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A Tale of Two Meetings – 11GR2 and MI SIG October 5, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Perceptions.
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Last week I attended two Oracle events, each very different from the other.

The first was an Oracle Corp event, giving details of the new 11GR2 release and what it was introducing. It was in a nice hotel in London with maybe 250, 300 attendees and all quite swish.

The other was a UK Oracle User Group meeting, the last Management and Infrastructure SIG for 2009. 30 people in the Oracle City office and far more unassuming {And note, as I chair the MI SIG, anything I say about the day is liable to bias…}.

Both events were useful to attend and I learnt things at both, but I also found the difference between the two quite interesting.

Oracle 11G Release 2

The official Oracle 11GR2 presentation was where you went for the definitive information on what Oracle Corp feel are the new features of 11G R2 that are of interest (though some of it was not R2-specific but general 11G).

Chris Baker started off by telling us “there has never been a better time” to move to the latest technology or a greater need to gain business advantage through using said latest technology. You know, it would be really nice, just once, to go to such a corporate event and not be given this same thread of pointless posturing? I know it is probably just me being old and grumpy and contrary, but after 20 years in the business I am sick to the hind teeth of Keynotes or Announcements that say the same empty “Raa-Raa” stuff as the previous 19 years – the need “now” to get the best out of your technology has been the same need since the first computers were sold to businesses, so give it a rest. Just tell us about the damned technology, we are smart enough to make our own decision as to whether  it is a big enough improvement to warrant the investment in time and effort to take on. If we are not smart enough to know this, we will probably not be in business too long.

Sorry, I had not realised how much the Corporate Fluff about constantly claiming “Now is the time”, “Now things are critical” gets to me these days. Anyway, after that there were some good overviews of the latest bits of technology and following form them some dedicated sessions in two streams on specific areas, split between semi-technical and management-oriented talks, which was nice.

There was plenty of talk about the Oracle Database Machine, which appears to be exadata version 2 and sits on top of Sun hardware, which is no surprise given the latest Oracle Acquisition. I have to say, it looks good, all the hardware components have taken a step up (so now 40Gb infiniband interconnect, more powerful processors, even more memory), plus a great chunk of memory as Sun’s “FlashFire” technology to help cache data and thus help OLTP work. More importantly, you can get a 1/4 machine now, which will probably make it of interest to more sites with less money to splash out on a dedicated Oracle system. I’ll save further details for another post, as this is getting too long.

The other interesting thing about the new Oracle Database Machine was the striking absence of the two letters ‘P’ and ‘H’. HP was not mentioned once. I cannot but wonder how those who bought into the original exadata on HP hardware feel about their investment, given that V2 seems only available on Sun kit. If you wanted the latest V2 featries such as the much-touted  two-level disc compression is Oracle porting that over to the older HP systems, are Oracle offering a mighty nice deal to upgrade to the Sun systems or are there some customers with the HP kit currently sticking needles into a clay model of top Oracle personnel?

The other new feature I’ll mention is RAT – Real Application Testing. You can google for the details but, in  a nutshell, you can record the activity on the live database and play it back against an 11g copy of the database. The target needs to be logically identical to the source {so same tables, data, users etc} but you can alter initialisation parameters, physical implementation, patch set, OS, RAC… RAT will tell you what will change.

For me as a tuning/architecture guy this is very, very interesting. I might want to see the impact of implementing a system-wide change but currently this would involve either only partial testing and releasing on a wing and a prayer or a full regression test on an expensive and invariably over-utilised full test stack , which often does not exist. There was no dedicated talk on it though, it was mentioned in parts of more general “all the great new stuff” presentations.

Management and Infrastructure SIG

RAT leads me on to the MI SIG meeting. We had a talk on RAT by Chris Jones from Oracle, which made it clearer that there are two elements to Real Application testing. One is the Database Replay and the other is SQL Performance Analyzer,  SPA. Check out this oracle datasheet for details.

SPA captures the SQL from a source system but then simply replays the SELECT only statements, one by one, against a target database. The idea is that you can detect plan changes or performance variations in just the Select SQL. Obviously, if the SELECTS are against data created by other statements that are not replayed then the figures will be different, but I can see this being of use in regression testing and giving some level of assurance. SPA has another advantage in that it can be run against a 10g database, as opposed to RAT which can only be run against 11 (though captured from a terminal 10g or 9i system – that is a new trick).
There are no plans at all to backport RAT to 10, it just ain’t gonna happen guys.

The SIG also had an excellent presentation on GRID for large sites (that is, many oracle instances) and how to manage it all. The presentation was as a result of requests for a talk on this topic by people who come to this SIG and Oracle {in the form of Andrew Bulloch} were good enough to oblige.

The two Oracle Corp talks were balanced by technical talks by James Ball and Doug Burns, on flexible GRID architectures and using OEM/ASH/AWR respectively. These were User presentations, mentioning warts as well as Wins. Not that many Warts though, some issues with licence daftness was about it as the technology had been found to work and do it’s job well. Both talks were excellent.

The fifth talk was actually an open-forum discussion, on Hiring Staff, chaired by Gordon Brown {No, not THAT Gordon Brown, as Gordon points out}. Many people joined in and shared opinions on or methods used in getting new technical staff. I found it useful, as I think did many. These open sessions are not to everyone’s taste and they can go wrong, but Gordon kept it flowing and all went very well.

 

The difference between the two meetings was striking. Both had strong support from Oracle  {which I really appreciate}. Both included talks about the latest technology. However, the smaller, less swish event gave more information and better access to ask questions and get honest answers. There was also almost no Fluff at the SIG, it was all information or discussion, no “Raa-Raa”. But then, the lunch was very nice and there were free drinks after the Corporate event {we shared rounds at a local pub after the SIG event – maybe one round too much}. 

I guess I am saying that whilst I appreciate the Big Corporate event, I get a lot more out of the smaller, user group event. Less fluff, more info. Thankfully, Oracle support both, so I am not complaining {except about the “there has never been a better time” bit, I really AM sick of that :-( ).

 So if you don’t support your local Oracle user group, I’d suggest you consider doing so. And if, like so many sites seem to, you have membership but don’t go along to the smaller events, heck get down there! There is some of the best stuff at these SIG meetings.

Free Training (next Management and Infrastructure SIG) September 17, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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The next Management and Infrastructure SIG is coming up, 1st October in Oracle City office in London. The agenda and details can be found here.

I think the line up is a good balance of technical and management, which is what the SIG is all about – but then I am biased :-)
Real Application Testing, ASH/AWR, how to hire staff, Grid control for complex sites and flexible e-business suite architecture are all covered, plus the chance to ask questions of our Oracle Support representative (Along the lines of “how do I best escalate SRs”, not “what does bug number 2324567.1 on linux not happen on hp-ux”).

As some of you know, I currently chair the SIG {for those who do not know, a SIG is a Special Interest Group of the UK Oracle User Group}. The event is free to those with UKOUG membership {excluding bronze I think} and anyone can come along for £80.

Numbers for SIGs have been hit by the recession over the last 12 months – people’s travel budgets being slashed, pressure on staff/managers of staff that everyone always “looks busy”, reduced access to things that can be seen as a perk.

However, it strikes me as odd that SIGs don’t become more popular when things are tight. After all, they are in effect free (or cheap) training and opportunities to make or maintain contacts with people you can share experiences with. There are also domain experts around who love to talk about their chosen topic, so potentially free consultancy too.

If you have any interest in the topics covered, I’d encourage you to come along for some of this free stuff :-) Likewise, keep an eye on the other UKOUG SIG events, there is usually very good stuff at all of them.

June Management & Infrastructure meeting June 5, 2009

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Wednesday this week saw the first UKOUG Management & Infrastructure meeting special interest group meeting (MI SIG) of the year – postponed from April due to a clash with the G20 summit. You can see details of the meeting here where {if you are a member of the UKOUG} you can download some of the papers.

I feel the MI SIG has been struggling a little over the last few meetings – too many sales pitch presentations and numbers hit by travel woes (we just fell unlucky) and then the recession – but this meeting felt better. We had a good mix of strong presentations and numbers were up. The number of expected delegates has been very variable over the last 2 weeks, at one point we were full (50 people) but then some dropped out, others registered late. We ended up with 39.

At the last meeting I asked if people wanted more on the management side and the majority did, so I pitched a presentation about how to be a Manger in IT. It would have been relevant to management in other disciplines but IT does have some unusal aspects, one being that there is a much higher percentage of introvert and logical personality traits amongst IT people. Soft Skills and considerations of personality do tend to get short change in technology environments too.

Not only did I pitch a touchy-feely topic but I also went powerpoint-naked. I put up a half dozen intro slides and then turned off the projector and just talked. I was more than a tad anxious that this could have fallen flat and ended up as me spewing random drivel from the front, but the audience took up the topic and started chipping in. It snowballed and became a general discussion. I managed to keep it flowing and mentioned most of the things I wanted to include and also took a lot of input from the audience. Maybe one or two of the links I made to add my intended points were a bit tenuous but heck, it was the first time I’d done a free-form presentation like that for years and years.

Not only was the session a success {phew} but it seemed to set the pattern for the rest of day. We had had some good questions being asked of John Nangle during his opening presentation on Exadata (I’d really like to get my hands on one of those units) but after the free-form session everyone seemed to be talking to each other more and all presenters had questions and little discussions to deal with during their sessions. They all dealt with them well.

We rounded off the meeting with a drink in a local hostelry for those who were inclined and the discussions kept going. The general feeling was that it had been an excellent day with people being a lot more interactive than normal. I know other SIGs use “speed chatting” and other things to help encourage people to talk to other delegates. They have found that such things might not initially be popular {what! you want me to talk to strangers?} but always give the meetings a greater feeling of interaction and delegate feedback is that they are {sometimes reluctanatly} recognised as helpful.

I think I’ll try and have some sort of interactive or ice-breaking aspect at future meetings as it seems to really help the day be a success.

Management And Infrastructure SIG May 28, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Management, Meeting notes.
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It is the next Mangement and Infrastructure Special Interest Group meeting next week (MI SIG), on Wednesday 3rd June.

I currently chair the MI SIG and, just as Andrew Clark says about the Development and Engineering SIG, “it is not as sexy as it sounds” {The chairing, I mean, the SIG itself is incredibly sexy and wonderful}. It basically means I spend a few days 2 or 3 times a year helping organise the event, strongly supported by the UK Oracle User Group (and in particular by Michelle Ericsson) and by the deputy chairs, Gordon D. Brown, Neil Chandler and Tony Clements, our “Oracle buddy”. I then chair the meeting itself.

Chairing may not be sexy, but it is rewarding, especially when we get a good line up of talks as for this one and the registered delegate numbers are healthy. SIGs have been suffering poorer attendances of late and a high number of delegates just not turning up, which is vexing (and, I’m sorry to be blunt, bloody rude to the speakers and committee who do this for free).

I’m presenting on “Being an IT Manager” and I am trying something different. I am ditching Powerpoint and I am just going to talk. It could be a disaster.

I’ll of course let you know how it went. Alternatively, if there are still spaces, come along and witness for yourself.

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

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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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