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

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,

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.



1. Greg Rahn - October 8, 2009

Couple things:

1) Exadata V2 software is available for both the HP and Sun Exadata Storage Servers (11.2 Oracle DB required) so software features like Storage Indexes and Hybrid Columnar Compression are available to all Exadata customers.

2) The HP G5 servers used for the V1 Exadata Storage Servers are no longer being sold by HP (they have issued the end-of-life for them) so if there were an Exadata V2 on HP hardware it would have been on the G6 servers. Such is the technology hardware cycle…

mwidlake - October 8, 2009

Thanks for that Greg, I appreciate your clarifying those points. it’s good to know that the early adopters are being looked after.

2. Doug's Oracle Blog - October 8, 2009

London, Edinburgh, Bucharest, San Francisco ……

Not quite New York, London, Paris, Munich (it doesn’t even scan properly) and certainly not much Pop Music, although I did spend most of Tuesday* with a fairly large dynamic microphone in my hand.[Warning, long, personal, whining and only very-barely-…

3. PdV - October 8, 2009

Hey Martin: go with the flow.

Me, I just love corporate sponsored events, fluff and hype and all. Brilliant surroundings, Flashy presentations, trendy people, free nibbles, free drinkies, and the sure-induction of a Feel-Good sentiment.
And the (Customers of the) ORganizing vendor to pick up the bill.

All of the above also is a good plea for strong User-Groups. The only way a large number of victims can balance a a powerful, near-monopoly, vendor is… by talking to one another.

The NEED for usergroups is evident.

Someone has to diss out some “truth”, some verifiable, evidence-based facts about a product, the real application shortcomings and the real applicaton benefits.

Did I mention that there can also be benefits to using Oracle?
Yes there are!
And a usergroup is the best place to find out.

In case the usergroup fee comes up for renewal:
Ask the purchasing manager responsible for negociation with Oracle.

mwidlake - October 8, 2009

{smiling and laughing} Piet, you are right, I should just relax more at the Corporate gigs and eat the canapés. Like you do :-).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about Corporate events, they are good {with the exception of those bits about “NOW is the time like NEVER BEFORE to grasp our technical wonders!” – did I mention that?}. Another great thing about the big events are the people to meet. Oracle always get some of their top technical people and sector head-honchos over for the big events and, if you are lucky, you get a chance to have a chat with them about what is really going on. I recommend aiming for the technicians, they can’t help themselves, they have to let on a little about the technology they are working on.

But yes, you hit it on the head, a strong user community keeps the vendor more honest. If a User tells you a feature is good, it is far more believable. Watching Doug rave about ASH/AWR and all that good stuff is great, as you know he is independent {and it is great, ignoring the thorny perennial licence woe, OEM comes into its own once you have all the diagnostics}.
Oracle employees are shy about mentioning the broken bits but not us users. An Oracle presentation will tell you how great it is to put in ASM and have all that disc-balancing goodness there and then. Users will say “Yes, it is great, but boy can it be a pain getting {insert OS of choice} here working with it until you download patch X – and did you know about the 2TB disc limit? Boy that screwed our system!”. So now you know it is great AND some of the issues to side-step.

If your organisation has paid out 10’s of thousands for the Oracle Licence and on-going support and won’t fork out a few hundred for a user group membership, your organisation is stupid. {Hmm, have I been too strong there? No, your organisation is Really Stupid }.

4. Friday Philosophy -Do I think Oracle is Rubbish? « Martin Widlake’s Yet Another Oracle Blog - October 8, 2009

[…] like or that do not work as they should? Absolutely not. As Piet de Visser said on a comment to one of my recent blogs, it is beholden on us Users to keep Oracle Corp honest. But I thought I aught to mention, at least […]

5. London, Edinburgh, Bucharest, San Francisco … | Oracle - October 10, 2009

[…] In the middle of my final week, I spent an afternoon at the UKOUG Management and Infrastructure SIG. Martin Widlake had asked me a long time ago and was good enough to be patient until I was down in London so it was more convenient… Excellent chat, though. Martin blogged about it a lot more here. […]

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