The road to Microsoft MVP

Warning

This is a post about me and my reflection on the Microsoft MVP award.
It basically is a rant.

 

Some history

Back in january of this year, out of the blue, someone in the community I’ve looked up to since entering the data world asked if it was ok if they’d nominate me for the Microsoft MVP award.

For those who don’t know, being awarded the MVP status is considered by many as one of the highest honors you can receive in the Microsoft Community.
Even more so when you know that there are only about 4000 MVPs worldwide in all Microsoft categories and even less (about 300) in the Data Platform / SQL Server category [*].
With only about 150 people outside of the US being awarded MVP for the Data Platform category, you can quickly see what an honor it is to be one of the few people outside of the US to receive this award.

Not so fast

As I said, I got asked if I wanted to be nominated back in january.
While incredibly nice, I didn’t put a lot of value on the award since I was just having fun meeting new people and learning from everyone I met.
On top of that, I didn’t think I was near worthy enough for this honor. However, just the thought of having been nominated by someone known over the entire world and generally considered a community leader was already very cool!

Long story short, I didn’t let this person know it was OK to nominate me until May and didn’t even complete the nomination until the end of July.

Nomination != Award

At the end of July I had spoken internationally at a bunch of events and had met a ton of awesome people in the community. Quite a few of these people turned out to be MVPs and during dinners before or after the events we’d talk about things ranging from beer and food to the community in general.

One person I was talking with dove into his journey towards becoming an MVP. The part of his story that stuck with me the most was how he had been very active and even respected in the community and it still took him over 5 years after his first nomination before receiving the MVP award.

I received a similar warning in January from the person who wanted to nominate me. They warned me that they could nominate me but this didn’t actually mean that much.
It’s still up to Microsoft to select you.
And that apparently is the hard part of becoming an MVP.

What now?

It quickly became apparent that while most of these people weren’t an MVP at all, they were still extremely enthusiastic about what they do and most of them had even been actively sharing their knowledge with the community for a long time already.
For me this blurred the line between what defines a non-MVP and MVP person. They both seem to do the same thing for the entire community, only one gets recognized and the other one doesn’t.
Although I’m probably missing a lot of important details when making this comparison.

So knowing that this nomination would probably not result in instant “MVP-ness” and most likely not even in the long run, I filled in the forms at the end of July. With that, I had officially accepted the nomination itself.
While I still thought that this one person I looked up to considering me worthy enough was more awesome than actually winning some award from Microsoft.
This initial consideration gave me a better feeling than the thought of perhaps, someday, winning some award.

Back to the real world

As time went by, I slowly kept filling in my community activities in the nomination form.
Near the end of 2017 the pressure started growing as I received more nominations, 6 so far.

And so far I haven’t received an award yet. Some might get discouraged by this, but again, for me getting nominated by more and more by people I look up to means more than receiving an award.
Partly because the award is meant to recognize the work you’ve done for the community and these nominations basically do the same thing in my opinion.
But also because by just being active in the community, you already receive a ton of recognition and you learn so much.

* the amount of MVPs worldwide was borrowed from Kevin Kline’s MVP blog post here.

Unresolved reference in SSDT using old SQL Server system views

Issue

if you’re developing databases in SSDT, like you should, you’re probably getting a lot of build warnings.
One of the warnings you’ll see the most often is the “unresolved reference”.
Usually you solve these by adding either the master, the msdb or some application database as a database reference.
This post is about a warning you might get when out of habit (or, if like me, you didn’t know any better yet) you’re using old system views like sys.sysprocesses. You expect it to work but it simply doesn’t…

SQL71502: Procedure has an unresolved references to object sys.sysprocesses

Even after you try add the master and msdb databases as references you’ll notice that you’ll still see “SQL71502: Procedure has an unresolved references to object sys.sysprocesses”.

 

Solution

The view sys.sysprocesses and several other system views only exist for backwards compatibility but they should still work. At least for now…
So what’s going on and how do we fix this?

As it turns out, there seem to be a couple of possibilities to fix this issue.

  1. You should be in master database context as the documentation notes.
    This means you need to prefix with the relevant database as in: master.sys.sysprocesses
  2. Rename sys.sysprocesses to dbo.sysprocesses
    Gert Drapers provided this solution on the msdn SSDT forum back in 2013 and it still works (at least for SQL Server 2014 with SSDT 14.0.61021.0)
  3. You might want to rewrite your specific query to use the new and relevant tables/views. This ensures your code won’t break in the future. Especially since you’re using a view that’s included for pre-SQL Server 2000 backwards compatibility.
    Refer to this mapping of system tables to system views in the documentation to help you rewrite your query.

The 3rd solution has my personal preference, as it seems to be the cleanest. But it does mean you’ll need to take a bit more time to rewrite and test your query.

What do you do when you come across this issue?

SQL Server 2017 Machine Learning Services – Offline Installer Issue

Situation

You’re trying to install SQL Server 2017 Machine Learning Services onto an existing SQL Server 2017 installation.
You select the checkboxes for R en Python because that’s how you roll.
And off you go to the next screens!

Issue

That’s when you remember it… Your server isn’t connected to the internet!
Pretty normal, but in your enthusiasm you completely forgot that SQL Server needs to download some binaries for the R and Python components you so desperately want on your precious machine!

Luckily, the installer comes to your rescue and shows you where to download those binaries it needs.
Turns out however… This link only is for one R component and the installer won’t let you pass to the next screen!

Solution

Microsoft has a complete list of all possible components you could ever want to install while offline. From SQL Server 2016 RTM, over to SQL Server 2017 CTP 1 and up to SQL Server 2017 CU 1.

You can find the full list over at docs.microsoft.com: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/sql/advanced-analytics/r/installing-ml-components-without-internet-access

Hopefully, next time you’re installing ML Services, this will save you some time searching for why that “Next” button won’t become active.

 

Data science with Microsoft – An introduction

Let’s be honest, Microsoft isn’t a name that would traditionally be associated with data science.
But just as we’ve witnessed in other areas, they have quickly caught up!

in the last year we’ve seen the following appear on the Microsoft Data Science radar:

  • Azure Machine Learning
  • Power BI
  • Cortana Analytics Suite
  • Acquisition of Datazen & Revolution Analytics
  • Integration of R in SQL Server

Looking at it like this, it’s just a list like any other. Not even a big list.
The magic happens when we look at what this means for the developers, consultants and ultimately the business.


Azure Machine Learning

We now have the ability to create AND deploy predictive models in minutes using Azure Machine Learning.

AzureMachineLearning2 AzureMachineLearning

This opens up interesting possibilities where we can send data from SQL Server, a SQL Azure Database or just live from a mobile application or excel to gain insights


Power BI

If you still need an introduction to Power BI then you’re doing something wrong.
Contact me on twitter, LinkedIn or via the comments.
I’ll gladly talk you through Power BI and why you should be using it for almost everything you do with data in your company.
I mean that, get in touch with me. Now! 🙂

But on a more serious note, I’m going to be crude to Microsoft here.
A long time ago, Power BI started as an over-hyped and underwhelming experience. Everyone saw the potential this Excel stuff had but I’m guessing the experience most people had was similar to mine. That is, Power BI back then was a disappointment because of what we were expecting.
The one good thing it did have at one point was PowerPivot.

Skip forward to august 2015.
The Power BI dream had suddenly come true!
Most of the things we were expecting in the past suddenly were there, in a web service AND a desktop application.
AMAZING!

Skip forward 3 more months and Power BI has exceeded our wildest dreams.
I could literally fill books with all the great stuff the Power BI team has done and enabled for the community.
The Power BI API, a plugin for PowerPoint, custom visualizations, support on all devices, enterprise ready and a lot more all combined with a CRAZY pace of new releases!

If you haven’t used Power BI yet, skip all the praise and commercial talk, go download the desktop application and start working with it. Soon you’ll be an Power BI evangelist as well 😉

custom-visualizations-same-page-100622406-primary.idge[1]


Cortana Analytics Suite

If I had to summarize Cortana Analytics for anyone, I’d say it is basically Azure Machine Learning for predictive analytics combined with Power BI for a beautiful presentation of your data. And sprinkled on top are some of the most incredible and integrated services you can dream of.

Cortana Analytics is not really a product, it’s more a combination of several services that work really great together and form a solution to your questions.
It enables different scenario’s for any case you can think of.

Whether you have a scenario with real-time data analytics, (real-time) predictive analytics or you’re just in need of a data lake to fill with your data for analysis, Cortana Analytics is where you need to be.

This picture from Microsoft summarizes the Cortana Analytics Suite the best.
It shows you how different tools fit different purposes in the chain from data to insight to action.

Cortana-Analytics-Suite[1]


Acquisition of Datazen & Revolutions Analytics

Not much to say except: WOW!
I bet I’m not the only one who did not see both of these coming.

Datazen was already known for it’s mobile dashboarding solutions. It’s acquisition could only mean something big was coming for on-premises BI.
And it did, Microsoft announced at PASS Summit 2015 that Datazen would basically be integrated with SSRS to provide an outstanding mobile BI solution for those who must stay on-premises.

Revolution Analytics was widely known in the world of the R programming language.
Where R standard is limited to a single machine and the memory that machine has, Revolution Analytics provided a scalable solution.
How cool is that? So cool that Microsoft wanted it integrated in SQL Server 2016!
I’m sure that the R services in SQL Server 2016 are just a starting point. But imagine the possibilities from a data science perspective when you combine this with the columnstore and in-memory technologies.

splash[1] architecture[1]

Integration of R in SQL Server

This isn’t just R in SQL Server, it’s an implementation of Revolution R Enterprise in SQL Server!

No longer do you have to pull data to your developer machine, data can just stay in the database where it should be.
Combine this with columnstore indexes and the in-memory technology and you know that the data scientists are now drooling.
2015-05-14_22-39-58


Summary

Microsoft has improved so much in the last year, it’s as if it’s a whole new company.
Data professionals are getting a lot of shiny new toys and can expect a lot more solutions to be build end to end on a Microsoft platform.
Whether that platform is on-premises or in the cloud is up to the business to decide.

Data science is no longer unknown territory for people who work with SQL Server, it’s already on our doorstep.
On top of that, Microsoft’s Cortana Analytics solution offers incredible value and an ease of use I’ve never seen before with something like this.
It took me only an hour to set up a solution that parsed real-time sensor data, combined it with reference data in a database and then show it on a Power BI dashboard.

One thing is sure, you can expect some interesting blog posts in the feature.
Not only from myself but the entire SQL Server community!

When you’re ready, move on to this list of training materials I compiled for you. Let’s get started!

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