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welcome to my Blog – The Northern SIG April 29, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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I was thinking that I would start my blog with a technical piece, just to set my intention and credentials from the start, but as such pieces need some experience in formatting them correctly, I thought I would instead start with some words on my recent trip the UK Oracle User Group Northern Server Technology Special Interest Group. Or the Northern SIG, as it is easier (and much less of a mouthful) to refer to it.

 

These Northern SIGs occur due to the committed and diligent efforts of Lisa Dobson, supported by Neil Jarvis, and they give those North of Sheffield who find it hard to get down to London, Reading or similar places down South the opportunity of a day’s presentations and mingling with fellow Oracle  professionals. They give me the opportunity to escape the South and return to my adopted home of the North.

 

I started early by arriving in York on Monday and met up that evening with my friend Piet de Visser, who has recently been risen to the ranks of an Oracle Ace. And justly deserving too, an insightful and most helpful practitioner of database arts is Piet. 

 

Having spent a pleasant evening with Piet, I arrived the next morning at the venue for the Northern SIG. I promptly bumped into Simon Haslam, a fellow presenter for the day, and we set off through the corridors of the Park Inn Hotel to find the meeting.

 

Lisa and Peter Robson kicked off the event with the usual introductions, but also thanking the delegates for getting there (it looked to me we had 50 or so people in the room, which is OK but we could have coped with 90). In the current business climate, SIG attendance has suffered and numbers are down. Asking around at this and other events, the slashing of travel budgets and managers’ reluctance to have staff out of the office and not being seen to be “knuckling under” at the day job is a major issue for many. A great shame as it is when things get tough that you most need to keep on top of the technology and maintain links with others in the field, who often provide that extra help and advice that we all need from time to time. These meetings are effectively free training, I think you have to be something of an idiot to not appreciate them right now. Hey Ho.

 

Anyway, the first free training was Piet de Visser talking about backups, methods of backing up and a few insightful comments about “if it is not simple, it is not a good idea”. This is the sort of clear thinking that led to his Ace-ship. I always like seeing Piet present, he has a gentle but quiet, biting humour in his presentation style. The topic itself is a good one and was basically pointing out that backups can be hijacked for other purposes, such as duplicating data, as an archive, for feeding reporting systems. But if that detracts from your primary goal of being a backup then maybe you need to think again. Piet and I share a viewpoint that a backup ain’t a backup until you have shown that you can recover from it in a way that supports your business.

 

From this point on there were two streams and, being a single entity, I had to pick one presentation or another. I stayed in the main room as that just happened to be where the talks I felt I could benefit from most were. Next up was Patrick Hurley who gave an overview of datapump, the replacement for import/export. Datapump has been around for a few years now but many of us still use imp and exp of old. Because it is of old and we are all used to using it. It was a good overview of the topic and the sort of  presentation I think we don’t have enough of. Too many presentations (mine included) can be on details of a specific subject. Great for those who know all the basics, but bamboozling to those who have not grown grey with the rising dominance and complexity of Oracle. We need those expert presentations but I think we maybe need more of the intro and intermediate sort, such as this datapump one. By the end of the session I had learnt a few things; The general ways of using datapump; How fast it is compared to old imp/exp; a couple of jokes I am trying to get out of my mind; Patrick is a Jedi Knight.

 

Next up was a talk by Julian Dyke on the Optimizer Statistics, a topic I have a lot of interest in. Unfortunately, there was a talk on IT Disasters in the main room that I was obliged to attend, on the grounds I was the speaker. I did try to suggest to the audience that they had all made a mistake and should go next door, but they were not to be dissuaded. I am happy to say though that Julian got the bulk of the audience. Only just, mind, but certainly in his favour. My talk went fine, I did not run out of time (something I have had problems with over the last couple of years) and no one walked out on me or threw any shoes, so I count that as a success.

 

Lunch was a good opportunity to catch up with people and, amongst others, I was lucky enough to spend time talking to Peter Robson about the wider concerns of business ethics and the annoying way politicians’ short term attitude can screw it up for us all, but I will save that for a later rant.

 

After lunch I had to miss Simon Haslam’s talk on Weblogic (I am not a middleware person) in order to listen to Pete Finnigan. I love going to talks by Pete. I know very slightly more about security than middleware and in my working life security is a topic that comes up from time to time. Thanks to Pete’s talks I now know enough to know I know too little. But I know who to ask if I need to know more. I failed in this latest talk to do what I normally do as Pete presents, which is to watch the audience as he matter-of-factly chats about how easy it can be to access systems and how protecting them is more than setting a few passwords and removing a few privileges. Ashen-faced shock is usually in evidence and much scribbling of notes. I should take no pleasure in this (to my shame I am afraid I do), I am sure that my ignorance in this area will cost me dear one day. Pete, expect a call in my darkest hour.

 

Streams merged for the final presentation of the day, which was the stalwart, ever dependable presenter Joel Goodman, talking about Oracle Exadata. Always informative, always encompassing and delivered in his clear, deep American tones. I always think of reliable, god-fearing, solid-as-a-rock pioneers of the American Mid-West when I see Joel present. I don’t know if he would like that, but it is meant in the best possible way. I also think he could break me like a stick and shatter my bones if I upset him, but I have never seen him upset, despite my having been an arse to him on an occasion.

Oracle Exadata strikes me as a good concept and potential very, very useful, but something you are going to have to pay through the nose for and that could end up being such a phenomenal buy-in that it could become a noose around your IT departments’ neck.

 

That left only the final round up and thank-yous by Lisa but a fire alarm cut through her last items and accelerated the closing of the event. A few of us presenters gathered in a hostelry for a pint and a chat after but the fire alarm had precluded the invitation of any other interested parties, which is a great shame. I’ve found through the SIG I chair that the people who come along to the drink who are not part of the established clique are those who are mostly likely to move from passive members to active members, who keep the whole show running. However, for myself it was a nice rounding off of a very enjoyable day and I will return to the South looking forward to the next UK Oracle User Group Northern Server Technology Special Interest Group event.

 

 

 

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