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Friday Philosophy – The Science of Oracle June 11, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Meeting notes.
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3 comments

The title to this blog is very misleading. It is not about scientifically understanding how Oracle technologies work or even about the technology itself.

It is actually about the fact that a lot of scientific organisations, both academic and commercial, work with Oracle technology in ways to do directly with the science {as opposed to using it for CRM, HR or tracking students and results, which they also do but I’m not interested in that}.

If you have worked in Academia or charitable scientific organisations it can be a little suprising that Oracle is used so much, as it is expensive and corporate – there is a tendency to be poor and anti-corporate in such environments. But the thing is, Oracle is able to handle large amounts of complex data, in many formats, in many ways, and most programming languages can easily access the data in the database. You can achieve a lot with just PL/SQL and Java of course.

Commercial scientific organisations, like large Pharmaceuticals, use it for the same reasons of course, but for them the cost is not such an issues {I can imagine IT managers in such organisations going “It damn well IS an issue!” but trust me, not in the same critical way}.

What is the point of this blog? Well, it’s about user communities. The scientific community have a tendency to push the Oracle database further than most Oracle users do. Take data volumes. I worked for many years for the UK-side of the Human Genome Project and part of what I did was create an Oracle database that scaled to 100TB. Even now that is pretty large but I was designing and implementing it back in 2004-2005. The data volumes CERN are going to have to handle for the Large Hadron Collider just dwarf that, and they only hold summarised data of summaries of the actual raw scientific data generated.

Another aspect is coping with very rapid change, for example systems to support lab processes. This is similar to your standard factory management system except that the level of change can be daunting. The process can change, well, weekly, as the science and techniques improve in the lab. Those scientist might even completely change what they are doing when some unexpected avenue opens up. I say “might”, seemed to happen every month.

In scientific organisations there tends to be more openness about what and how they do things. Academic and charitable scientific organisations tend to put less barriers in the way of exchanging knowledge than corporations do and so that encourages more exchange of information. When I was working in the area I was positively encouraged to go to conferences and present. Obviously this is not always true and scientific corporations, like Pharmaceuticals, have gained {rightly or wrongly} a reputation for being very reticent about sharing any knowledge at all. But often the individuals involved will share.

So, the scientific community push areas of the technology very hard, they tend to be an open bunch of people, cost is often critical and, the final thing I have not mentioned, is that they often speak a language only vaguely recognisable as English, due to the jargon. Sounds like a community to me.

The real reason I mention all this is that it looks like, after about 4 years of considering and discussing having a science SIG {Special Interest Group} in the UKOUG, I will finally be putting together an agenda for an initial meeting for such a thing. I wonder if it will be a success?

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