The Data Platform has expanded – so too should our approach in using it….

In recent years we as data professionals have moved from dealing with SQL Server databases with SQL Server Reporting Server and SQL Server Analysis Services interacting with them (all on-premises) to a wide scale data platform.

In fact even the name of most SQL Server things (like my MVP) have morphed into the name of “Data Platform”.

The name allows for new technologies and processes to be folded into the ecosystem. The radical changes brought about by the Azure platform have recently been matched by the breadth of technological choice in how you interact, manage and understand your data.

Let’s look at some key areas of what Microsoft have to offer on the Data Platform:

Database products

SQL Server 2017 – Lets you bring the industry-leading performance and security of SQL Server to the platform of your choice—use it on Windows, Linux, and Docker containers.

SQL Database – Built for developers, SQL Database is a relational database management system with enterprise-class availability, scalability, and security, and built-in intelligence capable of learning app patterns, that can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

Azure Database for MySQL – Quickly stand up a MySQL database and scale on the fly with this fully managed database service for app development and deployment that includes high-availability, security, and recovery at no extra cost.

Azure Database for PostgreSQL – Stand up a PostgreSQL database in minutes and scale on the fly—this fully managed database service for app development and deployment also gives you high-availability, security, and recovery at no extra cost.

SQL Data Warehouse – Scale compute and storage independently with this SQL-based, fully managed, petabyte-scale cloud data warehouse that’s highly elastic and enables you to set up in minutes and scale capacity in seconds.

Azure Cosmos DB – With a guarantee of single-digit-millisecond latencies at the 99th percentile anywhere in the world, this multimodel database service offers turnkey global distribution across any number of Azure regions by transparently scaling and replicating your data to wherever your users are.

Data and analytics products

SQL Server 2017 – With up to 1 million predictions per second using built-in Python and R integration, SQL Server 2017 delivers real-time intelligence as it brings the industry-leading performance and security of SQL Server to the platform of your choice.

HD Insight – A fully managed cloud Spark and Hadoop service, HDInsight provides open source analytic clusters for Spark, Hive, MapReduce, HBase, Storm, Kafka, and Microsoft R Server backed by a 99.9% SLA.

Machine Learning – Easily build, deploy, and manage predictive analytics solutions with this fully managed cloud service and deploy your model into production as a web service in minutes that can be called from any device, anywhere.

Stream Analytics – Develop and run massively parallel real-time analytics on multiple streams of data with this analytics service that helps uncover real-time insights from devices, sensors, infrastructure, and applications.

Azure Bot Service – Accelerate bot development with this intelligent, serverless bot service that scales on demand, requires no server management or patching, and provides built-in templates.

Data Lake Analytics – Develop and run massively parallel data transformation and processing programs in U-SQL, R, Python, and Microsoft .NET over petabytes of data with this on-demand service that provides a simple, scalable way to analyze big data—in seconds.

Data Lake Store – Built to the open HDFS standard, this is a no-limits cloud data lake for your enterprise’s unstructured, semi-structured, and structured data that’s massively scalable and secured, and allows you to run massively parallel analytics.

Data Catalog – Spend less time looking for data and more time getting value from it with this fully managed cloud service that lets you register, enrich, discover, understand, and consume your enterprise data sources.

The current state of the Data Platform is exciting, innovative and vast.  For years my aim was to understand how best I could tune, manage and deploy on SQL Server. The good news is that with “recent” improvements to the SQL Server engine:

we can now all focus on other aspects of the Data Platform…. (sorry but I had to put that in there).

With recent enhancements to the SQL Server engine and the maturity of running databases in Azure – it does mean our roles as data professionals are evolving.

Hard core DBAs are now finding themselves talking to Data Scientists on what is required for a stable, reliable, clean, tested, backed-up and secure data processing strategy.

The ability to deploy to the cloud calls for secure and efficient processes around those deployments and nowadays DBAs are also finding themselves involved in conversations around getting database code into source control, code being tested as part of continuous integration and changes deployed via continuous delivery processes.

Or god forbid – knowing being part of something called agile….!!

The data platform has expanded and grown, our approach in how we manage and deploy to it needs to grow as well.

The good thing is that Microsoft have put a massive amount of effort into – I used to despair with MSDN and Technet documentation – but I am loving and inspired with the quality of articles being put out on 

These days if I’m interacting with a new feature or need to diagnose something being able to quickly use these docs has been fantastic in helping me cope with the new world of an expansive Data platform.



If your Surface Book loses it’s keyboard and trackpad – try removing KB4074588 update

My Surface Book (gen 1) recently did updates and then a day or so later the keyboard and trackpad mysteriously stopped working. Then I heard of 3 other people who experienced the same issue within 24 hours.

I could use the Surface Book in tablet mode – but I tired of that pretty quickly.

The weird things was I could hit the Fn key and it would light up – but could not use the keyboard at all.

Some of the people affected by this issue did system restores which worked. I tried many system restores – which gave me my keyboard and trackpad back BUT the Surface Book repeatedly bluescreened….


Surface Support was contacted – I’d like to say they were helpful. But I wouldn’t be writing this blog post if they completely solved my issue. They sent me here:

Which did nothing.


BTW if people in support think it’s acceptable to leave a person waiting 60 hours before re-contacting them — maybe support isn’t the job for you.

(I used to be Second Level Support Manager so I know how vital it is to update/engage with people who are experiencing issues with software….)

I stumbled across the fact that windows update KB4074588 was installed when I had the updates install – so I removed it. As my next move was a factory reset — so I had nothing to lose.

Restarted and boom I have a keyboard and trackpad and 3 minutes later wrote this to hopefully help others.

I emailed Surface Support to let them know too.




Speaking at PASS Summit and why you need to think about submitting….

This post is about the honor and experience of speaking at PASS Summit not once (2016) but twice (2017).

I recently received an email from PASS HQ that asked past speakers to share our success stories – to help others consider submitting for PASS Summit as a speaker.

This is an easy one for me – as I loved speaking at PASS Summit a lot.
Both times I learnt so many different things that helped me grow not only as a speaker but as a data platform technologist.

This is the first thing that I want to pass onto others who are considering submitting.

You will learn a lot:

When preparing a presentation you learn a lot when you prepare a presentation. You want to be ready to have questions. When selecting a topic I want to know as much about it to answer the questions attendees might have. Not just the basic questions but the more advanced ones that will help them implement/change the setup of whatever technology I am talking about.

The flow on effect of this was one particular area I was talking on (SQL Server on Linux) helped the company I was working at as it changed our direction and usage of the product. Now that is definitely a win | win situation!!

As a speaker I learnt a lot about speaking to crowds of people who are engaged and also want to learn from you.  This helped me grow as a speaker as I spent more time on preparation – so that I could deliver the content really well at an event like PASS Summit.

Disclaimer: I personally think I have a way to go before I’m a really effective speaker – but I speak about Continuous Improvement with technology so happy to embrace this with my speaking craft.

Here is your chance to pay it forward:

For years I had been a consumer of content, whenever I had an issue there were people who had written resolutions which had helped me with just about every part of our technology stack. I had also attended free conferences like SQLSaturday and Code Camp and had learnt so much that helped me manage/deploy/tune SQL Server.

By standing up in front of people I was replaying all the kindness of those people who had given up their time to help me. My tag line has always been “I speak so that I can help at least one person in the crowd learn..”.

The great thing has been after both my PASS Summit sessions I’ve had people stay behind and ask questions – which is great as it means that people were engaged and got something out of my session.

You are now part of a group of people who really care:

My first ever speaking engagement was with my good friend Martin Catherall, for years I had seen him speak and he was good enough to put in a co-speaking session for us both at SQLSaturday Oregon in October 2015. It was brilliant as it allowed me to try my hand at speaking with my good mate next to me for support.

By being part of the speaker group I then met some of the most awesome caring people, who really care about the community.

Start small and achieve greatness:

So let’s say you want to start speaking and giving back to the community, a great place to start and practice for speaking at PASS Summit is to support your local user group.

For a couple of reasons:

  1. It allows you to become an expert of your material and to grow in confidence as a speaker. Speaking to a room of 20 people whom I knew was a very rewarding experience and allowed me to get feedback on my material before going large.
  2. I run a user group and am always on the lookout for grass roots speakers and will support them by offering a slot at my SQL Server User Group. Because one of the hardest parts of running a User Group is finding speakers.
    So you know — win | win.

After speaking at a local user group — submit to your local SQLSaturday. I also run one and for the past 3 years I have offered new speakers the chance to speak in front of a larger more disparate crowd than their local User Groups.

So go ahead — think of a topic, write an abstract and submit!!

We need speakers like you in the community and PASS Summit needs more speakers to submit — so please take the plunge.  If nothing else — you now have a subject that you can support your local user groups and community conferences with.

The ultimate is that you get picked for PASS Summit and in a year or two write about your own experiences to help incubate another person to make a positive difference in our vibrant community.


Why I am leaving a role/company I loved

This non-technical post is about why I am leaving a technical company after working there for 17 + years.

If you are thinking this will be a post that will resemble this:

DevOPs is never about burning bridges

then I’m sorry but you will be sadly disappointed.

My reasons for leaving are about doing new things rather than hating on the old things…

I resigned from my position as Operations Manager at Jade Software on 22nd December 2017, it was the 6,311th day that I had worked there. It was also the 6,969th day of my IT career — it seemed the right kind of day to do something huge.

Some people would say — but you didn’t work 6,311 days there — you’re counting weekends too!! To which I’d reply that when you work for a company that is energetic about doing things — it is infectious to be thinking about work on the weekends or writing emails/planning future work/projects.

It’s funny looking back at my time there — I originally was only going to work 23 months but I found after a year that I loved working there.

If you look at the longevity of the people that work there — there are people who’ve worked there over 30 years. It is that kind of company where people who are passionate about technology and stuff — stay. And they’re good people too!!

These people could easily leave and get really good money elsewhere. But they don’t because we believed in what we were doing there, that a lot of other things at Jade outweighed more money.

I was very lucky during my time at Jade to be part of a team of guys who were passionate, brilliant and committed to what we were doing. We socialised together and shared a love of getting the work done and having a beer, and eating hot n spicy food.

I think there is some saying that goes “why do do you go to work each day?” and the answer is “the people”. The reason I stayed so long at Jade was the people and the fact that every 5-8 years the company reinvented itself and/or did a stepwise change. It was exciting to be part of that. The culture at Jade was one of striving for excellence and also having fun along the way.

In some respects I used to think of Jade as this beautiful woman who was like a fickle mistress…. As at times I would drop everything to do things for my job. And have to explain to those dear to me why I was doing such things. Because it was awesome brilliant times making things – that others struggled with – work.

In a sense for those who loved this Jade woman – she consumed us, was at time a jealous lover but rewarded us well. As all fickle mistresses should.

On the day I resigned I bought 6 bottles of the wine below which inspired the above sentence (Note: I did not drink all 6 bottles at once to come up with the sentence above)

Jade – the most enjoyable yet fickle of all mistresses….

So why leave?

One of the reasons I am leaving is so that there is a breath of fresh air within Operations.  16 years ago today (7/1/2002) I started as the Operations Team Leader – a newly created role and so I’ve led my team through new technologies, company-wide redundancies, introduction of SQL Server, NT4 —-> Windows 2016, removal of everyone being oncall and even PowerShell.

My aim over those years was to manage as I’d want to be managed. That we were a team which meant that my staff’s opinions mattered more than my own and that I wanted to be told if I was wrong – but I fully expected an answer/solution to what I was doing that was wrong. My staff knew that at 3am they could call me if they were stuck and if necessary I’d drive into work — because I expected the same. I didn’t like the word ‘manager’ as that just reminded me of David Brent like paper shufflers. I wanted to lead my team and for them to actively participate in the direction we’d go.

As a team.

BTW – telling my team I was resigning was hard.

Really hard.

The other reason I am leaving is around the fact that I left home when I was 18, I went to university to study Chemical Engineering in another city.

Leaving my (small) home town of Napier was hard at the time, in fact the first year was hell. But worth it — as it made me the man I am today.

And that in lies the analogy I’m using for leaving Jade, I learnt so many wondrous cool things whilst working there, my talent was incubated by some of the most technically brilliant people I’ve met. I matured as a person both technically and socially and now is time to leave ‘home’ again. To leave the confines and security of a job I loved and go out into the real world again.


I want to try my hand at consulting (and contracting) — some exciting news soon…

I want to help companies achieve some of the awesome stuff we did at Jade around DevOPs and specifically with databases.

I want to continue to make a difference in the community and help people learn (and laugh).

I want to make a fair bit of money so I can (finally) upgrade my car.

This next part of my career will be exciting, I am a little nervous about what the first few years will be like, but I feel it is time to leave. That nervousness BTW is what I use to drive myself, I thrive on energy whether it is good energy and not-so-good energy like stress. Before I speak — around 2 hours before I look like I’m going to throw up and a mess. But that is my way of centering myself and getting ready to make people laugh and learn.

So for the past 2 weeks — each day I have confronted the nervousness that I feel and remember how I felt on 11th September 2000 when I drove to my first day at Jade — I wrote a list of things I wanted to learn in the first 3 months…. because I was nervous I didn’t know enough. Thanks to some guys who would later become senior members of my team I’d learnt those things within 2 weeks.

That is the special kind of place Jade was — where the right kind of people would help you out, would go out of their way and also make you feel like ‘family’.  If I ever employ enough staff to have a team again I want to emulate what I did and the culture we had at Jade.

I’ll be sad to leave but so glad I stayed.


Changing TFS to use HTTPS? — update your agent settings too….

This blog post is about Team Foundation Server (TFS) and is about the situation where you need remember to update your TFS Agent settings.

I will assume that you already have TFS setup and are just using HTTP and want to make things a bit more secure with HTTPS. I am also assuming that you will be using port 443 for HTTPS traffic.

To update TFS to use HTTPS you need to do a couple of things:

  1. Have a legitimate certificate installed on the server that you can bind to
  2. Have an IP address on the server and have firewall access setup to that IP address on port 443

So in IIS we will add our new binding to our Team Foundation Server website:

IIS Setup for new binding of HTTPS

We will now go into TFS Administration Console to change our public URL. The added HTTPS binding will have flowed through from IIS and you should now see it in the bindings.

HTTPS Setup TFS Admin
Adding our URL to TFS Admin Console



So now we have HTTPS working for our TFS instance. Users can connect to the new URL and we can utilise URL rewriting to direct anyone who forgets and uses HTTP.

Except our first nightly builds failed…

HTTPS Agent failed
Automated Nightly Build Failure

Looking at the diagnostic logs on the agent we can see the following (note the time is UTC time):

[2017-12-07 13:30:05Z ERR Program] System.Net.Http.HttpRequestException: An error occurred while sending the request. —> System.Net.Http.WinHttpException: A security error occurred at System.Runtime.CompilerServices.TaskAwaiter.ThrowForNonSuccess(Task task)
at System.Runtime.CompilerServices.TaskAwaiter.HandleNonSuccessAndDebuggerNotification(Task task)
at System.Net.Http.WinHttpHandler.<StartRequest>d__101.MoveNext()
— End of inner exception stack trace —
at Microsoft.VisualStudio.Services.Common.VssHttpRetryMessageHandler.<SendAsync>d__3.MoveNext()
— End of stack trace from previous location where exception was thrown —

The logs also showed that the agent was trying to go to the old address. So it was a simple change to the agent settings to point to HTTPS address.

Browsing to where the agent is installed we can now edit the .Agents file:

Editing the .agent file

Within the .agent file we will change the following setting:

serverUrl: https://YourURL/tfs/

Kick off a queued build and it works as intended.



SSRS won’t bind HTTPS to new certificate — “We are unable to create the certificate binding”

This blog post is around the situation where you have SSRS setup to use HTTPS and thus using a certificate and the certificate expires (or just needs replacing). We had caught the initial error via our Continuous Monitoring of the SSRS site — basically when the certificate expired we got an exception and alerted on it.

The client installed a new certificate but the issue arose where in Reporting Service Configuration Manager we went to use the new certificate but when we chose it we got this error:

We are unable to create the certificate binding

SSRS Cert issue
Error in SSRS Configuration Manager

And Reporting Service Configuration Manager removes the HTTPS binding.

We checked and the certificate is installed correctly.

So we looked in SSRS logs:

C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSRS11.<instance>\Reporting Services\LogFiles

It is amazing for a reporting system how badly errors are reported in the log files. Basically there was nothing in there at all:

rshost!rshost!964!12/11/2017-08:13:47:: e ERROR: WriteCallback(): failed to write in write callback.
rshost!rshost!2aa4!12/11/2017-08:13:47:: e ERROR: Failed with win32 error 0x03E3, pipeline=0x00000002780A7D80.
httpruntime!ReportServer_0-33!2aa4!12/11/2017-08:13:47:: e ERROR: Failed in BaseWorkerRequest::SendHttpResponse(bool), exception=System.Runtime.InteropServices.COMException (0x800703E3): The I/O operation has been aborted because of either a thread exit or an application request. (Exception from HRESULT: 0x800703E3)
 at Microsoft.ReportingServices.HostingInterfaces.IRsHttpPipeline.SendResponse(Void* response, Boolean finalWrite, Boolean closeConn)
 at ReportingServicesHttpRuntime.BaseWorkerRequest.SendHttpResponse(Boolean finalFlush)
library!ReportServer_0-33!2aa4!12/11/2017-08:13:47:: e 

--- End of inner exception stack trace ---;

We knew that HTTP was working all good so SSRS itself was “ok”. So on a hunch we decided to see if the old certificate was still lying around bound to something and so using netsh:

NETSH showing the old certificate bound

So we then removed the binding — which was safe enough as only SSRS was serving web requests on this server — IIS was not being used at all.:

netsh http delete sslcert ipport=[::]:443

SSRS netsh delete
Removing the certificate that was still bound to port 443

We could then bind the new certificate in Reporting Service Configuration Manager:

SSRS now bound
SSRS is now happy and listening on port 443


So hopefully if you get this type of error you too can solve it nice and quickly and have your web service URL and Report Manager URL nice and secure again…


How the gym made me a better database bloke…..

A blog post about how many reverse bicep curls or Romanian DeadLifts I can do…? As Rob Farley (t | b | w) would succinctly put it — “what the…??”

No it’s not.

But it’s related — if you’ve met me in person you’ll know that I’m tall – 6 foot 3 if I stand properly and generally within about 69 minutes of talking I’ll mention I used to be 130kg. I used to physically hurt as my back was not strong enough to carry that bulk around.

Something had to change.

I changed my eating habits, drinking habits (beer is a treat not a standard these days) and went to the gym.

I love data. More specifically I love numbers. And that was how I started liking the gym. I lift weights and do cardio and I initially record all the numbers associated with each session.

How many kilometers I biked, how much I could bench-press and how many repetitions I could do. And then — how many kgs I could lose.

I lost 16kg in 6 weeks during one period…

…..that was intense but rewarding.

Now as part of lifting weights I wanted to swap body fat for muscle. So I looked at how to build muscle. It involves tearing the muscle, which repairs itself and gets bigger.

Here is a link if you’re interested:

On 11th September this year I celebrated 17 years at Jade Software. 17 years……

Yeah. It has been a pretty cool ride and my career has changed whilst being there – which is one reason why many people stay so long there.

But after 17 years I started to think — how can I grow my technical & management knowledge more?

By tearing my established skills a little.

So I have embarked on tearing my skills, by making myself slightly uncomfortable in the sense of technology & also management (I’m an Operations Manager after all).

I also read a lot of blogs/articles/websites whilst running on a treadmill, whilst hating running on a treadmill. It helps for 2 reasons:

Makes me forget I’m running on a treadmill.

I’m learning stuff.

So over the past 3 weeks I’ve spent most nights putting myself out of my comfort zone.

I’ve installed Team City and help DEV configure it.

I’ve learned heaps about running SQL Server on Docker.

I’ve learned a fair bit about Docker in the process…

I’ve done a lot more in Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) than I have in the past year.

I’ve found out how brilliant the tools from RedGate (w )are in a DevOps Database deployment pipeline – namely Database Lifecycle Management

This is about extending myself, tearing my brain muscle to make it stronger (metaphorically bigger). To be able to extend how I use the Data Platform offered by Microsoft to:


But I’m not stopping there.

There are other areas coming up that I really want to tear it up in:

Running Kubernetes on Azure

Tuning SQL indexes like a boss (refer Rob Farley..)


Passing SQL exams — my last Microsoft certification was as a MCSE (NT4.0)

Become the guy who helps people migrate from TFS to VSTS

All of the above will benefit me.

Most of the above will benefit the company I work for.

That surely is a good reason to keep going to the gym.