Free Tools for Testing SQL Sever

You Need To Test Your SQL Server!

Its like screaming “TEST THE BREAKS ON YOUR CAR!” If you don’t have the tools or know how it is just good advice you can’t follow. I’ve done a TON of benchmarks over the years using every tool imaginable including ones I’ve written myself. There are several barriers to generating a valid repeatable benchmark in your own environment. Lets take a look at the general criteria that I use when testing OLTP systems and the benchmark tools available.

I’ve Been Spoiled

I’m going to come clean. I really like Quest Software’s Benchmark Factory. They have put years of work into the tool set. It is also one of the few database benchmark tools that runs against most major RDBMS platforms. This alone made it my go to tool for a very long time. Also, since it implements most of the TPC Council benchmark specifications when someone asks how I tested I can hand them reams of information on the benchmark in question. TPC also has a well defined metric for determining not just raw performance but a dollar amount to get that performance. The catch is that Benchmark Factory isn’t an apples to apples with the published TPC results. To assume so would be a horrible mistake on your part. If you have ever read through a full disclosure (I read them to my four year old to put him to bed) you know that it would be very difficult for your organization to implement the exact same test on the exact same software without spending some major bucks. I have worked a few projects that were willing to spend the money  and bring in a team to implement the testing protocols. If you are talking a project that is going to run say ten million your boss may be willing to spend 100,000 of that to completely test the system before it goes into production. In most cases though, this isn’t the case. Even spending the money on Benchmark Factory may be outside of your budget. So, we turn to free or opensource solutions sometimes we just write our own.

Other Options

There are several other options for testing database servers. I’ve use a few over the years. First, I’m limiting this list to those that run on Windows, they may run on other platforms but that isn’t important to me. Secondly, The test setup has to be repeatable. Lastly, there has to be a way to measure performance. In some cases this may be using perfmon(Windows Performance Monitor) or the tool may capture some meaningful metrics.

Database Hammer SQL Server Resource Kit

Not exactly free or cutting edge but was good a putting a load on SQL Server. Even though this is VERY old due to its simplicity it works pretty much on every version of SQL Server from 2000 on. Again, one of the downsides is capturing metrics. The other down side is finding the dang thing. If you have an MSDN subscription you can still download it or you can head over to your local used book store and hope the CD-Rom that came with the book isn’t toast.

Eye On SQL – Load Test

A basic tool to put a database under load. There are no predefined tests and it doesn’t gather more than the most basic metrics. It is simple to use and can be a replacement for something like Database Hammer


This is a tool I wrote a while back that implements TPC-C. It is in C# so anyone that is familiar can work on the code and peek inside to see how I implemented my version. The down side is it only implements one test, TPC-C. and TPC-C has several limiting factors to it. The one I never liked was all the data generated was random, all of it. If it was a name it was a random string. This leads to a database that effectively has 100% carnality, and is also a very poor choice for testing database compression. My goal was to implement TPC-E, which overcomes all of these issues but is fairly complex and hard to get right. I fell back to Benchmark Factory and never moved forward with this tool.


This is a pretty simple to use tool an has a easy to understand GUI. It supports two benchmarks a TPC-C style OLTP benchmark and a TPC-H style OLTP benchmark. That is also one of the down sides, it only supports two benchmarks and both are a bit long in the tooth. It also supports various flavors of SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL and Postgres. This is a nice little bonus if you are testing like hardware and OS and want to vary the RDBMS. The last bonus for me personally is it is opensource. This means I can look at the code and see how each test is implemented.

DVD Store Database Benchmark

This is a tool I’m currently working on to bridge the gap between TPC-C and TPC-E. It was written in house by Dell and now is developed and maintained by Dell and VMWare. It is more complex than TPC-C but not as complex as TPC-E. It is opensource which was a huge plus for me and allowed me to fork it over at and tweak on it to meet my needs. I’ll have a full blog post on this soon explaining the benchmark in detail and what changes I have made to it. It is a staple for testing databases on ESX. It has a standard way for gathering metrics. The load generator is actually in C#. You can also do a full stack test since it will work against a website that is also included in the benchmark. The down side again, is it only implements one benchmark.

Description of the Replay Markup Language (RML) Utilities for SQL Server

This is a tool set that was initially developed in house at Microsoft to test customer scenarios. This is different than the other tools since it is a replay tool. But you can capture metrics and vary your workloads. The big down side is it isn’t easy to use. Also, if you are testing new hardware and don’t have a trace to replay from production you are back to zero.

Apache JMeter

Not a database stress tool in the strictest since of the word but you can use it that way. The upside for JMeter is it will test your whole stack, web servers, middle tiers and database servers. You can use it to drive pretty much anything. Since it is written if Java it runs on Windows. Since there is a JDBC driver for SQL Server you can use it directly to test your database as well. The down sides are also huge. It is written in Java for starters. It is also using the JDBC stack and that can be a limiting factor. It is a significant undertaking to setup as well. I’ve included some links to people that have set it up to test databases and a ASP.NET web site.

Now What?

Well, that is easy, start reading, building and testing. I personally use something like Eye On SQL or Hammerora to do an initial smoke test or break in. Then move over to the more complicated benchmark tools. I have pretty much settled on the DVD Store benchmark for now as my OLTP testing tool. Now I need to find something more up to date than the TPC-H test everyone else has implemented so I can round out with a solid OLAP benchmarking tool. Maybe I’ll write something again!

Speaking at PASS Summit 2012

It’s Not A Repeat

Speaking at the PASS Summit last year was one of the highlights of my career. I had a single regular session initially and picked up an additional session due to a drop in the schedule. Both talks were fun and I got some solid feedback.

The Boy Did Good

I won’t say great, there were some awesome sessions last year. I did do well enough to get an invite to submit for all the “invite only sessions”. I was stunned. I don’t have any material put together for a half day or a full day session yet and the window to submit sessions was a lot smaller this year. But I do have three new sessions and all of them could easily be extended from 75 minutes to 90 minutes. So, I submitted for both regular sessions and spotlight sessions and got one of both! WOO HOO!

The Lineup

I’ll be covering two topics near and dear to my heart.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My SAN [DBA-213-S]
Session Category: Spotlight Session (90 minutes)
Session Track: Enterprise Database Administration & Deployment

SANs and NASs have their challenges, but they also open up a whole new set of tools for disaster recovery and high availability. In this session, we’ll cover several different technologies that can make up a Storage Area Network. From Fibre Channel to iSCSI, there are similar technologies that every vendor implements. We’ll talk about the basics that apply to most SANs and strategies for setting up your storage. We’ll also cover SAN pitfalls as well as SQL Server-specific configuration optimizations that you can discuss with your storage teams. Don’t miss your chance to ask specific questions about your SAN problems.

I’ve built a career working with SAN and System Administrators. The goal of this session is to get you and your SAN Administrator speaking the same language, and to give you tools that BOTH of you can use to measure the health and performance of your IO system.


Integrating Solid State Storage with SQL Server [DBA-209]
Session Category: Regular Session (75 minutes)
Session Track: Enterprise Database Administration & Deployment

As solid state becomes more mainstream, there is a huge potential for performance gains in your environment. In this session, we will cover the basics of solid state storage, then look at specific designs and implementations of solid state storage from various vendors. Finally, we will look at different strategies for integrating solid state drives (SSDs) in your environment, both in new deployments and upgrades of existing systems. We will even talk about when you might want to skip SSDs and stay with traditional disk drives.

I’ve spoken quite a bit on solid state storage fundamentals this time around I’ll be tackling how people like myself and vendors are starting to mix SSD’s into the storage environment. Where it makes sense and where it can be a huge and costly mistake.


I hope to see you at the Summit again this year! Always feel free to come say hi and chat a bit. Networking is as important as the sessions and you will build friendships that last a lifetime.

News Flash! PASS Board Makes Unpopular Decision!


(n.) A multi-purpose response, primarily used to imply a degree of indifference. Tone of voice and circumstance often implies a meaning. Can be used when you don’t want to answer an awkward or embarrassing question, or if you just plain have nothing else to say, and you want the other person to interpret the “meh” however he/she chooses. As in: Q: “What do you think of my new dress?” A: “Meh.” or Q: “What do you want to do tonight?” A: “Meh.”


You heard me. I think this whole situation is getting way out of hand. People are making personal attacks, making false statements on the behalf of others and generally being pin heads about the whole thing.

It’s Not The Process, It’s The People

The amount of personal attacks going on is just crazy. Andy wants to change the process, I’m fine with that. You want more transparency, I’m down. What I’m really upset about is community leaders making subtle and not so subtle attacks on the entire board. If you have a beef with a particular board member then call them out. If you have a problem with the WHOLE BOARD maybe, just maybe, its you.

JJ Abrams Runs The Board

Yep, I’m Lost(tm) too. I love a conspiracy theory, I don’t think there is an invisible monster eating people at PASS HQ though. I believe the majority of the board are trying very hard to make the best possible choices for PASS and it’s future. I don’t agree with every choice made, and I despise politics in general, but I don’t think there are 12 odd people colluding to keep out the good guys and run PASS into the ground. Were James and Kendal the last two pieces in a much larger puzzle to control the fate of PASS and SQL Server? We are about to find out….

I’m Gonna Let You Finish, But Sri Was The Best Candidate For The Board!

For a guy that said he was done with PASS politics Brent has a lot to say. I get it, you don’t like the way the bylaws are written. Run for the board and get them changed. You know and I know you would win by a landslide. You also clearly understand that the bylaws are written and approved by the board. You know who I feel bad for? It’s not Sri. He is an awesome guy, this won’t stop him at all. I fully expect him to run again. It isn’t James Rowland-Jones, he has had great success with SQLBits and will make a solid board member with PASS. It is squarely Kendal Van Dyke. Also an awesome community leader and will make a great board member. The problem is he will always have to work harder and have this stigma of being second in the votes but chosen by the board to serve over the next candidate. Who wants that following them around? Would we be having this raging hemorrhoid of a debate if Sri was picked up and Kendal was passed over for James? Kendal was gracious in defeat and would have made a mistake if he had turned down this appointment.

You aren’t going far enough

Andy Warren started the petition. I don’t thing it goes far enough. We need to strip the PASS board of the ability to appoint anyone to the board at all. If it isn’t voted on by the membership there shouldn’t be an appointment to the board PERIOD. I’m serious. All our issues stem from the fact that a few people, that we have voted onto the board, have the ability to appoint more people without the consent of the governed. While we are at it, get rid of the board, all of them. We live in an age where people can vote on topics in real time, a pure democracy, where the governors are the governed. As long as we have a representative form of democracy governing PASS there will always be a group of people to lash out at and a group of people happy to do so.


At the end of the day people are ignoring the fact this is a one year appointment. Both James and Kendal will have to face another election if they want to stay on the board for a second full term. PASS has been making changes to the bylaws, not at the speed I would like but they are changing. No matter what, you can’t make everyone happy.

2011 What A Great Year

What A Diffrince A Year Makes

In January I posted up my new years list basically, stuff I wanted to learn in the last twelve months. Lets take a quick look at last years goals.

SQL Server Stuff

1. Partitioning
Done, and pretty early on. I did a lot of reading and did some partitioning setups in my home lab and feel much better about partitioning.

2. Change Data Capture
This was a business need. At my old company we were using triggers everywhere and CDC seemed like a good fit for most of that. I did some reading and test setups but didn’t get much farther than that. Not a 100% win but I did learn stuff.

3. Replication
Ongoing, since I’ve changed jobs replication moved up on the list as CDC fell down the list. I’ve geared back up and feel like I am back on solid ground.

4. Analysis Services Administration
Again, casualty of moving jobs. I have ZERO interaction with Analysis Services and as such, didn’t do much on this front.

.Net Programming Stuff

I did do some stuff with the more general LINQ to objects and now that I have moved jobs I actually have more exposure to LINQ so I’ll get to learn more in the new year.

2.Parallel Programming in .Net
Didn’t do much with PLINQ but did work a bit with the new async framework stuff. My biggest complement is it isn’t horrible. I don’t think it is as slick as say node.js but it is light years ahead of the early 2.0 days and threading.

3.Entity Framework
Just couldn’t do it. Partly due to the job change and partly due to complete lack of caring. I just can’t get jazzed up about it. I’ve worked with a lot of ORM’s and they all have strengths and weaknesses.

90 Degrees From Center

1. Get Better With Python
I did a few little things in Python on a few different platforms like the Google App Engine. I mostly use it at home. There is a large user base and it does make lots of programming tasks much easier so I’ll hang on to Python for a while longer.

2. Pick Up Lisp again
I spent about two days banging on Lisp again and realized why I don’t use Lisp today. There just isn’t enough support for it in the wild. There are lots of flavors and variations on Lisp but to gain any real proficiency you really need to focus on one dialect and master it. I just couldn’t find one and settle. Eventually, that time popped over to Python.

Changes, Changes and Changes

This seems to be a constant in my life. Admittedly most of that is self inflicted but I wasn’t expecting the amount of stuff to happen to me personally or professionally this year.

Lets make the short list:
New House
New Job
Spoke at SQLRally
Pulled off SQLSaturday #97
Spoke at PASS Summit

yep, crazy year but a good one for sure.

Thank You

I don’t say that enough. The community has been great to me this year and I can’t wait to see what next year holds!

See you next year!

SQLSaturday 97 Speaker Recap

Great Content + Great Speakers = Awesome Event

All the evaluations have been tallied, its official SQLSaturday #97 was a hit! As a speaker I always like to know how well I did. As a competitor, I like to know how well I stacked up overall. SQLSaturday #97 had some heavy hitters with Conor Cunningham, Joe Celko and the Midnightdba’s in the house. I won’t release the full rankings to the public but I will share some metrics with you. If a speaker had two sessions they were not aggregated together, each session stands on its own.

The Stats

28 speakers signed up to speak and we had zero no shows. Out of those 9 were first time speakers at a SQLSaturday.

Top 3 speakers with more than ten evals ordered by Rating, Expectation and number of evals.

Jennifer McCown Afternoon
Ryan Adams
Jim Murphy

Top 3 speakers ordered by rating.

Jennifer McCown Afternoon
Ryan Adams
Jim Murphy

Top 3 speakers ordered expectation.

Jennifer McCown Afternoon
Jim Murphy
Conor Cunningham

Top 3 speakers ordered by number of evals.

Conor Cunningham
David Stein
Sean McCown

Average ratings For Whole Event

Rating Expectation Number Evals
4.42 2.46 22.60

Wow, I don’t know what else to say. It was a great event with awesome speakers. I can’t wait to see what next year looks like!

SQL Server 2012 RC0 Is Here

SQL Server 2012 Release Candidate 0, Time To Get Serious

With the release of RC0 Microsoft has signaled that the release of SQL Server 2012 is just around the corner. If you haven’t been experimenting with the CTP’s now is the time to get off your duff and start getting your hands dirty. Realize that there may still be some bugs, mostly in the GUI tools and setup, but the core engine stuff is considered production ready. I wouldn’t push RC0 into production unless you are part of the Microsoft TAP program, without the TAP program in place Microsoft doesn’t provide support for pre-release software in a production environment.

The Setup

As of this writing, only the DVD image of RC0 is available. There will be other options for installation at a later date.

If you are running Visual Studio 2010 already you need to apply SP1 before doing anything else. If you don’t have an install of SQL Server 2005 through 2008 R2 that you don’t want to upgrade it is pretty much the same song and dance you are used to now. It does take a long time to do the install. It took almost two hours to get it completely setup on my laptop.

Upgrading 2008 R2

You have to have SP1 for SQL Server 2008 R2 installed before upgrading to 2012 RC0. Remember, there is no direct upgrade path for SQL Server 2000. You can take a backup and restore it to a clean install. SQL Server 2012 RC0 will only upgrade 2005 through 2008 R2.

If, like me, you plan on doing a complete uninstall of 2008 R2 be aware you need to have the 2008 R2 install bits handy. If you don’t the uninstall process will complain and leave some bits left over on your machine. I have a hard time accepting that you need the install media to remove everything. You are in for at least two reboots as well.

The Install Is Done, Almost

After everything is completely installed you can start browsing the new SQL Server Management Studio. It is based on Visual Studio 2010. They have made a real effort to bring SQL Server in line with the rest of Microsoft’s development platform. It still has plenty of restrictions and that is all part of the plan. Shipping with SQL Server 2012 is SQL Server Data Tools formerly known as Juno. I was pretty excited to play with the latest release. There is a menu entry that fires up Visual Studio 2010. When you browse the project list there is an entry for SQL Server Data Tools project, which actually prompts you for an additional download. To add to your frustration SSDT RC0 isn’t actually available yet. You get redirected to

All Done, For Now…

So, now that I have a working install of SQL Server 2012 RC0 I’ll be digging into the bits I find interesting. Off the cuff I like the new SSMS upgrade. XEvents is a first class citizen and it pretty easy to find. Utility Control Points show some promise as well, but we will see how they work at scale.  So far it feels familiar yet fresh.

My Playbook For Putting On a SQLSaturday Part 3: Food

Feed Me Seymour!

Welcome to your number one cost.  Every budget I’ve looked at so far food is the top expense by a wide margin. There are very few rules that come down from PASS to your local event organizers, what you can charge is one of them. The only thing we are allowed to actually charge for is lunch. That is also capped at 10.00 per person.

Note: The maximum allowed to charge for lunch has been increased to 15.00 per person according to the SQLSaturday Wiki 

On the flip side, if you don’t want to eat the lunch you don’t have to pay for the lunch as an attendee, you are free to make your own arrangements.

It’s More Than Lunch

In reality, you aren’t talking just lunch. This is an all day event that starts early for attendees and even earlier for vendors, volunteers and speakers. That usually means some kind of breakfast, a lunch, snacks and drinks all day long.

The Basic Breakdown

Lets take a look at some standard assumptions about how much you need of X for Y people at the event.

1 Gallon of anything(water, coffee, lemonade) usually assumes 16 servings. If you brew the coffee it can be as cheap as $0.60 a gallon. You can usually plan around $1.50 a gallon for a median if you are doing coffee and lemonade. About 10 cents a serving.


Sandwich makings:
1 lb cold cuts serves  4
1/2 lb sliced cheese serves  4
1 head of lettuce 4
2 tomato’s 4
1/2 loaf bread 4

Bag o’ chips $1.50

Total cost: $9.60 serving 4 OR $2.40 a person.

This assumes, all sandwiches are made by you and your volunteers. Everything that can be bought sliced is. You don’t let eaters build their own sandwich.

Wow, we can charge 10 bucks a head and only pay about $2.50 a person? We are going to be RICH! You will have people say something to this effect to you at some point. Ether someone on your team or someone who is attending and has never planned something like this. What they never count is the “extra” food and single serve refreshments like sodas and bottled water.


bagels, muffins or danishes $0.60 per serving, bought in dozens usually so $7.20 per doz.
1 Gallon of anything(water, coffee, lemonade)  $0.10 per serving or $1.50 gal.

Cookies, muffins $0.60 per serving, bought in dozens usually so $7.20 per doz.
Case of 24 “name brand” sodas $13.00 or $0.50 per can

Self serve usually adds 30% to consumption. For example, if a normal person would eat one cookie I will take three and wash it all down with two sodas :)

So, you can probably figure another $2.50 for breakfast and snack at break.

Our new total is $5.00 per person. That is still very reasonable, if you are willing to do all the work and can buy everything yourself.

Now, The Truth

You probably won’t do all the leg work to keep the costs down to $5.00 per person. If you do something like subway or a caterer that does box lunches you will be out $8.00 per person usually, not including sodas. Now factor in breakfast and snacks and you can quickly blow past the $10.00 per person you are allowed to charge.

Oh, not everyone pays. Speakers, volunteers and vendors eat for free. You give up your time and money I don’t think it is unreasonable to give you some free grub. That means the rest of the paying public shoulders that cost. Well, technically you write it down as an expense but you could account for it in the cost per paying meal. The money has to come from somewhere in any case.

If you have to deal with an onsite catering service things get much more expensive. A word of advice, when dealing with catering NEVER LOOK AT THE MENU. Instead, put a cost per person and tell them what your budget is. Be up front with them and explain to them the nature of the event and the fact this isn’t put on by a for profit organization in any way. Ask them to include all costs, including gratuity for workers and tax in the per head price. If you are paying for the space you can expect to pay between $15.00 to $25.00 dollars a person for the whole day, minus sodas and bottled water of course. If you are getting the space “for free” and paying onsite catering like at a hotel you can expect $35.00 to $55.00 per person. Again, be careful of all the addon’s like sodas and “premium” coffee. I’ve seen quotes of $55.00 for a gallon of coffee!

Last bit on caterers, you usually don’t have to finalize your order until 72 hours before the event, You can almost always go up in count but never down. Once a meal is made someone has to pay.

This Lunch Sucks!

You will have some people not happy with the food. Listen to every issue, DO NOT DISMISS ANYONE! It is easy to tell people if you don’t like it don’t eat it. Don’t fall back and get defensive. Your first priority is to make sure there isn’t a safety issue with the food, like people are getting sick. Secondly, if someone has paid for lunch and is unhappy try and figure out why they aren’t happy. Do they have a food allergy and there isn’t a suitable meal for them to eat? Is there a religious or cultural issue? Don’t hesitate to refund their money and see if you can get a volunteer to help them hunt down a suitable lunch. Don’t worry about the loss, if $10.00 dollars is that important you are already in trouble.

Finally, does the meal just plain suck? If that is the case you may need to take it up with the caterer or venue. If they won’t fix the food work to get a refund on the part that wasn’t eatable.

If none of these things apply it is never wrong to give them their money back. Again, I don’t want people to be upset over a ten dollar bill, it just isn’t worth ruining your day and theirs arguing over it.


People will sign up for lunch. They may not pay up front. This will cause you to over order. Have you ever been at an event that ran out of coffee or lunches? Wow, you would have thought a crime against humanity had been made. That means you will probably be a bit paranoid and over order just to keep from running out. Have a plan for the food. If it is a boxed lunch you should look around for a local shelter or organization that feeds the less fortunate. Trust me on this one, whom ever gets that meal will be very happy that you did over order a little bit.

Final Thoughts

A Done bun can’t be undone.

Personally I plan to do things a bit differently at our next SQLSaturday. If we haven’t received payment before our cut off with the caterer we won’t order that lunch. We still have to plan for breakfast and snacks but that will cut the cost almost in half per person in most cases. We will still feed the big three and buffer our order around 5%. I know it sounds harsh but this is a cost that is hard to control and can completely kill your budget. Hopefully that will cut down on the leftover food and we will be able to feed everyone who wants to eat.


This isn’t a way to make up budget shortfalls, for a 350 person(including the big three) event 70 or so may eat for free.
If you can do it yourself, $10.00 a person is completely reasonable.
If you can’t, control the cost as much as possible.
Watch out for additional cost items like canned sodas, coffee and bottled water.
If you are stuck with an onsite caterer, fix your per person budget first and work around that number.
You will have leftovers, don’t throw it away, do some good with it.
Some people will complain about the lunch or some aspect of the food. Listen to them, fix it if you can or refund their money.

My Playbook For Putting On a SQLSaturday Part 2: Venue

Finding Your Venue

Sounds simple right?

It can be one of the most difficult things to do for something the size of a SQLSaturday with the budget you may, or may not, have.

If you can find a local education establishment to partner with is usually a good choice. Always check with your local Microsoft reps or any local vendor that has direct ties to SQL Server. Don’t be afraid to ask! If you don’t ask they don’t have an opportunity to help you in this endeavor. If someone says no, ask if they have any contacts or possible leads for an inexpensive or free venue for your event.

It will take time. I initially put in 15 hours over the course of a month to get the first venue that fell through. After that I spent over 40 hours over a month to find the next viable venue, 38 venues were investigated. I toured 5 of them personally. After the venue was chosen it was another 10 hours of time securing, negotiating and signing contracts. Even then, I think we may have rushed things at the end and overestimated the amount of space we would need. This shaped up to be a 400.00 mistake. We used the space but we didn’t need the space.

There are several key things about a venue you must keep in mind, lets step through the ones I personally worked through.

If you are planning 150 people or less you are much more likely to find a venue that may be free. The bigger the event the harder it is to find space that won’t break the bank.


Remember, most of the people attending will be within 30 miles of the venue in most cases. If it is in a part of town that is hard to get to that can be a problem. Locate all the local hotels around the venue and see if they are acceptable. Having to drive across a city you aren’t familiar with at 7am in the morning isn’t ideal for most of your traveling guest.

Capacity of rooms

Generally, a good rule of thumb is 50 people per room. If you are planning for 250 people attending, that is 5 rooms. You should also plan on having a space where everyone can congregate in the morning and evening for announcements and give a ways. This may or may not be a separate room. Depending on the type of venue, class room style or hotel banquet room style, you may be able to join your rooms together to get the space you need. If you do require that rooms be joined together build it into your schedule!

Number of rooms

Again, if you are planning on 50 people a room then you need 5 rooms for the presentations. You should also plan an additional room for speakers/volunteers to prep and recover in. You can also use this room to store stuff in, if you do make sure it is secure.  Most of the time speakers are looking for someplace that has power that they can work on stuff as needed. This also implies internet connectivity. Lastly, if you can have a projector in this room it can act as a backup if another room has a failed projector. It also lets speakers test out laptops on a projector before they get up in front of people.

Vendor area

Vendors, Vendors, Vendors! You need to make sure that the vendor area is in a very accessible area with plenty of foot traffic. Remember they are funding this. They are here to make contacts, meet people and generally socialize. If you hide your vendors you make that an impossible task.

Dining area

If you can combine your vendor area and the dining area that is also a big win. It allows people to eat and mingle during the part of the day they have the most time free to talk. You need to make sure there are places for folks to sit down and enjoy their break as well. If you can’t combine vendor area and dining area see if you can get the food line to pass the vendor area, that’s also a good time to have chats with people as they cruse by vendor tables.

Food policy

This is a hard one. Depending on the venue you might be stuck with using their on sight caterer. This can limit your options dramatically and drive costs up as well. Food is the number one single expense for your SQLSaturday. If you look at hotels you get the rooms for free since you will be paying 45.00 or more per person. Also, if you have to go with an onsite option they usually will bundle a breakfast and afternoon snack along with the main lunch. If you can cut them it is a way to keep a handle on the costs. People may not be happy that there aren’t snacks or bagels, but you have to make the hard choices where the dollars go. Keep an eye on the little things. They may have a good rate for things like coffee and water but ding you several dollars per bottled or canned refreshment. Read your contract carefully, they probably have a clause about outside food or drink brought in by the event, and can charge you a percentage of your entire bill as a penalty. I’ve seen them range from 5% to 35%. This means if you think you are going to get around the $2.00 a soda problem by bringing in your own coolers with wal-mart cola, think again. One way or the other you will pay them. The venue has costs as well. Staffing, equipment and cleaning just to name a few, those are fixed costs the venue has to make up some way.

Rental type

Some venues may rent rooms in increments as small as an hour. If your venue rents by the half day make sure you can get access an hour before and an hour after the event to setup and breakdown. Sometimes they bill you for this extra time. You need to be very clear with your venue about setup/breakdown time needed.


Check to see if projectors are included in the room rate. If they aren’t check to see if you can have the cost removed from the rooms you don’t need a projector in. It may only be one or two rooms but every dollar saved is a dollar you can spend on something more important.


If your venue has a main theater or something similar where you will be holding your opening and closing see if there is an additional fee for the A/V in those rooms. If a room is wired for sound and mic’ed it probably will have an additional fee. You may also have an A/V person as a requirement if you do opt for the A/V equipment.

Internet Access

People think it is rare not to have internet access at these kinds of events. In reality it is the exact opposite. You may be able to secure access for speakers for a fee but not the whole event. We took a novel approach for that and actually use Clear WiMax 4G wireless. It took two units to cover the whole venue but it did work. I’ll cover this in detail later. Just be prepared to have limited or no access and ways to work around it.


The venue may have mandatory staffing the day of the event. Sometimes they have an A/V or facilities person there for 8 hours they have to pay. Generally this is a line item cost that isn’t included in your room rate. If they don’t require a person on site be aware that there may be a deposit required to protect the equipment and facility from damage.


Security may not be needed for your event but required by the venue. Again, this isn’t included in your room rental and is almost always a separate line item.

Liability insurance

This is a public event and should be insured in some way against accidents. Your venue can confirm if they have a general liability policy covering your event build into the rate or not. This also goes for your after party!

Signage policies

Venues have different fire codes and policies they will have to adhere to. This may affect your ability to post signs directly on the walls or have free standing easels. If you do have some hard restrictions make sure you have an alternative place to post all the rooms and schedules that is easily visible and accessible by your attendees. Make sure to have your volunteers announce where the schedule is posted as well.

Things I ranked in order of importance:

Number of Rooms
Capacity of Rooms
Vendor Area

I know it may surprise some that cost isn’t number one. Simply, if you can’t find a venue with the capacity to hold the event and house the vendors who are paying for it properly cost is moot at that point. I’ll have an event on the edge of the city if it meets the top three and the cost is near free.

Always get a full sheet of expenses up front for every little thing that they rent and what you can or cannot bring in from the outside. These “little things” can easily be a third of the room costs alone.

Summing Up

Head count needs to include not just attendees but also speakers, volunteers and vendors.
A free venue that requires their caterer isn’t free.
Check for everything else you may have to rent from the venue, it can add a significant amount to the bill.
Read every letter in any venue agreement, you don’t have to be a lawyer but you should apply common sense and ask questions.

Up Next

Feeding The Masses

My Playbook For Putting On a SQLSaturday Part 1

The Long Road

I am going to post this as a series covering, in detail, everything humanly possible about the logistics of SQLSaturday #97.

Fiddly bits. I cannot tell you how important it is to plan in minute and excruciating detail. If you don’t have a ton of experience in event planning I don’t recommend you “wing it” or leave it for later. We had a very aggressive time table and little experience planning this kind of event. Both of those could have been the undoing of the whole event. Having several detail oriented people made the difference in our case. What we lacked in experience we made up with time and energy. We asked lots and lots of questions from other people who have done SQLSaturday’s. Jonathan Gardner, Ryan Adams and Andy Warren were all instrumental in the success of SQLSaturday Austin.

Initial Planning

A Key thing to have in place before you can start your SQLSaturday is pretty simple. People, you must have a core group of people to handle the planning and logistics. For a small event three people may be enough to get everything done even if one person drops out. In our case I lined up five. We had one drop out but found a replacement so the workload didn’t get too crazy for any one person.


The first rule of leading something like a SQLSaturday event is respect. Everyone is volunteering their time or money and in some cases both. No matter how small the contribution realize that person didn’t have to give at all. Treat everyone with respect, period. Don’t belittle anyone or any task. Planning a SQLSaturday can become overwhelming very quickly and everyone will be leaning on each other for moral support. If you lay the foundation that you are the leader and everyone else are peons don’t be surprised if tasks are half done or not done at all. Lead by example, expect their best and treat them accordingly.

</end rant>

Don’t be afraid to delegate responsibilities. Realize I didn’t say “punt” or “push off” stuff to others. You are handing people important tasks no matter how small and you should treat it as such. Keep an eye out for early signs of tasks slipping and don’t be afraid to talk frankly and clearly about anything that is slipping. Better to have someone realize they are over committed and volunteer to reduce their workload or actually drop out than find out in your last week you don’t have lunch lined up yet. It isn’t failure if you back out, it is failure if you “stick it out” and don’t get anything done.

How Big Is Too Big?

Deciding on how big your SQLSaturday should be can be a real brain buster. When we looked around our area having a goal of 250 attendees seemed small! Dallas, Houston and Baton Rouge all exceeded those numbers. Looking back I would have probably positioned us at 150 to 200 max. It changes the requirements on the venue and also reduces cost. Since this was our first SQLSaturday we really didn’t know what the cost per attendee should be. Don’t be afraid to do a small event! If it is your first SQLSaturday it is much easier to recover from mistakes if the head count is 50 instead of 500. Once you do your first one the lessons you learn will apply directly to your next event. As you grow the size you are in a much better position to deal with any issues. Experience is a great thing to have.

We had originally set our attendance goals at 25o people. In reality, if you have 25o attendees you also have 10 to 20 volunteers plus 20 to 30 speakers and an additional 5 to 10 vendors. If you plan on housing 250 you are short 50 to 70 people.  Keep this number in mind, since we were planning for 250 that meant planning for 320 instead. This can blow your budget up in unexpected ways.

Head count pretty much determines your minimum budget. At 250 I set the initial budget at 6,000.00. Remember the extra people, at 250 attendees I set the actual headcount at 350 for budgeting purposes. Better to over estimate costs and pay less, than under estimate and be short on funds. I was fairly confident that I could raise that kind of money, find a venue to house us and feed the event. Everything else was optional. It was also the maximum amount of money I was personally willing to risk. This will vary from city to city and state to state. Some may be much less some may be much more. We will get into a detailed cost breakdown in a later post. If I could secure a free venue I would have dropped this number to 3500.00. Food is almost never free. Even if you charge the maximum allowed it probably won’t be enough.

You Are The Bank

People rarely understand how events like these are funded. To put it bluntly, you are on the line for the money. If you commit to a venue and don’t have the funds in hand, they really don’t care, you are liable. Trust me on this one, I had more than one “What the hell am I doing!” moments. I would highly recommend talking to all your local contacts and leverage any vendor relationships you have to size up how much money you may be able to raise.

I cannot tell you how many people were stunned that I was financially responsible for SQLSaturday Austin. I was fortunate to have Jim Murphy also step in as a backer along with my other core board members, but when I kicked this off I had to assume there would be no safety net if things didn’t work out.

We don’t talk much about failures but they do exists. People have been out hundreds or thousands of dollars due to inexperience, or simply canceled the event and refund as much money as possible when it was realized that the budget was going to be extremely short.


If you didn’t plan that event you shouldn’t use it as your absolute guideline. I will be talking detailed budget numbers but your budget may vary quite a bit. Every SQLSaturday is different.

You need to look at how many attendees they planned for how much the gross costs were for the big stuff like venue, food and any other major expenses. I’ve seen several budgets and none of them had enough detail in them for a totally green outsider to use effectively. They do serve as a barometer of sorts. They help you rap your head around the expenses in a general since as well. Hopefully, they do provide some insight into how much money it takes, and what you could be on the hook for if things go south.

The Chicken And The Egg

The reason I stress that you are the bank is a simple one. You can’t sign the agreement with PASS and host a SQLSaturday sanctioned event without a venue. In most cases that may mean an up front cost of several hundred to several thousand dollars if you can’t find a free venue to host the event. They want to make sure you have done some homework and have at least put in some sweat equity before cutting you lose with the SQLSaturday brand.

Up next:

Finding a Venue

What #SQLFamily Means To Me

Meme Monday, What #SQLFamily means to me personally.

Tom LaRock Is kicking of November with this particular meme. I’m not sure exactly how to put something like this into words. It is so much more than SQL Server. I’ve made friends in this community that are as close as any friends I’ve made in my entire life.

I’ve seen total strangers step up to do whatever it takes to help out others when a personal crisis hits. I have never doubted anyone’s sincerity when it comes to the outpouring of emotion and support, during the good times and the bad.

We tend to be inclusive of others. We often forgive past mistakes and give second, third and fourth chances. We defend and protect our own, even if we are in the middle of busting one another up over something silly when threatened from the outside.

To me, Tom is #SQLFamily. We talk about life, inside and outside of the general community. I know if I called him and told him I needed a friend right now he would make time for me.

He isn’t the exception to the rule in our #SQLFamily, he exemplifies the norm.

Joseph Richberg is another example on the other end of the spectrum. I’ve been conversing with Joseph for years on twitter. We built up a relationship that was more than just SQL Server tidbits. When I met him for the first time this year at the Summit it was like seeing my brother after being away for a long time. Instant connection, a friendship that won’t soon fade.

And that’s all I have to say about that.