pay Microsoft who might charge me by the kilowatt hour. They are going to have to reduce my billing, it is like paying. I am going to be paying bills for power to all sorts of different companies but I haven’t really thought about that. I have worked with data centres before; you know how much it costs down to the square foot. It always comes down to the calling, you want to reduce, you virtualize servers, you physically consolidated it because why? It is cooling. Oh man!
Greg Low: It even goes further than that, if you look at the operating systems it seems remarkable that when they first came out with options for example for moving around workloads while they were in use. So I can move in operation or a service or an application from one server to another even while people are connected to it and of course the reason they do it in the data centres is that they need to keep moving your application to the coolest part of the data centre.
Thomas LaRock: Oh wow!
Greg Low: To be able to minimise the overall temperature of the overall datacentre. I mean these guys are working in a world that most of us just are not familiar with at all.
Thomas LaRock: No not at all, I had no idea that was a factor consideration. This server is the coolest, that is the one we identify, move the workload there.
Greg Low: And I mean how many people do that in their own datacenter, it is not something you even think about.
Thomas LaRock: No they never, they think it has its own CPU and memory so we can put it there but nobody is thinking it is the warmest.
Greg Low: No it is quite intriguing but I find it is the same with Internet service providers. I think this is one of the be concerns people have is they say look with my data at worst I can always get to it but there is this sort of resistance that says you know I know what it’s like for example in the US dealing with my cable company or my Internet service provider do I really want to have that relationship with the person that has my data?
This is I think one of the really big insightful things when you are talking about complete billing problems for Microsoft and others is people really going to want to have a better relationship then they do would with their existing electricity company than people like that when it is their data that they are concerned about.
Thomas LaRock: Absolutely yes. I haven’t thought about that either but you are definitely want to have a good relationship with the people that you have entrusted your data with right.
Greg Low: Yes, so I think there real challenges there for that and so it is not that I mean they will still provide amazing service and so on but it does mean there is a role there I think for someone who in knows how to deal with them well and who knows how to do deal with the client well. I think that sort of middle person there is a significant role in around that sort of area as well.
Thomas LaRock: All those Windows Azure MVPs, those of the key people of our future. You
Greg Low: Looking forward, I notice that you tend to feel that their coming changes offer more opportunities not less. I would just like to hear your thoughts around that?
Thomas LaRock: Yes I had mentioned earlier people tend to fear change. Can’t touch my data, can’t go to the cloud, I don’t want to hear about Azure because it is just unrealistic right. I am seeing a shift finally. It took me a while, I was always open to the idea but I never saw an application practical use for it. The last couple of years I have really seen all the great efforts that, three years really from now since I have been playing with Azure and I can see how it has all developed and I am really excited for it.
It is just that, I have always seen this as an opportunity. It is learning something new which we talked earlier about and it is always nice to do. It is not going to cost me a job. I guess there is this idea that being an on premise DBA means everything is there locally and that is your kingdom and you fear having Azure being the platform. You don’t want stuff to go to the cloud, you don’t want to hear about it but the thing is that there is a whole transition phase where you have to know both. You need to know on prem and you need to know Azure and that’s where we are transitioning to. I think 3 to 5 years down the road, the idea of being an on prem DBA, the idea of me having a data centre in my own company, the idea of me having to walk into this room where the server is and be able to determine all there that is going to be gone. That is going to be gone faster than people realize.
Greg Low: It is interesting you say 3 to 5 years, I remember about two years ago one of our colleagues Paul Nielsen I remember Paul saying he wonder just how far away it was before having your data on premises seen quite.
Thomas LaRock: Yes it is not that far because what they have released recently was you can get hosted Azure right? So you get your own VM in Azure, so if you want a full instance of SQL Server, you have your own instance of SQL Server in Azure. Same as in Amazon right or rack space and that is just it. I know companies I have worked with companies where everything is hosted. I worked for a company where on day one they say here is your laptop, here is the URL to get your email, here is where you do this. There is no data centre I work remotely. It is a brave new world right now; people need to know a little bit of both. That is a wonderful opportunity, right now you get to have a job and you get to learn all those new things and then you get to transition from being the DBA in the cloud later on because there is a role for you there. People don’t get that but believe it or not a DBA only administering windows Azure SQL databases that is going to exist. You are going to need somebody in that role.
Greg Low: Yes I think what people find a little challenging is of course it is going to be a different role to the one that is currently there. The concerns that you are going to have on a daily basis will not necessarily be the same as you have today but you will still nonetheless have things involved. I think it will be important for people to get a little bit more concerned about the logical design of what they are doing rather than the physical design. No question, people need to be honing skills more in the upper levels.
It is interesting to fold back to the discussion in the MCM, one of the things about the masters certification that concerned me actually was the move towards the more recent structure is they tended to remove a whole lot of the development logical sort of stuff and focus when they had to narrow it down a bit to more low-level stuff and the concern I have got with that to me that is the stuff that has the shortest shelf life.
Thomas LaRock: Well I have never had any one call my MCM low level MCM but I think I understand what you are saying but I don’t have the background of what the program used to be like but
Greg Low: What I was getting at is that if you look at SQL Server you tend to have even without having the BI side, you tend to have the database development skills and the very low level file system IO those types of skills. It is interesting to me that the shift in their programme is towards the lower end of things, the very fine IO physical you know those sorts of things.
Thomas LaRock: The perfect example would just be recovery. When you are on Azure SQL databases you don’t worry about that.
Greg Low: And this is the thing that I am getting at is that for skills that have a shelf life into the future, I would like to see the whole thing tending towards more further up the stack rather than further down the stack.
Thomas LaRock: Yes I can see that.
Greg Low: Simply because I just think those skills are the ones that are going to hang around a lot longer. Have you been implementing much in the way of databases there? One of the things I find all the time that does concern me, is I see Microsoft marketing that basically says take your application, point your connection string to the cloud and all will be good. That is not just how I see it at all.
Thomas LaRock: So three years ago I actually found on or presentation on mine. I actually had a presentation for back then it was still SQL Azure right? It was about migrating and getting data into the cloud and using the data sync and all the tools available at the time. They were woefully inadequate, but they were there before you had to really put a lot of stuff together. I just hope people you know people get better I do know when but I’m sure you will. So three years later, well just last year I was doing the tech review for a Pro SQL Azure book, written by Scott Kline from Microsoft and boy somebody else I can’t remember his name. You will have to include it now I can’t remember it.
Greg Low: Yes I will put a note to that.
Thomas LaRock: Yes put a note for it you know actually where is the book I should have a right in front of me but the ones like that give me the opportunity to revisit things. Back to the portals, back to the deployment and I have to be honest is it ever going to be point and click and you will be done? No but you know what is point and click? Starting stuff that is new, so if I have an idea for an app in a store, I can get set up and running inside an hour and have something deployed and available for people to download. I mean it was that quick for me, and as a DBA I could say what did it do behind-the-scenes? I could look at the structure of the data and say that might not be possible for some of these queries. I will have to go back and fix it later but I have an awareness of that.
Migrating data to the cloud? If you know what to do to treat it beforehand? Yes it was in that difficult to actually get it up there. You have to have awareness, you have to have the skills, I have been touching for three years now. There are certain things that I just know, if I want to get my data there and be able to use it you are going to have to use that clustered index. If my database doesn’t have a clustered index on a table it is something I have to fix before I think about migrating.
Greg Low: That’s right it is going to enforce certain designs on you to a degree, but I think the other concern I have got is there is going to be this period where there is going to be this hybrid thing as well. Where people will have some stuff on premise and some stuff in the cloud as well and how you deal with that is interesting. For example, one of the sessions I have been putting together I tend to try and do it as session or two each year and it’s just things around lessons I have been learning while implementing some of these systems where particularly aware you have hybrid things in place. For example I can go off and create a linked server in an on premises database and point that to and Azure database. That works okay, but it is interesting things like when I start using things like for example the MERGE statement, now I can use that in my code but what I found performance wise and so on, that has actually not been a very good story because of latency. If I want to do you insert of the data that is in there or update data that use merge has actually been a pretty good story but what I found that I have done in Azure that I would never do in an on premise one is I have ended up building and in insert or update instead of trigger in the Azure database and then I just do inserts.
Thomas LaRock: Ha okay..
Greg Low: What is interesting is the inserts stream up in a big lump and then I will deal with a trigger at the other end and what amazes me I am getting way different performance characteristics by doing this sort of thing. So there are so many of these sorts of things like another one, I was looking at data when you say how do I move a whole lot of data from here up to the cloud one? If you look at all the things I see online people talk about how you might tune it into integration services and so on to sort of point it, migrate the data. I had a thing the other day, that I worked out was going to take 14 hours to push up mostly because of latency concerns even with all the best things I could do in around integration services however in Cumulative Update 2 of Service Pack 1 for SQL 2012 they added the ability to backup and restore from URL. Now this is fascinating because what I was able to do was build code that wrote data into a new database that I wanted to move. I then did a backup of the database with compression to a URL in Azure storage and then I just restored the data in a Azure VM, the whole thing was about 30 minutes now.
Thomas LaRock: Wow!
Greg Low: These sorts of things are just starting to do my head in, you know the idea. It is even the same skills you are reusing in different ways but just the assumption the way that you have done things in the past. It isn’t just a case of pointing the connection somewhere else and hoping for the best, there really are significant differences things that a dado pursing can be doing in this upcoming world.
Thomas LaRock: Yes the example that I was given recently was we have got some really sloppy coding out there. I sometimes role against scrum and agile because I think it’s just an excuse for people to be sloppy. One of the things we have come to rely on is connectivity, there is an assumption that you are going to build this app and connect to it and it is always going to be there right? But with Azure you realize that you have two have retry logic now that retry logic, that was fairly standard coding thing 20 or 30 years ago. You did that right everything, I am going to try and connect if I can’t then I would just retry and I will just keep retrying until it is there or something right? Our development guys they lost this at some point. It was like why I would have to retry on there. Well with Azure, you do so we are back to may be getting better coding standards out of this. You are talking about some old skills that have come back to you and thinking of things differently it is not really new, you are just thinking of it in a different order. I think on top of that there is also, I think we are going to get some better coding practices out of this as well.
Greg Low: Yes I have said I find it fascinating the thing that has intrigued me, there is just more and more projects that I am involved with almost every day at the moment that are starting to have some Azure related aspects to them. Particularly even VMs and people want to get their head around that it is a good example of a VM template up there has a full SQL Server evaluation edition already pre-installed on it. If I go to Azure and I need to spin up a VM to do some learning or things like that, now it is so easy to try and provision gear to say just be me up a VM based on that template and literally 10 minutes later you have got a VM sitting there running on whatever level hardware you pick on in terms of resources with SQL Server and everything already pre-installed and that is just incredible!
Thomas LaRock: Yes I haven’t had a chance to do that yet but I heard about that and I know from you and others that I see that those in the distribution list that are doing it. It really is amazing to me just how far they have come.
Greg Low: Listen one of the things that I like to ask everybody to cover is their life outside SQL server?
Thomas LaRock: For me personally?
Greg Low: Yes.
Thomas LaRock: There is, there is!
Greg Low: So what sort of things keep you occupied outside that? Or is there anything that is passionate outside the databases?
Thomas LaRock: You know that I am actually think data and databases are my passion at this point. I have got my children who are wonderful; we try to take vacations together as a family. All the standard stuff I used to do a lot of basketball coaching back when I was a little bit younger and that stuff is kind of fallen off. These days I tend to enjoy some travel, I enjoy being with my family more than anything else and dado and databases are really more of a passion. There is always reading some good books and I enjoy a lot of puzzles and games.
Greg Low: Great!
Thomas LaRock: Scrabble is my favourite right now, we are just friends things like that.
Greg Low: And bacon?
Thomas LaRock: You know bacon and cooking I have always been into food and cooking. But bacon I just can’t get enough of it.
Greg Low: For those that don’t know, there seems to be a running thread in Thomas’s post related to bacon. It seems to be a special passion.
Thomas LaRock: You just can’t go wrong with bacon, even for people who can’t eat it that is the gateway meet that they would love to have. That is the one thing; it is more fun at this point because people just send me stuff.
Greg Low: To do with bacon?
Thomas LaRock: Yes I saw this bacon thing that I thought you would like so he you go. So you just laugh! I get articles sent to me and links sent to me it is a lot of fun these days. I have always enjoyed food and cooking as well.
Greg Low: So look going forward where will people come across you or see you in the upcoming months?
Thomas LaRock: Great question, the big one is Tech Ed. I am doing a pre-con with Grant Fritchey, Danny Wein we are doing it is basically I do know the exact title but I guess I should. It is a pre-con-based about being a DBA in transitioning from being an on premise to the cloud right? So the skills and abilities you have right now how you are doing things today to how you will need to do things in the future and the hybrid of approach you have talked about. Maybe that solution for the upsurge is a little bit different to what you are thinking. We will be doing that, in New Orleans the first week of June and two weeks later we are all heading to Madrid. So if you are listening to this and you are going to be in Spain Madrid in the third week of June you can come and check us out. That is going to be the big one is Tech Ed. I will be at the PASS Summit; I will be at the business analytics conference in Chicago.
Greg Low: Yes I was going to ask you about that as well, what is the thinking of feeling about that as a separate summit within PASS?
Thomas LaRock: I am not sure I would call that a summit quite yet. But right now we just call at a conference so the thought is that we have a lot of members who are at the like those accidental architects and they need to have more information about the 80% of the data platform tools that we never really talk about. There is also a new market out there, of people who are basically who are just like us who might be working just by themselves and they have a DBA who is often just by themselves and they reach out and they get connected with other people in the community. There are people using tools like Excel and they are by themselves and they have quite a lot of questions. We thought would be great to offer them a chance to get together and actually learn from one another.
Greg Low: Excellent.
Thomas LaRock: This April is the first one in Chicago, we are going to do another one next year. We are committed to providing this for our members. We feel that with 125,000 members of PASS, we are feeling a need for them.
Greg Low: The main PASS summit I suppose is the word I could use to describe it, moving this year?
Thomas LaRock: Yes it is we will be in Charlotte, so how many years have we been in Seattle? Five, I think?
Greg Low: Yes quite a few.
Thomas LaRock: Yes we are coming east, we are taking the show on the road this year. We are going to Charlotte we will be there in October and that is the flagship event. That is the one you have known and loved for 14 years now. It is going to be different to not be in Seattle and it will be very different for us. All indications right now show us that we are headed for another great event there.
Greg Low: Excellent! Well listen so thank you so very much for your time today Tom. We will see you again soon.
Thomas LaRock: Yes I really appreciate you offering to have me on the show Greg, it was wonderful!
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