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Friday Philosophy – The Singular Stupidity of the Sole Solution April 22, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Architecture, Exadata, Friday Philosophy, Hardware.
Tags: , , ,

I don’t like the ‘C’ word, it’s offensive to some people and gets used way too much. I mean “cloud” of course. Across all of I.T. it’s the current big trend that every PR department seems to feel the need to trump about and it’s what all Marketing people are trying to sell us. I’m not just talking Oracle here either, read any computing, technical or scientific magazine and there are the usual adds by big I.T. companies like IBM and they are all pushing clouds (and the best way to push a cloud is with hot air). And we’ve been here before so many times. It’s not so much the current technical trend that is the problem, it is the obsession with the one architecture as the solution to fit all requirements that is damaging.

No clouds here yet

No clouds here yet

When a company tries to insist that X is the answer to all technical and business issues and promotes it almost to the exclusion of anything else, it leads to a lot of customers being disappointed when it turns out that the new golden bullet is no such thing for their needs. Especially when the promotion of the solution translates to a huge push in sales of it, irrespective of fit. Technicians get a load of grief from the angry clients and have to work very hard to make the poor solution actually do what is needed or quietly change the solution for one that is suitable. The sales people are long gone of course, with their bonuses in the bank.

But often the customer confidence in the provider of the solution is also long gone.

Probably all of us technicians have seen it, some of us time after time and a few of us rant about it (occasionally quite a lot). But I must be missing something, as how can an organisation like Oracle or IBM not realise they are damaging their reputation? But they do it in a cyclical pattern every few years, so whatever they gain by mis-selling these solutions is somehow worth the abuse of the customer – as that is what it is. I suppose the answer could be that all large tech companies are so guilty of this that the customer end up feeling it’s a choice between a list of equally dodgy second hand car salesemen.

Looking at the Oracle sphere, when Exadata came along it was touted by Oracle Sales and PR as the best solution – for almost everything. Wrongly. Utterly and stupidly wrongly. Those of us who got involved in Exadata with the early versions, especially I think V2 and V3, saw it being implemented for OLTP-type systems where it was a very, very expensive way of buying a small amount of SSD. The great shame was that the technical solution of Exadata was fantastic for a sub-set of technical issues. All the clever stuff in the storage cell software and maximizing hardware usage for a small number of queries (small sometimes being as small as 1) was fantastic for some DW work with huge full-segment-scan queries – and of no use at all for the small, single-account-type queries that OLTP systems run. But Oracle just pushed and pushed and pushed Exadata. Sales staff got huge bonuses for selling them and the marketing teams seemed incapable of referring to the core RDBMS without at least a few mentions of Exadata
Like many Oracle performance types, I ran into this mess a couple of times. I remember one client in particular who had been told Exadata V2 would fix all their problems. I suspect based solely on the fact it was going to be a multi-TB data store. But they had an OLTP workload on the data set and any volume of work was slaying the hardware. At one point I suggested that moving a portion of the workload onto a dirt cheap server with a lot of spindles (where we could turn off archive redo – it was a somewhat unusual system) would sort them out. But my telling them a hardware solution 1/20th the cost would fix things was politically unacceptable.

Another example of the wonder solution is Agile. Agile is fantastic: rapid, focused development, that gets a solution to a constrained user requirement in timescales that can be months, weeks, even days. It is also one of the most abused terms in I.T. Implementing Agile is hard work, you need to have excellent designers, programmers that can adapt rapidly and a lot, and I mean a LOT, of control of the development and testing flow. It is also a methodology that blows up very quickly when you try to include fix-on-fail or production support workloads. It also goes horribly wrong when you have poor management, which makes the irony that it is often implemented when management is already failing even more tragic. I’ve seen 5 agile disasters for each success, and on every project there are the shiny-eyed Agile zealots who seem to think just implementing the methodology, no matter what the aims of the project or the culture they are in, is guaranteed success. It is not. For many IT departments, Agile is a bad idea. For some it is the best answer.

Coming back to “cloud”, I think I have something of a reputation for not liking it – which is not a true representation of my thoughts on it, but is partly my fault as I quickly tired of the over-sell and hype. I think some aspect of cloud solutions are great. The idea that service providers can use virtualisation and container technology to spin up a virtual server, a database, an application, an application sitting in a database on a server, all in an automated manner in minutes, is great. The fact that the service provider can do this using a restricted number of parts that they have tested integrate well means they have a way more limited support matrix and thus better reliability. With the Oracle cloud, they are using their engineered systems (which is just a fancy term really for a set of servers, switches, network & storage configured in a specific way with their software configure in a standard manner) so they can test thoroughly and not have the confusion of a type of network switch being used that is unusual or a flavor of linux that is not very common. I think these two items are what really make cloud systems interesting – fast, automated provisioning and a small support matrix. Being available over the internet is not such a great benefit in my book as that introduces reasons why it is not necessarily a great solution.

But right now Oracle (amongst others) is insisting that cloud is the golden solution to everything. If you want to talk at Oracle Open World 2016 I strongly suspect that not including the magic word in the title will seriously reduce your chances. I’ve got some friends who are now so sick of the term that they will deride cloud, just because it is cloud. I’ve done it myself. It’s a potentially great solution for some systems, ie running a known application that is not performance critical that is accessed in a web-type manner already. It is probably not a good solution for systems that are resource heavy, have regulations on where the data is stored (some clinical and financial data cannot go outside the source country no matter what), alter rapidly or are business critical.

I hope that everyone who uses cloud also insists that the recovery of their system from backups is proven beyond doubt on a regular basis. Your system is running on someone else’s hardware, probably managed by staff you have no say over and quite possibly with no actual visibility of what the DR is. No amount of promises or automated mails saying backs occurred is guarantee of recovery reliability. I’m willing to bet that within the next 12 months there is going to be some huge fiasco where a cloud services company loses data or system access in a way that seriously compromises a “top 500” company. After all, how often are we told by companies that security is their top priority? About as often as they mess it up and try to embark on a face-saving PR exercise. So that would be a couple a month.

I just wish Tech companies would learn to be a little less single solution focused. In my book, it makes them look like a bunch of excitable children. Give a child a hammer and everything needs a pounding.



1. Neil Chandler - April 22, 2016

A straw poll at a user conference I was running yesterday;

of the several dozen companies represented, none of them are using the “cloud”. None. not one. 0 users. 2 said they were on a journey towards the cloud…

Cloud? *sigh*

Will someone give me enough money to retire please πŸ™‚

mwidlake - April 22, 2016

I know Neil. So far take-up has been patchy and mostly those using Apps (of various guises) And yet the Oracle marketing engine is producing more cloud blah than the UK Meteorological Service!!! *most companies currently don’t want cloud*

2. Nick - April 22, 2016

Please refer to https://youtu.be/vDXMUR7eY_8 for my considered response.

3. John Garmon - April 22, 2016

Ditto, and this reminds me of the miraculous XML a few years ago. haha

mwidlake - April 22, 2016

Yeah, every few years there is the “saviour tech”. And each time Marketing thinks they can push it as a universal cure-all. What I am curious about is, even though the techies do not fall for it (and many of us eventually get utterly cynical about) – do enough people who sign the cheques fall for it so it is actually a good sales plan. Or do people in marketing last only long enough to see one iteration of it and remain ignorant of the negative consequences.

4. oraclebase - April 22, 2016

As always, it very much depends.

Some services lend themselves very well to the cloud. Some not so much. The important thing is companies invest some time investigating the cloud so they can understand if they are being presented with BS or not.

It’s equally important for people to keep up with the changes. A service that was rubbish last month might be amazing this month. Services evolve very fast on the cloud.

I’m both a cloud fan and cynic rolled into one. πŸ™‚



ExaAglieCloud Consultant to the stars.

mwidlake - April 22, 2016

Ah but Tim, you are the perfect “cynical IT Tart”. Even as you point to the faults in the tech you keep trying to see if it can work πŸ™‚

As I said in the article, I really like most of these solutions. I just…despise… the blind and stupid way Marketing and Sales push them until some people just turn off and others wrongly invest. They are not a solution for all, they are a brilliant solution for some. Why can’t IT companies even just try to give a balanced sell? Is it really so fricking hard to do?

5. amitzil - April 22, 2016

Nice post Martin (I really like your Friday Philosophy column). I agree with everything, I sometimes find myself stay away from these solutions just because the hype. When it is too big it simply seems fake to me.
By the way, you forgot the biggest hype before the cloud (which is not entirely gone yet), the NoSQL and BigData. And this hype didn’t come from large vendors, many of the first “pushers” are small companies and even open source solutions.
Anyway, it’s amazing how the technical people feel the same, while the managers force us to get into these fields because “the company can’t stay behind…”, even if it’s clearly not the right solution.

mwidlake - April 23, 2016

Thank you Liron.

Yeah, the NoSQL/BigData is a pretty good example, though as I am not as knowledgeable as I really should be to comment on it, I steered clear of that one. It was really in-our-faces for ages and there are many times when RDBMSs are not what you want for large data sets. I do wonder how many companies tried to implement an RI-critical, small transaction data store on NoSQL and really suffered. It would be like the people who tried to make MySQL into a DBMS that was ACID back in the early 2000’s. They were just trying to reinvent the wheel with the wrong tools. Want an ACID DB? Use and ACID implementation. Want simplicity and impressive speed? Use something like MySQL.

6. Noons - April 26, 2016

Entirely agreed.
Quite a few years ago I got to be a “bad dba” for not indiscriminately pushing the “flavor of the season” above all else.
Apparently if one was not in tune with the marketing nonsense, one was a “bad” whatever.
Of course a lot of the supposed “scientific” and “credentialed technologist” clubs joined along.
With lots of feathers floating…

This was the time of Oracle’s Application Server to multi-tier everything.
Remember that one? Exactly my point!…

Then of course we got the “No need for dbas” nonsense.
That was the start of the “shoot your own foot” for Oracle…

And RAC instead of Dataguard for HA. (nearly forgot the utter nonsense that was “extended RAC”!)

And of course Exadata for everything and the kitchen sink.
Including Office, Outlook and MSSQL, no doubt?

Now? I just laugh at the latest effort at the silver bullet.
It will go the same way as the rest of the above demented marketing “take over the world” nonsense.
Thank the gods I’ll soon be retired! And still laughing. πŸ™‚

mwidlake - April 26, 2016

Yeah, you list a few there πŸ™‚

Anybody remember “Raw Iron” back in the ?90’s? – it was supposed to be a unix server with a cut-down OS that could run Oracle “faster”. Thankfully that one never took off.

The thing I really object to is not the duff things that die off, it’s the good solutions for certain requirements which then get dumbly pushed as the answer to everything. Often making the pushed solution look daft. Exadata suffered from that and now it is better understood what it is good for, it’s being replaced by storage that is a couple of orders magnitude faster than spinning rust – and set to get even faster with new memory tech.

Noons - April 26, 2016

It did take off! It was called ODA. Aka, Database Appliance.
And it took off with a max capacity of 4TB.
Just in the nick of time to be useless for the whole Big Data thingie! πŸ™‚
Ah well, I still think it was a good idea, but…

You are absolutely right: a lot of really useful stuff ends up not getting enough traction in the market due to it becoming saturated with the “one solution to everything” nonsense.

One of the things I really like about the solid state storage is a lot of implementations do include de-duplication and compression at the hardware level, saving me a LOT of licensing dollars in special “options”.
Really cool stuff, indeed.

Now, if only they’d also do sensible replication at hardware level using a “consistency group” concept like some of the current SANs, I’d be unconditionally sold!

7. David Harper - May 7, 2016

“If you want to talk at Oracle Open World 2016 I strongly suspect that not including the magic word in the title will seriously reduce your chances.”

I’m reminded of the late 1980s, when chaos theory was the latest craze in mathematics research. Academics added ‘chaos’ or ‘chaotic systems’ to the title of their proposed conferences, because funding agencies were more likely to give a grant to a proposal that mentioned chaos theory. It’s good to know that this kind of thing still goes on πŸ™‚

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