Joining the Digital Dots: What’s your worst data storage story?

What’s your worst data storage nightmare? Feel free to comment, I’ve got a few, but I do have a personal favourite.
A few years ago, I visited a company who wanted to talk Business Intelligence to me. In order to get an idea of the quality of their technical estate, I started to ask about their existing processes about the data. For example, how do they back up their SQL Server databases? What do they have in place for storing data now, and what’s their future plans for SQL Server.

Well, it turned out that they had a very mysterious plan for storage. They placed backup on on a USB hard drive, which was located on their premises – but that was their only data storage facility for backup. The killer for me was that, when the USB drive was full, they started to back up data to the receptionist’s computer because ‘it wasn’t busy during the day’.

I am sure, dear reader, I don’t need to tell you what’s wrong with this storage ‘strategy’, but let’s list a few ideas out…

Simply put, having everything on the premises was a bad idea since the data was business critical. Further, if their premises were ever burgled, the first thing that would disappear would be the receptionist’s computer given its proximity the front door. Given that the USB Hard drive was being shunted from desk to desk and easily accessible (and pinchable!) this could only be considered a temporary dumping place for data at best.

The resolution was simply to offer the customer a cloud storage strategy, which they could easily afford and put in place quite simply. This was a nimble solution for a small to medium enterprise, who can’t afford the data centres and other facilities of larger organisations.  This is what happened, and the organisation was quite happy once they’d been advised properly, and understood the cheapness of the cloud solution versus losing all their data due to critical loss, theft or simple plain bad luck.

Looking at data is no longer about looking at only one technology, a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Knowing about the storage is a critical part of looking after data, and there are plenty of options to help organisations to sort themselves out with a strategy on storage.

Since I run into these horror stories SQL Server customer scenarios quite often, I was happy to see that there are plenty of solutions around that will help.  Azure offer a Windows Azure Backupthat helps organisations to protect important server data off-site with automated backup to Windows Azure.  Another option to consider is Cloud Integrated Storage is something that organisations can leverage so that they get ‘the best of both worlds’ – a balance of cloud and on-premise storage. Microsoft have a spin-off company, called StorSimple, who can help you to achieve cloud integrated storage.

As a technical influencer in your organisation, you’ll need to know about the options available to you. If you like an in-person event, please take a look at the Cloud OS Community Relay, which is holding free training days on Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2. These are the ‘latest and greatest’ from Microsoft, and you can find more information here about the Cloud OS Community Relay. It’s organised by MVPs for the community, and I’m one of the UK MVPs helping to organise SQLRelay.

You might be interested to know about the SQLRelay events, which are more SQL Server focused and run alongside the Cloud OS Community Relay. You can find out more here, or if you’d like to come to the Hertfordshire event on 15th November, please take a look hereIn the meantime, I’ve put some information about StorSimple below in case you’d like to take a look.

Cloud Integrated Storage: StorSimple
StorSimple cloud-integrated storage provides primary storage, backup, archive, and disaster recovery, combined with Windows Azure. This allows you to optimize total storage costs and increase data protection and service agility. With StorSimple, you can integrate the public cloud with on-premises storage to reduce datacenter infrastructure complexity, maximize data protection, reduce overall storage total cost of ownership (TCO) by 60-80%, and provision storage more rapidly to reclaim IT time cycles

Joining the Digital Dots: Working without Digital Limits

Users are tech-savvy and will not tolerate digital limits. They expect the digital dots to be joined up, to get what they want, and to be given choices about ways to do things better on the device that suits them best. For me, delivering Business Intelligence systems is fundamentally affected by the quality of the IT infrastructure. Ever tried to run a data extract over a network that uses dial-up? You’re with me now, aren’t you?  Users hate to wait, and they want everything mobilised.

So how do we go about this? One of the concepts in delivering IT infrastructure is people-centric IT, or PCIT. What is people-centric IT, or PCIT? It sounds like another acronym, but being people-centred is fundamental to delivering IT. 
People-centric IT (PCIT) enables each person you support to work from virtually anywhere on the device of their choice and gives you a consistent way to manage and protect it all. In his book, ‘The New Normal’, Peter Hinssen talks about the way in which people’s expectations of technology through consumerism, and particularly IT departments, are changing. In today’s world, users are King or Queen, but they need to be protected from themselves. It’s estimated that, by 2015, the number of connected devices will be twice the global population. 
Users are tech-savvy and will not tolerate digital limits
in terms of pricing, timing or functionality.
They expect the digital dots to be joined

Society, governments, and specifically, IT departments, are increasingly expected to deliver data, technology and process without digital limits. 
IT departments are now having to deal with business expectations where the end users are tech-savvy and demanding, and expect to have IT delivered with no limits, and data wherever they choose. 

Despite these requirements, consumers also expect privacy and security.

 How can you deliver a corporate IT function without digital limits? Look at the balances that needs to be achieved:
  • How is it possible to find an equilibrium between the IT consumers’ needs for privacy and security?
  • How can we balance user enablement plus meeting the consumer requirements? 
  • How can we keep the end users productive?
  • How can we keep corporate data protected?
  • How can we stay compliant with regulatory compliance standards across all devices, whilst maintaining a consistent user experience? 
  • How can we achieve these objectives in a dynamic, fluctuating 24/7/365 world?
  • How can we encourage people to self-service data wherever possible?
I don’t know about you, but I feel a bit sorry for IT departments. They have a tough job in a demanding environment. They’re expected to be able to support any device, and let’s face it, we all use personal devices to connect to corporate networks, even though they are not officially part of the corporate network and have not been ‘vetted’. People want access to corporate applications from anywhere, on whatever device they choose—laptop, smartphone, tablet, or PC. IT departments are challenged to provide consistent, rich experiences across all these device types, with access to native, web, and remote applications or desktops. It is a tough ‘ask’ of IT, but it is something that business users have taken for granted. IT is trying to enable people to choose their devices, but must also reduce costs and complexity as well as maintain security and compliance by protecting data and having comprehensive settings management across platforms.

To summarise, we have to work out a way to give users what they want without digital limits, whilst also ‘showing the love’ to our data.
Given these constraints, what’s the future for PCIT? Protecting company information is critical, and the growth of BYOD will simply make it more challenging for organisations to deliver IT. 
There will come a tipping point in each organisation where the organisation will start to have to work smarter rather than harder. We will have to move away from the ‘add new hardware’ solution to every problem, and see that the problems can’t be solved by buying more RAM or even hiring more consultants to help.
How can Microsoft help? Microsoft are moving towards a unified, people-centric suite of solutions moving towards IT delivery, which focus on the user whilst reducing risk in delivery. 

A smart infrastructure makes for better Business Intelligence solutions, and I’m all for that. If the infrastructure isn’t right, then it is hard to deliver SQL Server and data projects properly.  

There is a real marriage between the infrastructure and the delivery. With this in mind, technical people who are also interested in futurology should take a look at System Center 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2012 R2.  These support SQL Server, and for me personally, I believe in getting the basics right as well as focusing on SQL Server.  Since organisations will move to Windows Server 2012 R2, it’s probably wise to get the information. I’ve put some links below.
If you like an in-person event, please take a look at the Cloud OS Community Relay, which is holding Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2. These are the ‘latest and greatest’ from Microsoft, and you can find more information here. You might be interested to know about the SQLRelay events, which are more SQL Server focused and run alongside the Cloud OS Community Relay. You can find out more here, or if you’d like to come to the Hertfordshire event on 15th November, please take a look here
In the meantime, here are some download links if you’d like to try it out.

System Center 2012 R2

System Center 2012 R2 delivers unified management across on-premises, service provider, and Windows Azure environments, thereby enabling the Microsoft Cloud OS. System Center 2012 R2 offers exciting new features and enhancements across infrastructure provisioning, infrastructure monitoring, application performance monitoring, automation and self-service, and IT service management.

·         System Center Team Blog

System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager and Windows Intune
With System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager, you can keep software up-to-date, set security policies, and monitor status while giving your users access to preferred applications from the devices they choose.

Extend your on-premises Configuration Manager solution to the cloud by integrating Windows Intune to enable remote, mobile, and branch office employees to use the devices that best fit their needs.

System Center Configuration Manager with Windows Intune

You can use System Center Configuration Manager together with Windows Intune to manage a broad array of PCs and devices covering Windows, Windows RT, Macs, Windows Phone, Apple iOS and Android. This release of Configuration Manager and Windows Intune supports large deployments on a single management infrastructure.

Windows Intune “stand-alone” (cloud-only) configuration
The web-based administration console in Windows Intune provides simplified management of client computers in your organization, including Windows, Windows RT, Windows Phone 8, Apple iOS, and Android devices. You can upload and publish software packages, manage policy, and track computer inventory without on-premises infrastructure.

·         Windows Intune Forums

Windows Server 2012 R2
At the heart of the Microsoft Cloud OS vision, Windows Server 2012 R2 brings Microsoft’s experience delivering global-scale cloud services into your infrastructure with new features and enhancements in virtualization, management, storage, networking, virtual desktop infrastructure, access and information protection, the web and application platform, and more.
·         Start your evaluation

Microsoft is coming to Hemel Hempstead for a free of SQL Server, Windows Server and System Center training!

SQLRelay and Cloud OS Relay are joining forces at Hemel Hempstead for a great, free day of training! This will be held on 15th November at Shendish Manor, which is in Hemel Hempstead.

As featured on TechNet, we will be having a SQL Server track and a separate Infrastructure track, which is dedicated to Infrastructure specialists. If you are a Windows Server 2012 or a Systems Centre 2012 technical person, then this Infrastructure-track is focused at you.

Click on the link to register for the SQL Server track, or click here if you’re interested in the Windows Server R2 and Systems Center R2 Training.

For the SQL Server 2012 track, the Agenda is here:

09:00 09:30 Registration
09:30 10:00 Microsoft Keynote and Q&A
10:00 10:50 Scott Kline – Microsoft SQL Server In-Memory OLTP Deep Dive
10:50 11:10 Break 
11:10 12:00 Chris Harris (Hortonworks) – Hadoop as an Enterprise Data Platform
12:00 12:50 Allan Mitchell – Making the most of your Azure data with Pig and Hive
12:50 13:30 A free lunch will be provided for you
13:30 14:25 Denny Cherry – Table Indexing for the .NET developer
14:25 15:20 Tony Rogerson – SQL Server 2014 Hekaton Deep Dive
15:20 15:40 Break
15:40 16:35 Jen Stirrup – From Data Source to Secret Sauce – Powering and Visualising your Data with Power BI

If you’d like to register for this, please click here.
See you there!
Kind Regards,

Data Visualisation with Hadoop, Hive, Power BI and Excel 2013 – Slides from SQLPass Summit and SQLSaturday Bulgaria

I presented this session at SQLPass Summit 2013 and at SQLSaturday Bulgaria.

The topic focuses on some data visualisation theory, an overview of Big Data and finalises the Microsoft distribution of Hadoop. I will try to record the demo as part of a PASS Business Intelligence Virtual Chapter online webinar at some point, so please watch this space.

I hope you enjoy and I look forward to your feedback.

The ‘Accidental Business Intelligence Project Manager’ webinar details

The ‘Accidental Business Intelligence Project Manager’ by me!
  • You’ve watched the Apprentice with Donald Trump and Lord Alan Sugar. You know that the Project Manager is usually the one gets fired. 
  • You’ve heard that Business Intelligence projects are prone to failure. 
  • You know that a quick Bing search for ‘why do Business Intelligence projects fail?’ produces a search result of 25 million hits! 
  • Despite all this… you’re now Business Intelligence Project Manager – now what do you do? 
In this session, I will provide a ‘sparks from the anvil’ series of steps and working practices in Business Intelligence Project Management using experiences from delivering SQL Server technology based Business Intelligence solutions. 
What about waterfall vs agile? What is a Gantt chart anyway? Is Microsoft Project your friend or a problematic aspect of being a BI PM?
I will give you some ideas and insights that will help you set your BI project right: assess priorities, avoid conflict, empower the BI team and generally deliver the Business Intelligence project successfully!

Women in Technology: Children at Technical Conferences

I read a post with the same title by Tim Radney, which I loved. In his post, which I suggest you read, he talks about taking his son to a technical conference. I thought I’d write a little bit about my experiences taking my son to a couple of User Groups in the UK. A few months ago, Mark Broadbent (SQL DBA guru and a great friend of mine) needed a speaker at the last minute for his Cambridgeshire PASS Chapter user group. I said I would do it, but I’d have to bring my eight year old because it would be too late to get a babysitter. Very fortunately, Mark agreed that I could bring my son.  At this point, I have to thank Mark for his patience with my son, who now calls him ‘his big friend Mark’. Mark introduced him to games on the mobile phone and didn’t mind that my son ate more food than anyone else! To introduce my son to everyone, I asked him to offer everyone a chocolate and then everyone settled to hear my Big Data session. My son and I went home happy.

I run HUGSS, a SQL Server user group in Hertfordshire. I’ve taken my son on the odd occasion, and he sits really nicely, reads quietly whilst the adults are talking, and eats as much as he gets his hands on. We are a very small group at the moment, and so far, nobody has minded too much. 

For those of you who haven’t worked it out already, I’m a single mother and have been for a good while now. I play mum and dad. For me, the hardest bit of being a parent is “teaching your child how to walk, and then teaching them how to walk away”. I didn’t set out to be a single mum and it wasn’t the life that I had planned for myself, but we are where we are. I do the best mum and dad combined roles that I can do. I love my job, I love the sqlfamily that I come across, and most of all, I am blessed, really blessed, to have a smart, wise, loving little boy in my life with a big generous heart and wonderful chuckle who opens my eyes and teaches me something new every day. He loves cuddles and TS Eliot poems about cats. He loves soldiers, Nerf, lego, iCarly, Hallowe’en, ice cream with sprinkles on top and loves being read limerick poems. I count myself lucky each and every day. I want more than anything to make his dreams come true and give him the brightest, best future that is in my power to do so.

So, in my role of mum and dad, I used to worry what people would think of me as a ‘single mum at a tech conference’ as an attendee, presenter or organiser. There tends to be less female attendees, and I wonder what percentage of those are in my demographic. I then wondered if perhaps other women worried as I did, that I would be odd-one-out. Then it struck me that perhaps, by sharing my story, that perhaps other women who share my life experiences might realise that actually, it isn’t an issue. People accept you for who you are. Community is community. I believe one hundred percent that there is no community as welcoming as the ‘sqlfamily’ and I have found my ‘home’ there. You already have a shared passion for tech and everybody is learning, and if I can do this, anybody can. 

Otherwise, I’ve never taken him to a larger conference and we are both not ready to do that. I think that it would be too much for him (he is only 8, after all!). I’m a mum before anything else, and I’d be fully involved looking after him than I would in doing community work or helping people with SQL Server or BI questions. When he is older and might benefit from the experience, such as doing computing science at secondary school, then I might be more inclined to take him so that he can be inspired by meeting some of the brightest minds in tech at sql server conferences, for example.

Normally I try to keep my family life separate from my professional and community life, but Tim’s blog celebrated family and technology, and inspired me to write a little so I’ve shared a few thoughts here. My experiences and opinions will be different from other people’s, but I had hoped that these thoughts might help someone somewhere.


PASSWiT: Women in Technology Panel roundup of commentary

Panel Discussion: “Beyond Stereotypes: Equality, Gender Neutrality, and Valuing Team Diversity”
What was the Panel discussion topic? 

Are there times when you feel the “odd one out” on your team? Do you have to make an effort to fit in? Often, even when there isn’t blatant sexism, racism or other discrimination in play, there can still be a lot of peer pressure to conform to the group and consequences if you don’t. Join us as our panel discusses some central questions around promoting equality and respect in the workplace. We’ll discuss hard topics like how to establish, build, and grow relationships with co-workers in a diverse setting, how to deal with situations where you – or a colleague – suffer from social exclusion, and how to arrange social events that are inclusive and promote teamwork in a professional setting.  And we’ll share ideas on what we can do to enhance each individual’s contributions and build stronger, more effective teams.


Erin Stellato
Rob Farley
Cindy Gross
Kevin Kline
Gail Shaw

Sometimes we all feel excluded for some reason, for example, their sexual orientation, or perhaps because of their religion or ethnic background.

There are different perspectives: Gail Shaw remains herself, true to wherever she may be. Yay to Gail for not being a social chameleon, but being herself. A good ‘herself’ to be!

Rob Farley commented about religious backgrounds, and how this can impact your ability for other people to allow you to fit in. As a committed Christian, he can see this occurring from time to time.

Cindy Gross commented sometimes it is hard to work out if people are treating you differently if you have a particular background, or if there is another reason for that.

The distinction between extroverts and introverts in how people think and how they respond to you. interesting commentary by Kevin Kline Note that people may not have a big circle of friends around them in order to share their thoughts or try to work out whether a situation is about them or not.

How do you deal with a situation where you or another person suffers social exclusion?

Rob Farley: by staying silent in these situations, then you can drop in others’ estimation. You have to make a judgement call about whether someone has crossed the line or not. If you see someone suffering social exclusion, don’t stay silent. Sometimes people need help in understanding where they cross your line. Everyone has a different ‘line’ to cross. It is important to read body language. There is a fine line between being funny and crossing the line. Be a champion for others.

Kevin Kline: find a backup if you think that someone is crossing the line. It is easier to discuss values with a group backup.

Gail Shaw: If you people you call friends that are pushing you to change, they are probably not your friend. Don’t let others push you to being something you are not. Words of wisdom. 
Burn those bridges if you have to, for your own sake.

Erin Stellato: You can lead without being the leader. Find that commonalilty and build that relationship. Relationships take time. It’s ok to identify the differences but find the common thread. 

To summarise, the panel all gave out some great wisdom in how to deal with diverse teams in the workplace, and also in volunteer settings as well. This can make teams more efficient and work better together in terms of work-life balance, quality of delivery, and can even help businesses be more productive.