Notes from the R2 Tweetup

Several weeks ago I was invited to attend a ‘tweetup’ by Microsoft on April 8th, an almost all expenses paid trip to Redmond for an event aligned with the upcoming SQL 2008 R2 launch. I was a bit surprised to be invited, as I spend a lot more time blogging than tweeting (and no, no idea how the invitations were determined). It’s a long trip from Orlando to Seattle, and I decided to go out of curiosity as much as anything. Basically I knew it was about R2 and that a handful of people were invited to go, and that it was a three hour event.

I arrived late Wed night and they had a car drive to the Westin Hotel in Bellevue (which I’ve used before, great location). Thursday morning I was up early 6 am (or late, if you map that to 9 am eastern!) and off to the Top Pot Doughnuts just around the corner for breakfast and some work. A couple hours later I was joined by Jorge Segarra, Sean & Jen Mccown, and Denny Cherry, and we spent a couple hours talking about blogging, branding, SQLSaturday, and more. Then back to the hotel for a noon PASS Board meeting call (draft minutes already done, should be public early next week!), and then out to a late lunch at What the Pho (Vietnamese) with the group.

Back to the hotel just in time to grab my laptop and catch up with the late arrivals, Steve Jones and Bill Graziano, and then aboard the shuttle to Redmond, arriving just before 3 pm. We walked through a portion of the campus, going through the ‘Sub Mixer’ building which contains a restaurant, salon, gift shop, and more, and then finally to the receptionist protected ‘Great Room’.  We had to check in there, then a strange sliding door opened to let us into an area that was like, well, a great room – a big living room type area with a TV, side room for food and bar.

Donald Farmer was there, Dan Jones, my friend Buck Woody, and probably half a dozen people from the MS publicity team, including a camera crew. We milled around for a few minutes, noting the blueprint for Wayne Mansion on the wall (showing the Bat Cave entrance even), and finally got started. The presentation was part Powerpoint, part wine tasting. Seriously. Donald Farmer started off the presentation, and he paired the first part with a wine (which I cannot remember,didn’t try it). He did a few slides, some about features in R2, some that talked about how BI has been around a long time in various forms. Dan Jones did part of the presentation, and the most memorable part of that was about the ‘DACPAC. So picture someone talking for 10-15 minutes with us tweeting and asking a few questions, Donald or Dan talking, and the camera crew circling (professionally, but I still want to say “like buzzards!”). I sat next to James Kobelius, an analyst for Forrester Research and I think the only non SQL community person invited – read his blog here.

The presentation itself wasn’t very deep, just an overview of some of the new features. I thought Donald Farmer said the main point early on that, that “R2 isn’t just a service pack”. I think that’s fair, especially since I don’t think any of us want new features in a service pack and this clearly has new features.

If you haven’t looked at R2, here are some links:

My favorite feature of R2 so far is unicode compression. It has to be combined with page compression to work, but it means we can – finally – use the MS recommendations to design tables with Unicode (nchar, nvarchar) without the double the bytes used space penalty

Somewhere in there Paul Randal & Kim Tripp dropped in for a few minutes just to visit, a nice surprise and I think if it had been up to us, we’d have all stopped just to chat with them:-)

We  wrapped up the presentation a little after 5 pm, and then spent some time networking. I met Zach Styles Owens and we had a great talk about WordPress (more in a week or so on that). Chatted with Buck Woody about coming to Florida to talk again soon, either as part of a user group tour or the upcoming but not officially announced SQLSaturday Orlando. We ended right at 6 pm, leaving with a small gift bag containing a coffee cup, pen, and notepad!

Back at the hotel we dropped off our stuff and headed right back out to dinner, going to Z’Tejas just around the corner. More fun conversation over a long dinner, then off to the bookstore with Steve Jones for coffee and book browsing.

Up early again the next morning, checking out and going for coffee. Met Jorge in the lobby for the ride back to the airport for an 8:45 am flight, stopped at Top Pot on the way so he could grab some coffee too! Uneventful if less than fun flight back to Orlando, 5 hours in a middle coach seat doesn’t make for a great trip.

Want to see the results of the tweets? Search for #SQLR2. Blog posts: Steve Jones, Midnight DBA.

As an event, it was interesting to see MS trying to do more with social media. We were starting at 6 pm eastern, which put a good chunk of the Twitter audience offline, and there wasn’t much done to promote it in advance – so when we did pop up on Twitter it was “what?”. It wasn’t a high pressure sales pitch type meeting, and it wasn’t deeply technical either, though we had a few sidebars that went that way. They did capture a lot of video that I imagine will make it into some kind of montage. In a way they treated us like press, perhaps not a bad model.

I would like to see them publish some sort of criteria for who gets invited. I know that might invite some gaming, but good for everyone who blogs/tweets to have an idea of what it takes to get an invite and a bit of insider access.

So that’s the summary. It was a long trip, but fun, made more so by having friends there to talk with before and after. It was nice to be invited, and nice to get some time with the big kahunas of SQL.