Importance of Vacations

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take a vacation–an entire week out of the office with my work phone turned off and tucked away in my desk drawer at work. I intentionally locked out my network account and went dark. I needed a break. And that’s exactly what I got. After a few days in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for SQL Saturday, I was off to Berlin for some much needed rest. It also gave me the opportunity to do something I love to do, and that’s flying. I used some miles to upgrade to Delta ONE from Atlanta to Amsterdam, which allowed me to sit on the upper deck of a 747. All the while, my boss would be the escalation point for my team.

My company has a couple of policies around vacations, and they’re interesting. First, all employees are required to take five consecutive business days out of the office and aren’t permitted to conduct company business. Some key employees are required to take ten consecutive business days. While this sounds like a very employee-friendly policy, and it is,  it has a very interesting secondary rationale. Keep in mind that our parent company is one of the world’s largest financial institutions. We have people who have access to highly sensitive financial systems. We use employee vacations as a fraud protection measure. The idea is that if someone is out of the office and they’ve been doing something dishonest, it’ll be easier detect them while they’re not in the office. And if you’re doing something dishonest, it’s much harder to cover your tracks while out of the office. It makes some sense.

I have another reason why I think vacations are important. It helps us learn what we don’t know. When a member of my team is on vacation, I inevitably find process gaps or opportunities for automation. While I’m on vacation, my team will be going to my boss will get to deal with all of the stuff I typically keep off his plate. He’ll also be fielding approvals and escalations from my team. This means that when I come back from a vacation I expect the conversation to include a few “Why are we doing….?” and “I didn’t realize you were doing….” discussions. If I’m doing something he doesn’t like, I’m going to hear about it. At the same time, he’s going to see a lot of the value of what I add to the organization.

Presenting at SQL Saturday Paris #sqlsatparis

I got word yesterday that I will be presenting at SQL Saturday #420 in Paris. This will be my first international SQL Server event. I’ll be presenting Transaction Log Internals: Virtual Log Files. As many times as I’ve given this presentation, it never gets old. Although I will say that it’s a little less exciting in SQL 2014 than it was in earlier versions. I’ll also be representing PASS at this event.

Paris is an incredible city, and I haven’t really spent much time there in a long time. So I’m going to spend a few days to give myself an opportunity to fall in love with the city of lights again.

Presenting at the PASS DBA Virtual Chapter

On July 8, I will be presenting for the PASS DBA Virtual Chapter. I haven’t presented for this group in a couple of years, so I’m pretty excited about this. I’ll be presenting Do More With Less: SQL CMS and MSX.

The hardest part of this group is that it’s done via webcast. I have trouble juggling the demo, presentation, and questions all at the same time. This time around, I’ve asked my new friend Andy Mallon (blog | twitter) to be my moderator. I can only imagine how much fun this is going to be.

Human Factors of a DR Test

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that everyone does a regular disaster recovery test. You DO have a disaster recovery plan, don’t you? What happens if a comet hits your data center? Or a terrorist attack. Or the power grid goes offline and you run out of fuel for the generators. How do you recover that? If you don’t, you have some catching up to do.

One of the phrases that dovetails nicely into disaster recovery is business continuity. As technology people, we tend to think about how we get the systems back online in case of a failure. But what about the business itself?

The company I work for is owned by a bank, so we don’t talk about disaster recovery and business continuity as individual constructs. We talk about disaster recovery and business continuity as a single entity. And our parent company takes it very seriously. A couple of years ago, we had hundreds of employees in New York and New Jersey who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Basically, all of our people based in and around New York City were out of commission. Our clients never knew it. Do you know why? It’s because we had business continuity plans. The two primary data centers  weren’t impacted because they’re in the midwest. But our people were. By leveraging our people in western Pennsylvania as well as a multitude of offshore resources, the only thing clients saw was that different team members were responding to their service requests as different times of the day. Tedious planning really paid off.

Every year, we do our regular “India out” exercise. This is in addition to regular technology DR tests. We simulate a situation where all of our offshore teams become unavailable. And we do this with our US-based teams filling in the gaps. It demonstrates to our auditors, our clients, and to ourselves, that we’re ready in case a crisis would hit. About a year ago, we had to implement those contingencies during a period of civil unrest that threatened to shut down our offices just outside of Mumbai. These “India out” exercises are what I refer to as a “scheduled bad day.” They really suck. Parts of our US teams work hours where we should be sleeping. It always confuses clients when they see me answering an email at 4AM. When I explain that we’re doing a business continuity test, they always appreciate it.

What gets me is when we do a disaster recovery and business continuity test at the same time. Occasionally during a DR test, they’ll throw us for a loop by saying we can’t use offshore resources. Or they’ll occasionally say that we can only use offshore resources. Or people in a given facility should be assumed offline. The worst is when they tell us that certain tools, such as our ITSM, email, or IM tools are unavailable during the test.

We train for crazy things. They’re inconvenient. There are always lessons learned. We hope they are things we never have to do in an actual disaster. But then again, nobody thought Hurricane Sandy would happen, either.

Look for me at #sqlsatpuertorico

Next weekend is SQL Saturday #373 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There is something about having a training event on a lovely tropical island that appeals to me. This will be my second time speaking at their event. These guys run a great event.

I will be presenting Recovery and Backup for Beginners. That’s one of my favorite topics. So many presenters try to do 400-level topics, and I like to do the intro stuff as well. Sometimes people forget that we have a lot of people who are just getting their feet wet with SQL Server.

I’m also presenting Transaction Log Internals: Virtual Log Files. This will be my first time presenting it after learning about the new algorithm in SQL 2014 for VLF creation. I need to figure out if I want to demo that in both SQL 2012 and SQL 2014, or if I want to just mention that this has changed in SQL 2014.

Handy Query: Is LPIM Enabled?

My counterpart in our R&D department is a strong believer that enabling Lock Pages in Memory is required for our product. I don’t always agree, especially for our small virtualized instances. However, when we’re trying to troubleshoot a problem, he always asks me if LPIM is enabled.

For ages, we had to look at the top of the SQL Server log file to see this. The problem is that we cycle our error logs weekly to keep them a manageable size. That means that after a few weeks, this data simply isn’t available. So one day, I took to the Twitterverse to find if there was another way to know. Glenn Berry from SQL Skills rescued me.

SELECT locked_page_allocations_kb
FROM sys.dm_os_process_memory;

The solution is brilliant in it’s simplicity. If the value is greater than zero, the service is locking pages in memory. If it’s zero, it either isn’t (or can’t) locking pages in memory.

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