New speaking hardware

At TechMentor in Seattle this summer I asked Aleksandar Nikolic, a fellow European MVP, about the tiny machine he used when presenting. It turned out that he had recently acquired a Surface Go, a Surface laptop roughly the same size as an iPad. Since buying it he had left his heavier machine at home, he explained. It was indeed a smaller package – something that would be perfect for me as I try to only travel with a carry on. As trying to manhandle a laptop in economy seating is a pain, I usually bring an iPad as well..

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this could be a great fit. It could literally do the work of several tools. Back in the old days I used to go for the most powerful machine available. These days most of the things I work with live in the cloud. While this means I’m kind of lost if I have no internet connection, most often I don’t need the extra power.

Enter the Surface Go

 

This translates to a smaller, lighter machine to haul around. It is the same size as an iPad and sports the same kind of detachable keyboard as a normal Surface. It shares another thing with iPads: it only has one peripheral connector. (Even though I just found an MicroSDXC card slot cleverly hidden underneath the kickstand). The connector in question is USB-C, so it can do pretty much anything.  Unfortunately this necessitated buying an adapter, but more about that in a bit.
It sports a funny little processor: the Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y. At 1.6 Ghz and with only 8GB or RAM, this thing can never be described as a powerhouse.

But does it need to be? My goal is basically to be able to do this:

  • shrink my laptop to the size of an iPad.
  • watch a movie or three on the plane.
  • run my PowerPoints.
  • play music before my sessions.
  • surf the internet
  • run the Azure portal
  • do basic podcast audio editing with Audacity
  • do basic video editing with Resolve

This is a pretty serious list of things to ask from a 1.6Ghz CPU and 8GB of RAM.

But – before we do ANYTHING else – let’s get rid of the crippled Windows 10S on the thing. With Windows 10 S you’re limited to store apps, and I need to run whatever I want. Thus – it’s time to go into the Windows Store and switch out of Windows 10 S mode. Now – let’s give it a spin.

The iPad persona

The first task I threw at it wasn’t that difficult – really. I wanted to be able to play movies using VLC or Netflix. In short: no issues at all with playing the content, but as always the Netflix app has some … interesting quirks. I had downloaded a few episodes of a series I wanted to watch on the plane. Unfortunately I had also applied an update to Windows. Equally unfortunately that update invalidated the downloaded episodes, leaving me with nothing to do for a 2 hour flight. It could be worse, but this always drives home the point of being at some company’s mercy when it comes to content.

The battery life of the Surface Go is advertised as up to nine hours. I don’t think I’ll get anywhere near that, but if I get six hours out of it I’m more than happy. That’s still plenty more than my Surface Laptop…
With a decent battery life, the ability to remove the keyboard and sporting an excellent kickstand, the Surface Go did an admirable job of impersonating an iPad.

I’ll give it a clear pass for taking on the tasks of an iPad.

Powerpointing the night away

I’m using a Power Point clicker mounted on my left middle finger. That clicker is connected to the laptop using a USB-A dongle. There is no USB-A connector available on the Surface Go. There is also no VGA, HDMI or DisplayPort connector on the little machine either. All these things are kind of useful to a presenter. Thus, it was time to invest in a “do-it-all” dongle. There are several out there sporting some combination of USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort and RJ45 connectors, but after reading a ton of reviews, I settled on a Dell DA300.

This little puck of connectivity does not come cheap though – at around $80 it better work as intended. With the puck connected I have all the connectivity I need and I could try to do my first presentation using this setup.

It was a disaster.

It was laggy as you would not believe. Working in Power Point felt like swimming in tar. Everyone I had talked to had said that the machine, while not fast, was quite able to pull the weight of a Power Point presentation without any issues at all. Did the the dongle cause the issue? Perhaps my presentation was too large? Was something else going on? The third reason turned out to be the culprit, and I’ll go into details in just a bit. With that thing taken care of, the little machine performed admirably and I was able to do my “Azure Machine Learning for the Absolute Beginner” session at the SQL Saturday in Oslo with zero problems.

I’ll give it a pass for running Power Point.

Surf ‘n turf

Surfing the web is a surprisingly strenuous task for a computer – especially if I am the one driving it. You see, I love tabs. I can’t get enough of them. That’s on me, I know, but it also puts whatever poor machine I use under a lot of strain. In short: the Surface Go can handle Edge Beta or Chrome without any issues – UP TO a reasonable number of tabs. Keep in mind that the most powerful version of the Go has only 8GB of memory.

I’ll give it a clear pass for surfing the web.

Editing pains

Then it was time to really turn the pressure up. Editing an episode of Knee-deep in Tech is completely doable on the Surface Go, some things just takes a bit of time. For instance – running a noise reduction filter is processor intensive. My main workstation at home sports 6 CPUs, each at 3.6Ghz. It also has 16GB of RAM. Something that takes 20 seconds on that machine is bound to take more time on the Surface Go.

At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t really matter as there is only so many times one need to run noise reduction filters. As long as you’re not expecting the Go to perform like a desktop powerhouse, I could find no issues with Audacity on the Surface Go.

That brings us to Resolve. Resolve not only uses the CPU, but it also enjoys a beefy GPU (as it is video we’re trying to edit, right?). If you thought that the CPU was on the … feeble side, wait ’til you meet the GPU: Intel HD Graphics 615. I’ll just leave this link to a benchmark site here, and conclude that you never want to run Resolve on this machine. Ever.

I’ll give it a pass for audio editing and a hard fail for video editing.

Quirks and insights

So – back to the mystery of my first laggy presentation. After having a few issues with the whole machine being laggy, I traced my issues to Windows Update. Now – I don’t want to bash Windows Update as this is not a Windows Update issue per se, but Windows Update is very good at putting strain on a computer. It downloads a lot of information at the same time it is running the CPU AND harassing the hard drive.

To be blunt: this little machine can’t handle that kind of abuse without slowing down. Simple as that. My solution before taking to the stage in Oslo was to keep it simple and make sure the CPU was not taxed. I deferred Windows Update and turned off Windows Search. In fact, I’m going to look into changing the settings of Windows Search to see if I can lessen the impact of this service a bit.

In order to get a good presentation experience, make sure that the computer is not trying to do something else at the same time. Don’t update Windows, update Office, mine Bitcoin or whatever. For some reason I’ve found that my machine prefers a few minutes to “settle down” after being woken up (not unlike me, to be honest). Avoid tearing it from deep sleep in the bag and slam it straight into a technical presentation on stage and you’re fine.

Conclusion

There were some teething problems to begin with. Finding out during a presentation that the machine was slow as heck wasn’t fun at all. But it forced me to find the culprit, and my problems are now as good as gone. I have both lightened my bag AND gotten more space in said bag. I’m very happy to have bought the little thing despite having Aleksandar grinning from ear to ear when I did so.

Knee-Deep at Ignite

A few days ago a dream came true for both Simon and me – we will both be speaking at Microsoft Ignite in November! We will be delivering breakout sessions, theater sessions, host unconference sessions AND record podcast episodes.

I’ll be delivering an updated classic – “The Force Awakens – Azure SQL Server for the On-prem DBA” as a 45-minute breakout session. I’ve changed up another classic as well – “SQL Sever Hates You(?)” – but this time as a 20-minute theater session. It’s slightly changed to “Five Things the DBAs Forgot to tell the Developers” but follows the same format as the full-length session. Simon will be delivering a 45-minute breakout session titled “Managing a virtual workplace using Windows Virtual Desktop and Microsoft 365”.

Simon will also be hosting a 75-minute unconference session: “Building your career in IT by using the skills you may already have”. The unconference sessions are unlike “classic” sessions in that they revolve around a central question discussed among the attendees. I’m really looking forward to be part of the discussions!

We’ll record at least one episode of the podcast as well. This will be a 60 minute special Ignite episode, and we’re already hard at work with planning the episode. We can’t wait to get to Orlando and hope to see you all there!

Supporting the #SQLFamily

Take a look at the map above. Up to the right you see Linköping, Sweden – where I’m based. To the left you see Austin, Texas – a town 5.215 miles away. I’ve never been to Austin. Heck, I’ve never even been to Texas! So how is this relevant?

Angela D. Tidwell, a budding data scientist and a good friend of mine from the States is one of the organizers of SQL Saturday #890 in Austin, Texas. She reached out on Twitter the other day and asked me if I wanted to sponsor the event.  They just opened up a “personal/blog” sponsor option. For $25 you get your logo and a link to your site among the other sponsors. I didn’t have to think about this very long at all. As you all know well by now, community is one of my main drivers. SQL Saturdays have been the bedrock of the SQL community for years, and many a speaker has started their careers in one of them. I started my speaking career at one. Therefore I jumped at the opportunity to help this event out.

What are SQL Saturdays?

Many SQL Saturdays are pretty small with less than 100 attendees. Some of the events have grown to five times that – or more. These events are completely free to attend and feature everything from local speakers to people from literally the other side of the globe . As they are free, many people who would otherwise not go to any training find a SQL Saturday to be a major boost to their technical career.

Who speak there?

Some of the speakers are known only at their own companies. Some of them are considered international rockstars. Well, at a SQL Saturday everyone is pretty much an equal.  It is an amazing opportunity to get training, meet speakers and – most important of all – network with your fellow #SQLFamily.

So what is the issue?

Unfortunately, running a free event is neither easy nor cheap. The venue costs money. Just transporting all the stuff TO the venue costs money. Therefore they rely on sponsors, and anyone who has tried organizing an event of any size knows how difficult securing sponsorship can be. Hence I’m happy to have been able to contribute to SQL Saturday Austin, even if I can’t make it there in person.

SQL Saturday #851 – A new thing in town…

“Why don’t we have a SQL Saturday in Stockholm?” a friend asked me a few years ago. “I honestly don’t know”, was my answer. “There is a lot of people in Stockholm, but for some reason they don’t seem to be able to organize one. There is one in Gothenburg that’s been working fine for a few years, maybe you could ask Mikael Wedham?”

I didn’t know the main organizer Daniel Hutmacher very well back then, but we’ve met a few times through the years and despite him being ill he made it to the last SQL Saturday Gothenburg. I think that he had already started considering a Stockholm-based SQL Saturday already, as he unveiled his idea a bit later. Here we are today, and in two days’ time – Saturday May the 4th – SQL Saturday #851 is going to happen in Stockholm! We’re close to 300 attendees and I an very excited to deliver “Arguing with myself – self-service BI from an infrastructure perspective” at 4.30. The speaker lineup is exceptional: Kevin Kline, Grant Fritchey, Matthew Roche, Pinal Dave, Ruth Pozuelo Martinez, Uwe Ricken, Mikael Wedham, Ola Hallengren and several other internationally renowned speakers are standing by.

I’ve been a (very) small part of the organizing team for SQL Saturday #851, but as my schedule has been absolutely bonkers I haven’t had much time to contribute at all. Daniel and the others have done all the heavy lifting but I am looking forward to contributing onsite during the day. The funny thing with Daniel is that he doesn’t care very much if someone says something can’t be done – yet another reason to work with him or employ his services. He gets things done like few others.

If you’re into SQL Server, like great speakers, free, amazing content, are close to Stockholm and have the Saturday unplanned – come join!

 

SQLSaturday #851 - Stockholm 2019

A Swede went to Finland, spoke and learned

A couple of weeks ago now, I was focused on preparing for, and speaking at, Techdays in Helsinki, Finland. I was really happy to be accepted for the conference after Alexander spoke there last year and praised the arrangement. I was also very happy that Techdays choose to accept my session on Windows Virtual Desktop, since this is one of the topics I’m most passionate about and involved in currently.

I have presented this session previously, at Igel Disrupt, but this time I had another kind of audience. With more mixed backgrounds and focused more on “regular” client management. In the end, it turned out great!

I felt that I had a very good interaction with the audience and I’ve received a number of questions during and after the event. Also, the feedback has been amazing and I’m very glad and humbled by that.

So, why do I think that WVD is such a big deal? Well, I’ve said it before and to me the first and most obvious benefit is that this till democratize the, so called, EUC (End User Compute) landscape. The technologies out there today is usually pricey and fairly complicated to configure and maintain (and yes, that includes Windows Server RDS). They usually also require you to buy a number of licenses up front, or at least do the implementation as a project.

This have prevented some, especially smaller, organizations from going down this route, even though they would like to. This is made possible with WVD. You can scale DOWN to a 1 user on 1 VM if you like, and that’s fine. You don’t have any upfront cost, you can for your consumption (even thought it actually can be cheaper to buy reserved instance and pay for it upfront). It’s a very, in the simplest configuration, an easy solution with implement and manage.

You of course get all the benefits that any, or most, EUC solutions have today in terms connect-ability, security and mobility.

One of the feedback points I received both in Munich and in Helsinki were that I almost sound overly positive and don’t present the downsides of the service. For this, I’m sorry. Its actually not intentional and therefore I would like to point out a few downsides I currently see with the service (based on publicly available fact):

  1. Its great to run apps and desktops in the cloud, but you need to consider your apps first. This will be the showstopper for many organizations. If you have systems that required connectivity to your local datacenter as an example, its perhaps not great from a performance perspective to put the client in the cloud. You can of course see this as an opportunity as well – you are moving your stuff to the cloud, but consider that first.
  2. Second, authentication. Personally, I do feel that the current solution could be highly improved, but could require more cross product group work. The RDS cant sort this out by themselves, they need help from the Windows, AD and Azure AD among others. Ill dig deeper into this in time of the public preview.
  3. Since this is some kind of hybrid if we compare it to other solutions, we need to have tools that makes it easier to manage the service, especially the VMs. You don’t need to manage and maintain the actually underlying infrastructure – but you need to configure it, secure parts of it and manage your VMs. This will also require some cross PG work, and this (as well as security) is where I see that I personally can make a difference.

There are of course other downsides as well – and I’m really looking forward to getting more information of the final decision on licensing of the service. We’ll see.

This is however feedback I’m struggling with. I do get it, I do see it as important and I do want to be better at not just look at the good sides of it, but also (in blogs or when I’m speaking) give my audience a realistic picture. Again, I’m not trying to hide anything, its just a matter of me focusing on the amazing technology.

I’ve actually had this challenge before. In the beginning of Windows 10 I did a customer presentation on Windows 10 and why that would be the best OS for this customer. They found the presentation interesting, they saw the benefits but then they asked me a question: “So, what’s bad with Windows 10? There needs to be something, or else we wont be able to trust what you are saying.” I do get that feedback, especially now a few years later. So, moving forward ill do my best to present a more nuanced picture whatever I’m presenting on.

So, we’ll for sure have reasons to get back to WVD in coming blogposts, but for now Ill be focusing a lot of my “core” technologies which is especially Windows 10 and EMS.

Take care and remember to follow the blog and listen to the Knee Deep in Tech podcast. You can find us wherever you find pods including iTunes and Spotify.

Speaking at SQL BITS!

I’m going to SQL BITS! Not only going, but also speaking – I’m very excited to be delivering “DAX for the SQL developer” at 1420 in a room called “Snake Eyes”. What could possibly go wrong? This is my first time at BITS, both as a speaker and an attendee, and I am very much looking forward to what is called the biggest and best SQL Server / data conference in Europe. There are still tickets for the paid day (Friday) left, as well as the free, community-oriented Saturday. Drop everything and come join!

https://sqlbits.com/information/registration

Heading to Norway and NICCONF

Tomorrow I’m heading to Oslo and the Nordic Infrastructure Conference (NICCONF) – one of my favorite conferences! I’ve been invited to deliver three sessions this year:
“The force awakens – Azure SQL Server for the on-prem DBA” which is an introduction to Azure SQL Server in its different shapes,
“Azure Machine Learning for the absolute beginner” which is an introduction to Azure Machine Learning, its capabilities and what can be done with machine learning, and finally
“Learning to swim – an introduction to Azure Data Lake”, a quick overview of the what, how and when with Azure Data Lake.

Now, I’ve been running around trying to find some props for these sessions, and so far I’ve got fun stuff for two of them. Hopefully Oslo provides the third one tomorrow, and then it’ll be even more fun to attend these sessions. Let’s just say that it is surprisingly difficult to find pool toys in February…
I was invited to speak at NIC last year as well, and I was struck by the friendly feel of the conference. Not too big, not too small, plenty of great speakers, awesome attendees and very kind organizers.

I can’t wait to get there and meet all the attendees – will you join me?

Back on the road

The first month of the new year is more than half way done. Time flies, but I’ve already had time to go to SQL Saturday Linz in beautiful Austria. I delivered “Headless chicken – calming the sysadmin-turned-DBA” to a full room, and it was 60 minutes of fun, shenanigans and failing to use a flipchart properly – all while having an excellent discussion about the intricacies of waking up as a DBA. Tomorrow I’m leaving for a quick trip to Mechelen in Belgium and the first-ever Power BI Days conference! I have it on good authority that there will be a good crowd and I’m more than happy to be a part of Europe’s newest Power BI-focused event. It will be a quick in-and-out though as I’m flying home again Saturday afternoon. In Mechelen I will be delivering one of my favorite sessions: “Arguing with myself – self-service BI from an infrastructure perspective”, absolutely sure so get laughs. I mean – I’m wearing two different hats and I’m arguing with myself in three different voices – what’s not to like…?