What did you learn at PASS?

In many of the PASS Conferences I’ve attended I can usually point to one thing I learned that was the most valuable.  Usually this was enough to justify the cost of the entire conference.  I learned something that would save me so much time or money it would “pay” for the conference.  This made it pretty easy for me to justify to myself (or my boss) that it was money well spent.

Quite a few years back I was sitting in a session on performance tuning.  The speaker demonstrated a little utility named Read80Trace that I’d never seen before.  At the time I was working to improve performance on a client’s database server.  This mostly involved hearing anecdotal stories about what was slow and running Profiler to catch queries with long durations, high reads or high CPU usage.  We were making progress but nothing dramatic.  Profiler was only catching those queries that rarely ran but where huge consumers of resources.  I could make those faster but it didn’t have that much of an impact on overall performance.

Read80Trace would capture all the activity and group identical statements together.  I could see in aggregate what was consuming the most disk and the most CPU.  We spent a week working through those queries and stored procedures.  Many weren’t very slow individually but would run 5,000 times an hour.  Even a small improvement helped.  We spent a week working on it – mostly adding indexes and occasionally rewriting queries.  After a week we’d cut our disk and CPU usage in half and eliminated the need to buy a new high-end server.  

Read80Trace completely changed my approach to performance tuning and has helped every client since then.  I liked the tool so much I wrote my own version of it when Microsoft didn’t release the 2005 version in a timely manner.  And that is the Best Thing I Learned at PASS.

PASS would like to get more stories like this.  I know they’re out there.  I’ve heard many of them in the years I’ve been attending the conference.  Tell the story of what you learned and how it helped you.  We’re running a contest through July 1st to capture these stories.  Post your entry on your blog and email us the link.  If you don’t have a blog, just email us your entry.

We’re limiting entries to 250 words or less.  Mine clocked in at a svelte 244 words.  Of course, I’m not eligible to win since I’m on the Board but our volunteers are and so is most everyone reading this.  We’re giving away a number of prizes for this including a free registration or paying your hotel costs.  And if you win one of these prizes you can give it to someone else.  (The rules as published while I’m writing this say that you can’t transfer your prize to another winner.  That’s being updated and should be corrected by the end of the day.) 

We want to take these stories and add them to our ROI page.  We think that having concrete examples of how people get value from the conference will help justify it in these tough economic times.  We’re giving away ten prizes that include the free registration/hotel, free pre-conference session and free set of our DVDs from last year.

Take a second and write something up.  Tell us the Best Thing you Learned at PASS.

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