DataRelay 2019

DataRelay 2019

I had a great time on Friday at Data Relay in Bristol.

This article is about what I learned. I have tried to include links, either to presentations, slides or just example of the speakers previous work. I will update with further links as and when I get them.

Data Relay (formerly known as SQL Relay) is a touring conference in the UK, covering five locations over five days. I managed to catch up with the conference at Bristol.

Data Relay offers more than eighteen sessions over four rooms. Abstracts for these sessions were submitted back in May and the top-voted speakers were invited to deliver their talks. The Data Relay team schedule the sessions across tracks, but as an attendee, you often find that more than one interesting session takes place at the same time. This is a good problem to have. I do my best to resolve this by researching each of the speakers in the days beforehand. It’s useful to see if the session is easily available online  and perhaps watching a few videos of previous talks by that speaker can give an indication of how they present and if it’ll work for you. SQLBits recordings are great for this, a bit like a DB-IMDB. I also choose to sit close to the back in order to quietly slip out un-noticed if the talk isn’t right for me, although this is getting more difficult these days as my eyesight dictates that I should be closer to the front.

Here’s how my day went. No doubt I missed some other excellent speakers, but this is my experience.


I love Buck Woody. He’s a great presenter, and it’s always a joy to hear him speak at SQLBits. It was great to hear Buck discussing solving read-world problems with AI, really interesting until the sound dropped off. I’d like to watch that again if possible, but until then – here’s a link to a previous Buck Woody presentation.

Buck Woody – Presenting Like Jagger

Introduction to SQL Server 2019 Big Data Data Clusters

I’ve often seen Chris’ name at SQLBits, but never seen him talk before. This was an interesting topic, and one to go on my “maybe someday” list as we’re not currently using Big Data. Seems that it’s not just the size but the type of Data that Microsoft is bringing together and making available that makes it interesting. Very good to see how the various parts fit together.

Unfortunately, a technical issue prevented the demo from happening, but I found a series of blog posts from Chris that talk though the process:

Chris Adkin – Big Data Clusters

Introduction to Spark

It was a shame to see that Michał Poręba’s talk on “SQL Server Estate as code” was cancelled. In it’s place was a session about Spark by Kevin Feasel. I’ve heard Kevin speak a number of times as a co-host on the SQL Data Partners Podcast, so I attended based on this – although a competing session comparing performance between AWS and Azure was tempting. I was glad that I stopped by as the talk was really interesting – working through the history of Hadoop and the tech of it’s time and the journey to Apache Spark.

Kevin Feasel – Spark

Here’s a good time to talk about Presentation. I was lucky to attend sessions from some truly great speakers. Finding great speakers is a joy – there’s so much information out there and everyone tells their story in a different way. Finding someone who appeals to you makes it just so much easier to learn. For me, it’s about a natural presentation from someone who is passionate about their subject. I find that I learn best from people who take their time, use slides sparingly and approach live demos with a backup plan. A natural sense of humour can help tremendously, but generally I want to get my information in passionate, relatable stories. There are some tremendous training resources available, but it’s handy to know speakers that work for you.


I attended two sessions from Tobias Koprowski on the subject of Security. Both were excellent – interesting, thought provoking, scary and brilliantly presented. The first session had plenty of talk about vulnerabilities in general – the dangers of open wifi, using easily guessed account names and SQL Injection (still the most common threat).  Lots of talk about GDPR requirements as well. Lots of things to take back to the workplace to review.

The second session covered reviewing your Databases using Microsoft tools both in Azure and on-premises. While I was aware of the function in SSMS, I hadn’t realised quite how good it was and how specific to Internationally recognised security standards – perhaps something that I can use when talking to our Information Security department.

I also loved the thought that “everyone wants to see green or red” on a Dashboard – green makes you happy, red makes you angry as you need to “stop playing Candy Crush” and put your phone down in order to go fix a problem.

Tobias Koprowski – Slides

Tobias Koprowski – SQL Security

SQL Server and Kubernetes

Docker and Kubernetes. Terms that I’ve had in the “stuff that I think I should know about but never quite got there” category for a while now. Andrew Pruski’s talk was very informative, well presented and practical. There were live demonstrations which not only showed me the “how” of using the technology, but also the “why” I would use it (and where I might want to review or restrict it’s usage). The demonstration of KubeInvaders (Kubernetes’ managing the re-spawning of killed sessions using Space Invaders) was perfect. Although the project used was from someone else (luckysideburn), I would have never seen it but for Andrew bringing to my attention.


Eyes on the Prize. Simple and effective Dashboard Visualization Techniques

Kevin Feasel rounded off the day with a session on Dashboard Visualisations where we learned the value of multiple Pie Charts, how using many colours can add to the message and how scroll bars and overly long labels can tell a story. Obviously, these were examples of what not to do – there were plenty of suggestions on the different types of Dashboards and how to use them effectively.

One bit that stood out to me was the section about the location of data on a dashboard can aid towards it being missed or how to set up a graph to mislead the audience – very interesting.

Kevin Feasel – Presentations

Prizes and Close

Onto the prizegiving, where names are drawn from a hat (or in this a random number generator) and there was some good stuff on offer. I’ll do my best to remember in memory of “The Generation Game” (ask your parents).

  • A honkin’ big box of Technical Lego
  • Training from DLM Associates
  • Bluetooth Headphones
  • Limited Edition “Star Trek” themed Drone
  • Redgate SQLPrompt Licence
  • Chilly’s Coffee Cup

Imagine my joy when I saw my name come up for the Coffee Cup!

Honestly, it’s the one prize that I’ll truly get to use (short of the DLM Associates Training, which would have been very handy). All of the others would have been packed up for one of the kids at Christmas – though I imagine that my seven year old may not have been impressed with a SQLPrompt licence. I do like a good cup of coffee. The cup might even make it into work, where I rotate through my SQL mug collection (currently I have “Brent Ozar”, “Pinal Dave” and “Ola Hallengren” mugs to choose from).

After the prizes, there was a nice wrap up and invitation to join the Bristol Data Meetup (Data Bristol). This is a great Resource with regular meetings on a weekday evening. A good chance to catch up and talk to others together with presentations. They frequently hold “open mike” type evenings that allows people to give 15-20 minute talks . I’m hoping to talk there one day. There are lots of similar groups scattered across the UK, well worth investigating and attending if you get the opportunity.

Data Bristol

It’s very interesting that Data Relay are taking their environmental impact very seriously. Gone are the plastic nametag slips, replaced very effectively by a stiffer piece of card with a hole punched through. Goody bags are no longer a thing either – mixed feelings here, they are normally populated with vendor leaflets that I promise myself I will read (after all, the vendors paid for the conference) but inevitably they sit under my desk as a guilty reminder that I haven’t. The bags do also sometimes contain other stuff, like free pens and novelty items. The Pens always get re-used, and the kids enjoy the freebies. I still have a PKZIP bottle opener from Comdex 1989 where I met a chap called Phil Katz. Digressing, but I fully understand the reasons for the bags going. I still managed to find a T-shirt from Microsoft and a DLM boomerang which somehow made it home in my pocket.

Good things happen when you take a day out of the office to attend a Conference like Data Relay. Things that you just can’t replicate by sitting in front of a screen and watching pre-recorded sessions. You interact with other attendees, catch up on what’s happening in their world and where their focus is. You learn the real state of the world. For example, in one of the Security sessions, we were asked to raise our hands if we were using Azure – less than ten percent, whereas in a lot of places, Microsoft would suggest a far higher number. The very act of being out of your workplace tells your mind that you’re there to learn. I am grateful to my employer for letting me take a day out to attend DataRelay, but it will be paid back through enthusiasm, knowledge and a desire to implement things that I’ve learned.

Thanks again @datarelay_uk, all of your sponsors and speakers.

Roll on SQLBits 2020.

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