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How do you Explain Oracle in 50 Minutes? December 2, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Architecture, conference, UKOUG.
Tags: , ,

I’ve done a very “brave”* thing. I’ve put forward a talk to this year’s UKOUG Tech14 conference titled “How Oracle Works – in under 50 minutes”. Yes, I really was suggesting I could explain to people how the core of Oracle functions in that time. Not only that, but the talk is aimed at those new to Oracle technology. And it got accepted, so I have to present it. I can’t complain about that too much, I was on the paper selection committee…

* – “brave”, of course, means “stupid” in this context.

As a result I am now strapped to the chair in front of my desk, preparing an attempt to explain the overall structure of an Oracle instance, how data moves in out of storage, how ACID works and a few other things. Writing this blog is just avoidance behaviour on my part as I delay going back to it.

Is it possible? I’m convinced it is.

If you ignore all the additional bits, the things that not all sites use, such as Partitioning, RAC, Resource Manager, Materialized Views etc, etc, etc, then that removes a lot. And if not everyone uses it, then it is not core.
There is no need or intention on my part to talk about details of the core – for example, how the Cost Based aspect of the optimizer works, Oracle permissions or the steps needed for instance recovery. We all use those but the details are ignored by some people for their whole career {not usually people who I would deem competent, despite them holding down jobs as Oracle technicians, but they do}.

You are left with a relatively small set of things going on. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a lot of stuff to talk about and is almost certainly too much for someone to fully take in and digest in the time I have. I’m going to have to present this material as if I am possessed. But my intention is to describe a whole picture that makes sense and will allow people to understand the flow. Then, when they see presentations on aspects of it later in the conference, there is more chance it will stick. I find I need to be taught something 3 or 4 times. The first time simply opens my mind to the general idea, the second time I retain some of the details and the third or forth time I start integrating it into what I already new.

My challenge is to say enough so that it makes sense and *no more*. I have developed a very bad habit of trying to cram too much into a presentation and of course this is a real danger here. I’m trying to make it all visual. There will be slides of text, but they are more for if you want to download the talk after the conference. However, drawing pictures takes much, much, much longer than banging down a half dozen bullet points.

One glimmer in the dark is that there is a coffee break after my session. I can go right up to the wire and then take questions after I officially stop, if I am not wrestled to the ground and thrown out the room.

If anyone has any suggestions or comments about what I should or should not include, I’d love to hear them.

This is all part of my intention to provide more conference content for those new to Oracle. As such, this “overview” talk is at the start of the first day of the main conference, 10am Monday. I have to thank my fellow content organisers for allowing me to stick it in where I wanted it. If you are coming to the conference and don’t know much Oracle yet – then I am amazed you read my blog (or any other blog other than maybe AskTom). But if you have colleagues or friends coming who are still relatively new to the tech, tell them to look out for my talk. I really hope it will help them get that initial understanding.

I had hoped to create a fully fledged thread of intro talks running through all of Monday and Tuesday, but I brought the idea up too late. We really needed to promote the idea at the call for papers and then maybe sources a couple of talk. However, using the talks that were accepted we did manage to get a good stab at a flow of intro talks through Monday. I would suggest:

  • 08:50 – Welcome and Introduction
    • Get there in time for the intro if you can, as if you are newish to the tech you are probably newish to a conference
  • 09:00 RMAN the basics, by Michael Abbey.
    • If you are a DBA type, backup/recovery is your number one concern.
  • 10:00 – How Oracle Works in 50 Minutes
    • I think I have said enough!
  • 11:30 – All about Joins by Tony Hasler
    • Top presenter, always good content
  • 12:30 – Lunch. Go and talk to people, lots of people, find some people you might like to talk with again. *don’t stalk anyone*
  • 13:20 – Go to the Oracle Keynote.
    • Personally, I hate whole-audience keynotes, I am sick of being told every year how “there has never been a better time to invest in oracle technology” – but this one is short and after it there is a panel discussion by technical experts.
  • 14:30 is a bit tricky. Tim Hall on Analytical Functions is maybe a bit advanced, but Tim is a brilliant teacher and it is an intro to the subject. Failing that, I’d suggest the Oracle Enterprise Manager round table hosted by Dev Nayak as Database-centric oracle people should know OEM.
  • 16:00 – Again a bit tricky for someone new but I’d plump for The role of Privileges and Roles in Oracle 12C by Carl Dudley. He lectures (lectured?) in database technology and knows his stuff, but this is a New Feature talk…
  • 17:00 – Tuning by Explain Plan by Arian Stijf
    • This is a step-by-step guide to understanding the most common tool used for performance tuning
  • 17:50 onwards – go to the exhibition drinks, the community drinks and just make friends. One of the best thing to come out of conferences is meeting people and swapping stories.

I better get back to drawing pictures. Each one takes me a day and I need about 8 of them. Whoops!


1. Horia Berca - December 3, 2014

Hi Martin,

I have given intro presentations to university students and high-school students.
The approach with the architecture diagram failed. Similar to the motto “the first wrong cardinality estimate in an execution plan ruins the rest of the plan”, in the same manner newbies are lost within minutes if they get it wrong from the beginning.
It worked great in my case when giving analogies.
Do you know the shop where the sales girl does not let you touch the shirts, as she will hand over to you after you tell her what you want?
The data (shirts) is always there but it takes an instance to touch it (salesgirl). Explain the db instance concept as if it is the salesgirl. She does and know many things in the shop, from housekeeping to knowing how many pairs of grey socks she has. I gave this analogy and was easy to develop on it. They have a real thing to relate to, and they will love it.
Does the salesgirl has a “mood” and responds slow to requests? Feed her with more information and you’ll see some improvements. Even patch it with a “Nurofen or Advil” and she will continue to stay active into business.

It’s all about not getting to serious as you’ll scare the hell out those kids.


mwidlake - December 3, 2014

Thanks Horia, I appreciate the advice.

I do also tend to use analogies quite a bit when I explain things, but I find I keep hitting the same problem. Some smartarse will want to show how much they already know by picking holes in the analogy – “you need a group of sales girls to represent all the different processes in Oracle”. You know what I mean? 🙂

Thankfully my presentation style is far from serious. I’m actually going to have to be careful to be a little more focused than usual and not drift off into anecdotes about when I broke some system or other.

Horia Berca - December 3, 2014

Those guys looking for holes need to be sent to a hypermarket during Christmas season and try to buy Christmas lights. Queueing? Hitting roller skating girls? Show them some concurrency during Black Friday.
It can only be fun, but great chances to deviate and confuse even more.

2. Neil Chandler - December 3, 2014

MVCC. Lots of MVCC info.

mwidlake - December 3, 2014

MVCC? Are you kidding me? You want their brains to melt out their ears?

OK, I’ll give it a shot.

I’ll also cover table joins and why they can be tricky…

Neil Chandler - December 3, 2014

I know someone who wrote a good blog post on MVCC.

3. angelholme - December 9, 2014

I attended this talk @ UKOUG_TECH14 on the 8th, and it was very well done. I have been using Oracle as a developer for years, but never delved into the technical side of it (I never really needed to know for most of what I was doing).

It was pitched at the right level – there wasn’t anything that was over my head, but it didn’t feel like I was being patronised at any point (if that makes sense).

All in all, I would say it was the best of the four talks I went to, and the one I would say I learned the most from.

Thanks 🙂

mwidlake - December 9, 2014

Thank you very much – I’m glad you enjoyed the talk and I am relieved that you felt that I managed to pitch it at the right level. I appreciate you taking the trouble to let me know.

Horia Berca - December 9, 2014

Hi Martin,

Do you think is possible to share offline the presentation with me? I know that this is a different experience than the live one, but am really interested to see it.

Many thanks in advance.

Kind regards

mwidlake - December 9, 2014

It’s my presentation so I can do with it what I like :-). However, I need to add a load of words to support the pictures. This might take time as I am…very tired! I finished a job last week and have lots of non-work stuff to look at too, so please be patient with me and I will get the slides done “soon”

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