The Prodigal Developers Return: SQL Server 2016 SP1 brings consistent programming surface to Developers and ISVs

Big news from Microsoft Connect() 2016 online developer conference. SQL Server 2016 Service Pack 1 is dropping. Download SQL Server 2016 SP 1 here.

SQL Server 2016 SP1  means lots of wider features for lower editions. Most importantly, developers and partners can now build to a single application programming surface to create or upgrade new intelligent applications and use the edition which scales to the application’s needs.

The long version and my ‘take’ on this news:

I’m incredibly impressed with Microsoft right now. I think it’s incredibly smart, actually, because they are bringing developers and ISVs back into SQL Server Land again. So, developers, ISVs, go and grab yourself a coffee and let’s have a chat.



SQL Server 2016 SP1 makes leading innovation available to any developer. Microsoft is making it easier for developers to benefit from the industry-leading innovations in SQL Server for more of their applications. With SQL Server 2016 SP1 is making key innovations more accessible to customers across editions. Developers and partners can now build to a single application programming surface to create or upgrade new intelligent applications and use the edition which scales to the application’s needs. SQL Server Enterprise continues to offer the highest levels of scale, performance and availability for enterprise workloads. For more information, please see the full press announcement on the SQL Server Blog. Visual Studio Code extension for SQL and updated connectors and tools are also exciting news, because it means that it’s easier to develop with other languages, in a more streamlined fashion.

What problem are Microsoft trying to fix?

stocksnap_vlhyvv3xu5Previously, the issue with developing applications for SQL Server is that there is a disparity across editions, which can affect how your application runs.  Until now, developers have used the SQL Server development version as it will allows them to develop with features that are available on all of the production versions.

Now, the problem is solved – developers can take advantage of the programmability feature by using the same code base, and things are simpler because the customer chooses which edition they use.

The problem was evident, when you use, say, an enterprise-only feature in development but have only a Standard-edition instance in Production. You can see the full list of features and editions published by Microsoft here ‘Features Supported by the Editions of SQL Server 2016’

If you had an app that can manage Enterprise edition then it can, in principle, also manage every other edition.  However, now the application would scale to the customer’s edition, thereby streamlining the whole process.

New Tools for the Toolbox, No Pricing Changes


So, developers wouldn’t have to build complexity, but they’d have to create their app the right way. For example, there’s not always a need to scale out. Let’s take Stack Overflow, one of the top 50 busiest sites in the world.  Stack Overflow runs on Microsoft SQL Server.

Not many people know it, but there is a StackOverflow Enterprise Edition. It means that companies like StackOverflow can take advantage of the new programmability features, if they so wished. I wonder what ISVs will do?

Freedom from Constraints

Let’s examine the issue in more detail. Let’s take a look at the SQL Server editions that are available to us:

  • Azure database + Amazon RDS
  • Containerized version of any edition
  • Developer Edition
  • Express Edition
  • Enterprise Edition
  • LocalDb
  • Standard Edition
  • Web Edition

You can see why it starts to get confusing, and developers might start to look at MySQL or Postgres as alternatives.

How can you get SQL Server 2016 SP1?

I believe that this will be a primary driver for SQL Server 2016 Service Pack 1, Download SQL Server 2016 SP 1 here.

Why are Microsoft doing this?

stocksnap_kikhw5nc6yIt’s a huge benefit for ISVs. It’s my opinion that Microsoft had lost the way with their partners. Customers started to look sideways at other vendors to fulfil their needs, such as Tableau. In response, partners expanded their toolkit in order to include crème de la crème vendors such as Tableau in order to build solutions. I think that this move is a gesture to the ISVs, since it will remove friction when they choose to develop solutions.

Being pals with Open Source but better – you get what you pay for. With the advent of open source, developers have got  more choice than ever before. It’s good to bring them back to SQL Server. Postgres doesn’t have in-memory capability, for example – it has “running with scissors” mode whereby you switch off all the disk storage features. Sound scary? Yes… the clue is in the name. SQL Server brings this feature to the party, and more. ISVs can feel more confident developing on a robust solution.

Increased productivity – it removes an obstacle to development, support and deployment.

The Prodigal Developers Return

This solution means that Microsoft SQL Server is back on the table for many developers, who may have started eyeing MySQL and Postgres for this reason.

To summarise, I think that this is a smart move and I’m excited to see that the ‘voice of the developer’ has come back into SQL Server Land. It’s also a huge benefit for ISV partners, and let’s see how they democratize their data in new and exciting applications. Let’s look for more exciting things coming from Microsoft.

Four years an MVP: what I’ve been doing, and what’s next?

Four things a woman should know: How to look like a girl, How to act like a lady, How to think like a man, and how to work like a dog.

I attended an event recently at which I was speaking. I met a few nice attendees who were new to the SQL Server scene, and I introduced myself briefly and listened whilst the other attendees talked. We had a nice chat, and one of them said, “it’s funny you’re called Jen Stirrup and you’re in BI…. There’s this MVP called Jen Stirrup that blogs about BI and she’s speaking here, and it would be great if I actually got to meet her’. I didn’t know what to say and whether to own up to being the one and the same. After a polite amount of time, I exited the conversation and moved gracefully on.

When I walked away, I was actually pleased. It seemed to me that the ‘actual’ Jen Stirrup was not the ‘perception’ of what these nice people thought that I should be: an MVP, a speaker, and perhaps not accessible because of these things.

Yes, I’m an MVP and a speaker. I’m delighted that I won the Microsoft MVP Award for the fourth consecutive year.

However…. Let’s get a sense of perspective. I don’t save babies. I don’t hold the hand of the dying. I don’t heal. I’m proud to say that members of my family do this, and when I think of what they do all day as part of their jobs, I’m immensely proud of them and I really do so little in comparison, and I am humbled by it. Their work makes mine look like nothing. 
I’m a volunteer for the community. I am not denigrating the Award; I am simply adding perspective. I’m happy (and extremely relieved) to have been awarded for another year. I spend all day on 1st July checking all my email accounts to see if the email has come in. It is the only email of the year that I call the email. It is a gift from Microsoft and I do value it immensely and consider myself extremely lucky.
I volunteer to serve the community. I don’t walk about like I own the place because I volunteer and do these things. I don’t want to be inaccessible. I recently held a Twitter surgery hour so folks could ask questions, and then Tom  LaRockand Denise McInerny from the PASS Board took the baton so we were available for an extended period of time. Truth is, I have great fun doing all this. My work is my passion, so it doesn’t feel like work. I’m writing this at 1AM on a Saturday night when most people are with loved ones, socialising or whatever. My work is my social life, my passion, and my hobby. I love what I do, and grateful and blessed.

When you attend an event, folks should definitely go up to speakers and chat. Speakers, by definition, like the sound of their own voices. We are not inaccessible and we love SQL Server, data, Excel and all sorts of techie stuff. So, what do I actually do, then?

Well, since elected for the PASS Board, I have done the following things as part of a team (i.e. not just me! I’m not a fairy with a magic wand).

  • I’ve brought the first Business Intelligence edition of a SQLSaturday to Europe.
  • I’ve brought the first Business Analytics edition of a SQLSaturday to Europe (more on this soon!)
  • I’ve done lots of internal PASS work on planning, strategy and so on, which is pretty invisible.
  • I’ve taken over the helm looking after the Virtual Chapters from Denise McInerny. Denise left the portfolio in such great shape, so this was easier than I thought it would be. Specifically, I have helped set up Global Hebrew, In Memory, Global French, Excel BI and I have also streamlined a few Virtual Chapters into more solid VCs. I’ve also worked on rejuvenating the Azure VC – now rebadged and reworked as Cloud VC. The Oracle VC is getting the next treatment.
  • I’ve spoken at lots of different events in the past year. I’ve spoken or helped at presentations and conferences in Amsterdam, Exeter (UK), Vienna, Bulgaria, Germany, London, Budapest, Cambridge (UK), Charlotte BA Edition, Paris, and of course SQLPass Summit in the US.
  • I also run my own User Group in Hertfordshire. I gave it the cute name HUGSS – Hertfordshire User Group for SQL Server. Nice, right? We could all do with a SQL hug now and again.
  • I also help Julie Koesmarno with the BI VC. Julie is an exemplary VC lead and I love working with her.
  • I also helped run SQLRelay last year, organising an event in Hertfordshire.
  • I’ve also run Women in Technology sessions in Lisbon, Exeter and we held our first one in Denmark this year.

I see the MVP Award as a gift from Microsoft. It is not something to be earned.

I do see it, from my perspective, as a pass which I use which makes it easier for me to do good things for people in the technical community. It simply makes things easier for me to speak to Microsoft team members and other people in the community. I gladly accept the MVP Award, and I do something with it.

So I don’t sit on my laurels when I look at the MVP Award. Instead, I think of what I’m going to do next that will be a community good.

I thank the great team at Microsoft for giving me this gift. I hope that I repay their trust by taking this Award and trying to do good things for the SQLFamily.

That does not mean I always get things right. I know that I don’t.

In case you want to email me about any of these comments, or anything about PASS in particular, my email is jen.stirrup@sqlpass.organd I look forward to hearing from you.
Last but not least, I have a whole group of people to thank:
The PASS team: Lana, Vicki, Amy L, Elizabeth, Karla and Carmen – for keeping me right and having endless patience with me, and for being tremendously smart. You know you get email from people and you think to yourself “that’s really clever, why didn’t I think of that?” whilst giving yourself a facepalm? Well this great team does this to me every week, at least once. Usually much more than that!
The PASS Board: the whole team. They continue to inspire me with their leadership and commitment, and I remain overawed by how smart they are.
People who put up with me: Allan Mitchell, my business partner for endlessly humouring me (although he puts  the word long-suffering in front of the title ‘business partner’ and I have no idea why), Mark Broadbent (who genuinely is long-suffering with all the patience he shows me, and I’m so very grateful for his help. He knows I’m terrible at delegating). James Rowland-Jones for constant wisdom and a great ‘ear’.
And of course Microsoft. They really care about users loving their products and I hope I can help users to learn how to do stuff better. Oh, and have fun with data.
And my son. The most kind-hearted, gentle, precious boy who is turning into an upright, steadfast, responsible young man. He didn’t have the best start in life due to various illnesses, and there were times when I (and the doctors) didn’t think he’d make it through the night. But he did, and he deserves everything good I can give him.
I am sure that there are others! All these events and activities: I could not do these without lots of other people. Thank you for putting up with me.
What’s next? Well, a SQLSaturday Business Analytics edition. You will have to watch this space for more details.


Watch Microsoft Build 2014 Conference Keynote online

Microsoft’s developer conference, Microsoft build developer conference 2014,  is sold out. But you can still watch it online and immerse yourself in what’s next for the Microsoft platform and tools. Streamed keynotes start at 8:30 A.M. PDT on Wednesday, April 2. Most sessions will also be available on demand within 24 hours.

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.

Leadership Styles: My perspective on how to say no to ideas

Denise McInerny posed the following question on the PASS Election Discussion Board, and I have posted my answer here:

PASS has a lot of passionate and creative people with many good ideas. Like all organizations we have finite resources, which means we can’t do everything we want to do.One of the hardest things about being on the Board is saying “no” to a good idea. How would you approach that aspect of the job?

Let me give you an example recently where an email precipitated a huge and very heated community debate – the closure of the MCM program. Although I was not part of the decision-making at all, I was part of the process of the communication around the closure of the MCM Program because I chaired a conference call between Microsoft and the MCM community. For some reason, the Register obtained a copy of it without my knowledge, but it was supposed to be restricted to the MCM community.

In order to understand more about why the decision to close the MCM happened and to facilitate conversation and discussion between the community and Microsoft, I opened a Connect case, which ended up being the highest-voted SQL Server connect case with over a staggering 800 upvotes.
By opening a Connect case, I opened a two-way conversation which, unfortunately, ended up turning sour as people vented a very personal series of criticism on individual community members, which I will not deign to repeat here. Due to this, the Connect case was closed, unfortunately, since the Case was being dragged around by a tiny but extremely vocal minority who felt a Connect case was an appropriate forum to make personal and wholly unfounded criticisms of people who worked at Microsoft, or were attached to the Community in some way.

I then worked with Microsoft in order to host a conference call with the MCM community, whom I deeply respect. Despite the presence of the trolls on the Connect case, it was clear that there were a number of extremely smart engaged people, who had great ideas about the way forward for the MCM program and for MSL in particular. This was in despite of their huge personal disappointment at the closure of the program, which many had spent a lot of money, time and effort in participating.

I chaired the call between the MCM community and Microsoft, collating questions over a number of days and distilling them into a number of common themes due to the repetition of some questions.

Although the call did not produce the outcome that many wanted, it was at least a way forward for facilitating communication between Microsoft and the MCM community in a more formal environment, which reduced the heat of the Connect case which had been hijacked by trolls. It at least gave a voice to the MCM people who really deserved it, and had great questions and comments about the MCM closure decision, and plans for the way forward.

To summarise, this is an example where I’ve played a part in trying to resolve a very heated community situation, through communication, active participation in the community, and an absolute belief that the good hearts and best minds in the community deserved a hearing, as well as allowing Microsoft to have a say. Incidentally I’d like to thank Tim Sneath and his team for his time for making the time and facilities available to make the communication happen. I also found a way forward to deal with the trolls who were hijacking the normal means of communication i.e. by comments fired to a Connect case.

It was one of these situations where people deserved more than an email, and I think it was right to make it happen. I think that a ‘copy and paste’ email misses the point somewhat, since it does not seem to echo the idea of listening to the individual(s), or taking them seriously. Getting a somewhat modified template answer just doesn’t seem to fit with the energy that people have put into bringing an idea to you.

Saying no can be hard, but if you can clarify ‘why not’, then it can help to reach a common ground between yourself and the community. Sometimes what you mean is ‘not yet’. Communication, and fair communication which isn’t one-sided (like an email) isn’t the way forward.

In my experience, it is too easy to email, and much harder to pick up the phone or do in-person – but the effort can be worth it. It can come across as disrespectful, even. Also, if it is a bad idea that morphs into a good idea after discussion, it is important to give credit where it is due.

I propose that sometimes picking up the phone, or a proper conference call, might be the way forward. It depends on lots of factors, such as the range of the idea, numbers affected, how the idea generators might take it, and so on.

Whilst it is important not to get dragged around by a vocal minority, sometimes a simple conversation is all that it takes, and in today’s connected world, there is no excuse not to do that.

MCM Connect: Please stay constructive. Let the clever people shine through.

Recently, I raised a Connect item about the MCM program.
Please, let’s continue to debate with professionalism, dignity, insights and, above all, grace.
The point of the Connect item was to have a constructive debate about the demise of the MCM program. I felt it was a good way for people to feedback to Microsoft openly and freely about their views, either for or against the decision.

I believe that the MCM community has smart, clever dedicated people in it, and I hoped to consolidate that Community – plus the wider MCM community in SharePoint, Exchange etc – so the viewpoints could be made visible. By throwing it out to the open, I believed that the Community would have good ideas and insights about the Program that Microsoft may not have considered. I value the genius in the Community.

However, I have been utterly disappointed that my noble? naïve? venture started to descend to personal criticisms on individuals in the Community and who work for Microsoft. This was not my intention at all. This turn of events was not what I expected from people from a Community that I respect. I speak as an individual, and as someone who has been fortunate enough to hold the MVP Award for SQL Server for the past three years.

I would ask that the commentary remains professional or constructive. If it does not, I will speak to Microsoft about closing the Connect case, and you can thank the trollers who have forced me towards this course of action.

If people want to troll, my email address is jenstirrup [at] jenstirrup [dot] com and you can come and find me. I will absorb poison if it means that it is deflected away from my #SQLFamily.
I hope that the genuine people and great ideas and debate won’t be drowned out by trolls. They deserve better.

PASS BA Conference: Interview with the PASS Board

I was lucky enough to interview Bill Graziano and Douglas McDowell, members of the PASS Board in order to have a chat with them about the PASS BA Conference. I’ve detailed the conversation here. I’d like to say a big ‘Thank You’ to Bill and Douglas, and the rest of the PASS team who took time out of their day in order to spend time with myself and the other bloggers.
Before we proceed, I’m British and spell organisation with an ‘s’ rather than a ‘z’ – a number of the PASS BA Conference attendees came up to speak with me about my British spelling in my presentations, and it really made me smile! Therefore, this blog will continue my tradition of British spellings!

What was the purpose of the PASS Business Analytics conference?  
The conference is aimed at the Business Analysts who want to be leaders in their discipline. Business Analysts, like the rest of the data community, are people to feel included as part of a community. If you touch data, you should be here! 62% of attendees have never been to a PASS event before – this is an awesome achievement for PASS towards building a new community of Business Analysts.
PASS is responding to a need in the Business Analytics community for knowledge, support, networking and training. Although PASS facilitate community events such as SQLSaturday events and so on, the content is determined by the community – in other words, what do people want to see? There is a real thirst for people to have Business Analytics information and a community, and PASS is meeting that demand.
What will people take away from the PASS BA Conference?

Knowledge of new technologies as well as discussions of business strategy. There are also plenty of case studies in specific domains, such as social media data analysis and even sports data analysis!
One interesting thing that was noted during the discussion was the sheer breadth of conversations that were held at the PASS BA Conference. It seemed a broad mix of IT and Business oriented people, and it was great to hear people sharing insights about what would be useful to them. Often it can be difficult for the IT folks to understand what the Business folks are doing and why – and vice versa. It seemed as if the ‘sidebar’ conversations went mainstream; one common theme was the difficulties in intra-organisational communication between technical and business departments.  One of the interesting things for me is that some of the attendees seemed to take away more than knowledge; they took away a multi-faceted perspective of looking at the same ‘business’ problem with different eyes.
So, what was the audience profile of people attending a BA conference? The majority of ‘job roles’ were ‘Business Analysts’, who constituted 40% of the audience. These people were business-oriented in a LOB role. 
The Business Analyst role constitutes a variety of roles, and it can be target a breadth of roles that’s pertinent to Business Analytics. So, what is Business Analytics?

It means different things to different people. Positioning it was quite hard. 
How do you concisely package it? If we look at Gartner continuum, we can see that Business Intelligence is diagnostic, and answers the question ‘what happened’? Business Analytics, on the other hand, is prescriptive. It asks the question ‘What do I need to do in order to effect an organisational change?’ 
Why did you choose the name ‘Business Analytics’?
Future messaging of the PASS BA Conference will get tighter, but it is difficult to pin down when there are so many buzzwords! Business Analytics as a term, however, is durable – it’s about adding value to your data. As technologies move and shift, the topic mix will change over time.
How can people continue to engage once the PASS BA Conference is over?

Given that 500 people were completely new to PASS as an organisation, there are plenty of opportunities for people to start up their own User Group, for example. Hopefully you’ll see a BA user group starting near you! There will be separate needs for different parts of the community, and it is natural that this will evolve over time. 
Virtual chapters can be one way to engage, and I’d personally encourage people to join up.