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Friday Philosophy – I Am An Exadata Expert August 10, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Exadata, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
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(Can I feel the angry fuming and dagger looks coming from certain quarters now?)

I am an Exadata Expert.

I must be! – I have logged onto an Exadata quarter rack and selected sysdate from Dual.

The pity is that, from some of the email threads and conversations I have had with people over the last 12 months, this is more real-world experience than some people I have heard of who are offering consultancy services. It’s also more experience than some people I have actually met, who have extolled their knowledge of Exadata – which is based solely on the presentations by Oracle sales people looking at the data sheets from 10,000 feet up and claiming it will solve world hunger.

Heck, hang the modesty – I am actually an Exadata Guru!

This must be true as I have presented on Exadata and it was a damned fine, technical presentation based on real-world experience and I have even debated, in public, the pros and cons of point releases of exadata. Touching base with reality once more, I did an intro talk “the first 5 things you need to know about Exadata” and the “debate” was asking Julian Dyke if he had considered the impact of serial direct IO on a performane issue he had seen and he had not only done so but looked into the issue far more than I – so he was able to correct me.

But joking aside –  I really am a true consulting demi-god when it comes to Exadata

I have years of experience across a wide range of Exadata platforms. That would be 0.5 years and I’ve worked intensively on just one system and am in a team now with some people who are proper experts. So a range of two. Yes, tongue is still firmly in cheek.

This situation always happens with the latest-greatest from Oracle (and obviously all other popular computing technologies). People feel the need to claim knowledge they do not have. Sometimes it is to try and get consultancy sales or employment, sometimes it is because they don’t want to be seen to be behind the times and sometimes it is because they are just deluded. The deluded have seen some presentations, a few blog posts and maybe even got the book and read the first few chapters and are honeslty convinced in their own minds that they now know enough to make effective use of the technology, teach {or, more usually, preach} others and so proclaim on it. {See Dunning Kruger effect, the certainty of idiots}. I’m certainly not arguing against going to presentations, reading blogs and books and learning, just don’t make the mistake of thinking theoretical, second-hand knowledge equates to expert.

With Exadata this situation is made worse as the kit is expensive and much of what makes it unusual cannot be replicated on a laptop, so you cannot as an individual set up a test system and play with it. Real world experince is required. This is growing but is still limited. So the bullshit to real skills quotient remains very, very high.

If you are looking for help or expertise with Exadata, how do you spot the people with real knowledge from the vocal but uninformed? Who do you turn to? {NB don’t call me – I’m busy for 6 months and I really am not an expert – as yet}. If your knowledge to date is based on sales presentations and tidbits from the net which may or may not be based on a depth of experience, it is going to be hard to spot. When I was still without real world experience I had an unfair advantage in that I saw email threads between my fellow OakTable members and of course some of those guys and gals really are experts. But I think I was still hoodwinked by the odd individual on the web or presenting and, I can tell you, though this background knowledge really helped – when I DID work on my first exadata system, I soon realised I did not understand a lot about the subtulties and not-so-subtulties of using a system where massively improved IO was available under key conditions. I had to put a lot of time and effort and testing to move from informed idoit to informed, partially experienced semi-idiot.

I know this issue of the non-expert proclaiming their skills really frustrates some people who do know their stuff for real and it is of course very annoying if you take someone’s advice (or even hire them) only to find their advice to be poor. Let’s face it, is is simple lying at best and potentially criminal mis-selling.

I guess the only way is for peopel needing help to seek the help of someone who has already proven themselves to be honest about their skills or can demonstrate a real-world level experience and success. I would suggest the real experts should do that most difficult task of pointing out the mistakes of the false prophets, but it is very tricky to do without looking like a smartarse or coming over as a big head or jealous.

I’ll finish on one thing. Last year I said how I thought maybe I should do more blog posts about things I did not know much about, and be honest about it and explore the process of learning. I did actualy draft out about 3 posts on such a topic but never pushed them out as I was way too busy to complete them… That and, being candid, I really did not want to look like an idiot. After all, this Oracle lark is what puts beer in my hand, hat fabric on my wife’s millinary worktop and food in my cat’s bowl. The topic was….? Correct, Exadata. Maybe I should dust them off and put them out for you all to laugh at.

Friday Philosophy – Whatever Happened to Run Books? July 27, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy.
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I realised recently that it is many years since I saw what used to be called a Run Book or System Log Book. This was a file – as in a plastic binder – with sheets of paper or printouts in it about a given system. Yes, this was a while back. It would often also have diagrams {occasionally drawn by hand on scraps of paper – so that would be the database ERD then}, hand-written notes and often the printed stuff would have scribbles against it.

{BTW I asked a colleague if he remembered these and when he said he did, what he used to call them – “err, documentation???”. Lol}

There was one book per key system and you could tell if a system was key (that is, Production, or a development system where a large development manager would punch you in the eye for losing anything, or any system the DBAs wanted) as it had a run book. It held information that was important about the system and, although you could look up most of it when logged onto the system itself, was useful to grab and just check something. However, it was vital if you had to recover the system.

Being a DBA-type, the run books I used to see and use were database focused. The front page would have the SID, name, host name (and even the spec of the host), version, tnsnames info, block size, backup strategy and schedule and, very importantly, the system owner. Yes, the big guy who would be upset if you lost the system. In there you would have printouts of the tablespaces, datafiles and sizes, the backup script, users (and passwords, very often), reference data tables, filesystem layout, OS user details and anything else
needed to recover the system.

This was an evolving and historical set of data. I mentioned above that you would have maybe scraps of paper from when a design session had come up with an alteration to the system. Corrections would often be done by hand. When you printed off the tablespace sizes on Monday, you did not throw the old one away but just added the new one, so you had information about the growth of the DB going back in time. Once in a while you might thin out the set but you kept say one a month.

It was actually that which got me to thinking about runbooks. At a site recently one of the DBAs was asking me if I knew of a screen in OEM that showed the growth of space used over time and my immediate thought was “well look in the run book” {I was very tired that day and losing my grip on reality}. Not being able to find a screen for what he wanted and knowing the data in OEM/AWR was only going back a month anyway, I suggested a simple spreadsheet that he could maintain. With the run book you could flip to the printouts of tablespace sizes, grab a piece of paper and do something lo-tech like this:

This would take less time than firing up Excel, typing the figures in, getting the graph wrong 3 times and then printing it out. Though if you had to go show Managers how the data was growing, you invested that time in making it pretty {why do high level managers insist on “pretty” when what they really want is “informative”?}

So why have Run Books gone {and does anyone out there still use them, in physical or electronic format}? It certainly seemed standard practice across IT in the 80’s and 90’s. I suspect that the reason is that most of the information that used to go into them is now available via online GUI admin tools and looking at them is actually faster than going and grabbing a physical book. Besides, if your DBA or Sys Admin team is split between UK, India and Australia, where do you keep a physical book and allow everyone to check it? I have vague memories of electronic Run Book applications appearing but they never seemed to get traction.

That is one of the drawbacks of using GUI admin tools. No, this is not just some tirad by a bitter old lag against GUI tools – they are generally a massive improvement on the old ways – but they are not perfect. Most of them only hold a short history and printing out the data is often tricky or impossible. All you can really do is screen dumps. No one has those little scripts for listing out basic information anymore {except us bitter old lags} as they have GUIs to do all that and, heck, I can’t go printing off a load of stuff on paper and sticking it in a binder – that is so 20th century!

Maybe I’m being unfair and OEM has a “run book” section I have simply never seen – but I’ve never seen it. If it is/was there, how many people would use it?
I do miss the Run Book though. Especially the ease with which I could look up all those passwords…

Friday Philosophy – Presenting Leads to Drinking, Discuss June 15, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Meeting notes, UKOUG.
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Just a quick Friday Philosophy {the day job is very demanding at the moment, thus the silence on the Blog front}

I’m presenting in Leeds at the start of July on UKOUG AIM SIG on “The First Few Things You Need To Know About Exadata”. As part of the final preparation of the agenda it’s been raised that we should have a beer after the event and put it on the agenda.

Now, when I ran the Management and Infrastructure SIG, there was always a last item of “retire to a pub for a drink or two”. It is a common feature of technical UKOUG SIGs and a great opportunity to chat to the speakers more.

Chat to the speakers. Now I think about it, most of the speakers always make it to the pub after a SIG. If the attendance on the day is 10% speakers, 10% committee and 80% delegates, the make-up in the pub will be 30% speakers, 20% committee and 50% delegates, or similar.

At conferences, the bars in the evening are covered in speakers (all still speaking – loudly and {usually} drunkenly).

So, is it that:

  • Speaking leads to elevated drinking
  • Drinking makes you more of a sucker for speaking
  • Speaking and Drinking have a shared genetic basis
  • It’s just me.

My excuse is that all that hot air coming out my mouth makes it dry and it needs a little wetting afterwards…

You Will Be Our Slave – Err, no, I Won’t May 27, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in contracting, Friday Philosophy, rant.
Tags: , , ,

For the sake of current clients, this posting has been time-shifted.

I’m looking at the paperwork for a possible new job in front of me. Document seven out of 13 is the Working Time Directive Waiver. It’s the one where you sign on then dotted line saying your proposed new client can demand more than 48 hours of work a week out of you. {This may be UK or European Union specific but, frankly, I don’t care}.

I’m not signing it. For one thing, I doubt the legality of the document under EU law – especially in light of the issues the UK government had with this and junior doctors {who often, and still do, end up making life-deciding decisions on patients when they are too tired to play Noughts and Crosses, having worked 80 hours that week}. For another, well, I don’t give a damn. I ain’t signing it.

Now, I’ve just completed about 60 hours this week for my client. Not a problem at all, something needed doing, I could do it and so I have. I have done, am doing and will continue to do long weeks for clients when there is a business need and it fits in with the rest of my life and it is not a chronic situation {chronic is a medical term that means “long lasting and on-going”}.

If I am doing 60 hours plus every week, that means I am trying to do 2 people’s job at the same time and doing both of them badly. I don’t care how great I am at doing what I do, if it is 60 hours each and every week, I’m doing it badly because I am too stressed and tired to be doing it well. Also, where is the rest of my life? I have no “rest of my life”.

If my client is asking me to do 60 hours this week and I say “no” and they sack me under the Working Time Directive waiver – that means it is not a request, it is an enforcible demand. I am their slave. Nope. Not happening. It is best all round if it is acknowledged up front before I arrive on site that the client may ask and I may well say yes – but I can say no.

I know, some of you will be reading this and saying “but I need my job and if that is what it takes, I do it”. Well, I’ve worked for 20+ years and I’ve realised that (a) there are organisations that don’t abuse you and (b) you actually get little real payback for those ridiculous hours. But it can ruin your non-work life, even your family life. I don’t need any individual job and I am bloody well not playing those games any more. Employment in a modern, democratic society is supposed to be a mutual agreement and, if is it not, I ain’t playing. That is my small win for all those years of grind and I’m insisting on it.

I know, some of you will say “look, it never comes to anything, just sign it and ignore it like the rest of us”. No. If you are right, it is a corporate lie and is not required. And, to my detriment, I know you are wrong and sometimes there is an attempt to enforce it. If you cannot get me to do the 60 hours by asking and explaining, either you do not have a valid reason {and history proves I am an utter push-over to a half-reasonable request} or there is a reason very important to me why I can’t comply. If you try and insist, you really are treating me like a slave. That empty space? That’s me having gone for a looong walk.

I am not signing a document saying “you can demand I work over 48 hours any and all weeks you like”. Your are not signing a form saying “I can demand any time off I like week in and week out”. All contracts have a clause saying “this is not working between us, we will curtail the agreement”. We will use that if need be, not a bullying document that says I am your slave.

I am not signing.

Friday Philosophy – It’s not “Why Won’t It Work!” it’s “What Don’t I Understand?” April 27, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy.
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I had a tricky performance problem to solve this week. Some SQL was running too slow to support the business need. I made the changes and additions I could see were needed to solve the problem and got the code running much faster – but it would not run faster consistently. It would run like a dream, then run slow, then run like a dream again 2 or 3 times and then run like a wounded donkey 3 or 4 times. It was very frustrating.

For many this would provoke the cry of “Why won’t it work!!!”. But I didn’t, I was crying “What don’t I understand???”. {I think I even did a bit of fist-pounding, but only quietly as my boss was sitting on the desk opposite me.}

I think I’ve always been a bit like that in respect of How Things Work”, but it has been enhanced within me by being blessed to work with or meet people for whom it is more important for them to understand why something is not working than fixing it.

I was reminded of this by a thoughtful comment in an email that one of the oaktable sent to the list. They made the comment that what they felt was common between members of the oaktable is “that we’re not interested (really) in what the solution is of most of our problems, but actually, what is the underlying issue that really causes the problem?”

It struck a real chord with me. Quite a few people I’ve come across seem to be fixated on wanting to know solutions – so that they can look knowledgeable and be “one of the best”. But that’s just stamp collecting really. It’s like one of those ‘games card’ fads that each generation of children has, where you want to collect the best cards so you can win. I never got it as a kid as there are few rules, tactics, ‘how it works’ to elucidate. What success is there in winning when it’s just down to the cards you have? {And being candid, I didn’t like them as partly as I never had the money to buy many cards and partly I was rubbish at trading them. No sales skills.}

I know the solve-it-don’t-just-fix-it position is a topic I have touched on before, but I think the attitude of trying to fix problems by understanding how it works is far more satisfying than doing so by knowing a set of solutions. You develop a deeper understanding to help solve new problems than any amount of solution-stamp-collecting ever will. However, another wise voice on the Oaktable discussion pointed out that you can be in a work environment where there is no time to investigate and you simply have to try your set of fixes and move on if you hit one that works. Your work environment can strongly influence how you work and, it some ways, the ways you think.

I bet some people are wondering what my problem at the start of this post actually was? Well, a nice technical blog about it may appear over the weekend, but the core reason for the toggling of working/not-working was partition swap. We have data coming into the system very fast. We build a new summary of the key data in one table and then swap it into active play via partition swap. On the live system, stats had not been gathered on the “swap” table we had introduced but had on the active table. So, each time the partition swapped, we went from good stats to “empty” stats or the other way around. The empty stats gave a quite, quite dreadful execution plan.

Friday Philosophy – Identifying and Nullifying Fake Urgency April 20, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Management.
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You know how it goes. You get a call/mail/text with something along the lines of “I need to know all the details of customer orders placed on Tuesday 7th by customers based in Botswana – and I need it ASAP, by end of play today at the latest”. So you skip lunch, drop that task you have been trying to get around to doing all week and work out how to resolve the issue that has just been dropped on you. It takes a lot of effort and you finally get it sorted out around an hour after you told your girlfriend/boyfriend/cat you would be leaving the office that day – and mail it off to the requestor. You might even call them to let them know it is done, but oddly they don’t answer.

Next day, you see the guy who wanted this urgent request and ask if it was what they wanted “Oh, I have not looked at it yet – but thanks for doing it.”

NO! “Thanks” does not work in this situation. I’d have more respect for this guy if he laughed at me and said “got you again, sucker”. Many of you know what I mean don’t you – if you are in a support-type-role, this can be a big part of your life.

I had a job years back that seemed to consist 90% of such tasks. I was the development DBA team leader responsible for testing, validating and promoting code to production. Everyone’s changes were Urgency Level 1, to be done as an emergency release and many could not be put in place until after 5pm. I’d be sat there at 18:30 in a massive but virtually empty office, applying changes along with one or two of my guys. Everyone else had gone home. This was not once or twice a month, it was 4 or 5 times a week. What are you to do?

Well, I came up with one tactic that seemed to work pretty well.

Anyone who asked for an emergency change had to be there, on site, available when the change was done.
There were of course cries of protest and people stated it was ridiculous that they had to be there, they were not needed, the change had been tested thoroughly {oh how I laughed at that – a thoroughly tested “emergency” change huh?}. No, I replied, you had to be there in case it went wrong as it’s your system, your data and, frankly, your emergency. If it is not urgent enough for you – the guy wanting it to be done – to be inconvenienced, well it sure as hell is not urgent enough to inconvenience me. “You can call if there are problems” – What, after you have escaped the locality? Maybe turned off your phone? And if I get you , I have to wait for you to come back in? No no no. Urgent emergency now equates to presence in office. After all, I’ll be there.

I stuck to my rule. If the requester could not be bothered to stay, I downgraded the request to “Planned” and put it through the CAB process. If the requester dumped on one of their team and made them stay, I mentally marked them half a point down and factored it in next emergency.

The change was remarkable. I was no longer in the office on my own every evening. I was not there with someone else either. I was simply not there as, when you made the emergency a little bit inconvenient to the requester, it magically stopped being an emergency.

There was another change. Less cock-ups. Seeing as these changes now went through the CAB process and slightly more testing {like, some testing} the duff changes were more likely to be detected before they caused damage. My bosses went from regarding me as “not a team player” to “Not a team player – but we kind of get your point now”.

So my advice is, if someone wants to try and make something your emergency, find some way of making sure it remains inconvenient to them. If they are willing to put up with the inconvenience, then it is a real emergency and you need to crack on with it.

Friday Philosophy – The Abuse of Favours March 30, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions, rant.
Tags: , , ,

You probably all recognise this situation:

Dave needs something doing that he can’t do himself – let’s say it is creating an API for the file management package. It isn’t your job to do but it is something you can do. Dave is blocked until the API is created.

So, being a nice person, you tell Dave you will see what you can do for him over the next couple of days.

So why is it that what Dave hears is “Dave, I love you more than life itself, I am dedicated to this task and I WILL complete it before the end of tomorrow. My other tasks, emergency production issues and the untimely demise of my cat are all secondary to this endeavour.”.

You see, 24 hours later, Dave is at your desk “When will this be done?! I’m blocked until I get this!!!”. If he’s the guy I had recently his next step is to slap his fist into his palm as he utters, almost shouts “I NEED this!”.

No. No you don’t need it. What you need is for that slap to be in your face, followed by “wake up! You don’t go shouting at the guy digging you out the hole!”.

I find this particularly unacceptable when the favour is to be fixing some mess that Dave created, or doing something Dave told his boss he had finished last week. Of course, those are the exactly situations where Dave is most likely to get upset, as he is in real trouble and most likely to commit that ultimate Favour sin:-

Dave to Boss “I Didn’t get my task done as Martin promised to create the API and he hasn’t. I’d be there now if I only did it myself”.

If you are thinking “Hmmm, I think I might have been ‘Dave’ recently” then Shame On You and go beg forgiveness. Of course, if you were ‘Dave’ you may well be the sort of sod who will twist the situation around in your head so it was not your fault anyway. Grrr, bad Dave.

For a while I gave up doing work favours as I got sick of the situation above playing out. Then I started doing favours again but being a bore about saying repeatedly, up front, that this was a favour, it was only if I had time, not to rely on me and, if it is that important, go ask someone else. Yeah, sounds really grumpy doesn’t it? That gave me a reputation for not being a Team Player (which is code for “mug”).

Now I have a rule system. As soon as someone starts getting demanding about the favour, I immediately challenge it. If they get shouty they lose their favour rights. No more favours for you until the requisite number of beers have been bought. It’s three.

Of course, you see this scene played out on help forums all the time. Initial message is nearly always in upper case text speak “PLS HLP ME, IS URGNT! CN U TELL ME HOW 2 DO MY JOB – THNX!!!” and soon degrades into helfull person asking for details of the exact person and Mr Shouty demanding more and more help. I don’t help. After all, this guy is never going to buy me a beer.

Friday Philosophy – The Inappropriate Use of Smart Phones February 24, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life, rant.
Tags: , , ,

I’m kind of expecting to get a bit of a comment-kicking over this one…

I never much liked mobile phones – Yes they are incredibly useful, yes they allow countries that lack a ground-based telephony network to create a nationwide system, yes they allow communication all the time from almost anywhere. That last point is partly why I dislike them. {Actually, I don’t like normal phones much, or how some people {like my wife} will interrupt a conversation to dash across the room to answer it. It’s just a person on the phone, it will take a message if someone wants to say something significant. If someone calls your name out in a crowd, do you abandon the people you are talking to, dash across the room and listen to them exclusively? No, so what act that way over a phone?}.

However, I hold a special level of cynical dislike for “smart” phones. Why? Because people seem to be slaves to them and they seem to use them in a very antisocial way in social and even business situations. It is no longer just speaking or texting that people do, it’s checking and sending email, it’s twittering and blogging, it’s surfing the net and looking things up. I have no problem with any of this, I do all of these things on my desktop, laptop, netbook. But I don’t do them to the detriment of people who are there in the flesh – whilst supposedly in a conversation with mates at the pub or carrying out a transaction in a shop or using the coffee machine at work or, basically, standing in the bloody way staring at a little screen or rudely ignoring people who I am supposed to be interacting with.

The below is my phone. It makes calls, it sends texts, it might even be able to work as an alarm clock (I am not sure). It does not do anything else much and it was ten quid {actually the below might be the version up from the really cheap thing I have}:

I was pondering this rude (ab)use of Smart Phones in a meeting this week. It was a meeting to discuss a program of work, what needed doing and by whom. It was a meeting where everyone in the room was involved, each person’s opinion was important and we all had a vested interest in the outcome of the meeting. So why did over half of the people not only have their Smart Phone out but were tapping away, scrolling through stuff, looking at some asinine rubbish on Facebook {yes, I saw you}? One or two people in the room might have been able to argue that they needed to keep an eye out for important emails or calls – but really? Are things so incredibly important and only you can deal with them that you can’t just play your full part in a meeting for an hour? I was so annoyed by this that I missed half the meeting internally moaning about it…

I just see it as rude. It’s saying “while you people are talking, I can’t be bothered listening and I certainly don’t need to give you my full attention. And I don’t even care that I’m making it so obvious”. Or “I am buying this item from you and we need to deal with the transaction but you are so inconsequential I don’t even have to pause this conversation about which cafe to meet in next week. You do not deserve more than 15% of my attention”.

I supposed that is what really gets my blood slowly heating up, it’s that it has become accepted to be so rude. Just walk down the street, head down and eyes fixed on your glowing little screen, making no attempt to navigate with your fellow city dwellers. I made a decision 2 {correction, 3} years ago that, if you are walking along staring at your phone and you are going to collide with me, you ARE going to collide with me if you do not become aware of me and make allowances – and I am lower down than you, I braced my shoulder and I am going to win this one. If they are so fixated on that bl00dy screen that they do not heed any attention to others, people ping off me like they’ve been thumped by a tree stump. It now happens a lot and I always “win”. I’m surprised no one has punched me yet.

If I was a manager again I would introduce a simply rule. No Smart Phone in your hand unless you have a stated reason for doing so. There are many valid reasons, which will all be related to the meeting. Otherwise you are just being disrespectful. If you feel the meeting does not apply to you or this section is not relevant, fine. Sit still and listen anyway. You might actually find it useful to know what everyone else is doing. Stop playing bl00dy mental chickens or whatever or updating your status to “bored”.

I will hold strongly to these opinions. Right up until the minute I finally buy that iphone I’ve been considering getting. I really want to be able to check my twitter account during meetings, you see.

Friday Philosophy – Tosh Talked About Technology February 17, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, future, Hardware, rant.
Tags: , ,

Sometimes I can become slightly annoyed by the silly way the media puts out total tosh and twaddle(*) that over-states the impact or drawbacks about technology (and science ( and especially medicine (and pretty much anything the media decides to talk about)))). Occasionally I get very vexed indeed.

My attention was drawn to some such thing about SSDs (solid State Discs) via a tweet by Gwen Shapira yesterday {I make no statement about her opinion in this in any way, I’m just thanking her for the tweet}. According to Computerworld

SSDs have a ‘bleak’ future, researchers say

So are SSDs somehow going to stop working or no longer be useful? No, absolutely not. Are SSDs not actually going to be more and more significant in computing over the next decade or so? No, they are and will continue to have a massive impact. What this is, is a case of a stupidly exaggerated title over not a lot. {I’m ignoring the fact that SSDs can’t have any sort of emotional future as they are not sentient and cannot perceive – the title should be something like “the future usefulness of SSDs looks bleak”}.

What the article is talking about is a reasonable little paper about how if NAND-based SSDS continue to use smaller die sizes, errors could increase and access times increase. That is, if the same technology is used in the same way and manufacturers continue to shrink die sizes. It’s something the memory technologists need to know about and perhaps find fixes for. Nothing more, nothing less.

The key argument is that by 2024 we will be using something like 6.4nm dies and at that size, the physics of it all means everything becomes a little more flaky. After all, Silicon atoms are around 0.28nm wide (most atoms of things solid at room temperature are between 0.2nm and 0.5nm wide), at that size we are building structures with things only an order of magnitude or so smaller. We have all heard of quantum effects and tunneling, which means that at such scales and below odd things can happen. So error correction becomes more significant.

But taking a reality check, is this really an issue:

  • I look at my now 4-year-old 8GB micro-USB stick (90nm die?) and it is 2*12*30mm, including packaging. The 1 TB disc on my desk next to it is 24*98*145mm. I can get 470 of those chips in the same space as the disc, so that’s 3.8TB based on now-old technology.
  • Even if the NAND materials stay the same and the SSD layout stays the same and the packaging design stays the same, we can expect about 10-50 times the current density before we hit any problems
  • The alternative of spinning platers of metal oxides is pretty much a stagnant technology now, the seek time and per-spindle data transfer rate is hardly changing. We’ve even exceeded the interface bottleneck that was kind-of hiding the non-progress of spinning disk technology

The future of SSD technology is not bleak. There are some interesting challenges ahead, but things are certainly going to continue to improve in SSD technology between now and when I hang up my keyboard. I’m particularly interested to see how the technologists can improve write times and overall throughput to something closer to SDRAM speeds.

I’m willing to lay bets that a major change is going to be in form factor, for both processing chips and memory-based storage. We don’t need smaller dies, we need lower power consumption and a way to stack the silicon slices and package them (for processing chips we also need a way to make thousands of connections between the silicon slices too). What might also work is simply wider chips, though that scales less well. What we see as chips on a circuit board is mostly the plastic wrapper. If part of that plastic wrapper was either a porous honeycomb air could move through or a heat-conducting strip, the current technology used for SSD storage could be stacked on top of each other into blocks of storage, rather then the in-effect 2D sheets we have at present.

What could really be a cause of technical issues? The bl00dy journalists and marketing. Look at digital cameras. Do you really need 12, 16 mega-pixels in your compact point-and-shoot camera? No, you don’t, you really don’t, as the optics on the thing are probably not up to the level of clarity those megapixels can theoretically give you, the lens is almost certainly not clean any more and, most significantly, the chip is using smaller and smaller areas to collect photons (the sensor is not getting bigger with more mega-pixels you know – though the sensor size is larger in proper digital SLRs which is a large part of why they are better). This less-photons-per-pixel means less sensitivity and more artefacts. What we really need is maybe staying with 8MP and more light sensitivity. But the mega-pixel count is what is used to market the camera at you and I. As a result, most people go for the higher figures and buy something technically worse, so we are all sold something worse. No one really makes domestic-market cameras where the mega-pixel count stays enough and the rest of the camera improves.

And don’t forget. IT procurement managers are just like us idiots buying compact cameras.

(*) For any readers where UK English is not a first language, “twaddle” and “tosh” both mean statements or arguments that are silly, wrong, pointless or just asinine. oh, Asinine means talk like an ass :-) {and I mean the four-legged animal, not one’s bottom, Mr Brooks}

Friday Philosophy – The Answer To Everything January 27, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy.
Tags: ,

For those of us acquainted with the philosophical works of Douglas Adams we know that the the answer to everything is 42.

mdw1123> select all knowledge from everything
  2  /


This above is a real SQL statement (version, just in case you wanted to know :-) ).

This was prompted by a silly discussion at lunch time about the answer to everything and databases and I wondered aloud how you could go about getting Oracle to respond with 42 when you “selected all from everything”. My colleagues looked at me like I was an idiot and said “create a table called everything with a column called all and select it”. Yeah, of course, and I laughed. So much for being an expert at Oracle huh?

Well, I tried. It did not work:

mdw1123> create table EVERYTHING (ALL number not null)
  2  /
create table EVERYTHING (ALL number not null)
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-00904: : invalid identifier

Damn. It’s a reserved word. But for what? Off the top of my head I could not remember what ALL is used for in Oracle select syntax. Never mind, I could get around the issue to some degree by the use of quotes around the column name (and just for fun, I made the column name lowercase too – this is how you can create lowercase columns but you have to be careful with this, as you will see below):

mdw1123> create table everything ("all" number not null)
  2  /
mdw1123> desc everything
 Name                                                              Null?    Type
 ----------------------------------------------------------------- -------- --------

 all                                                               NOT NULL NUMBER

mdw1123> insert into everything values (42)
  2  /
mdw1123> select "all" from everything
  2  /


-- but be careful of case
mdw1123> select "ALL" from everything
  2  /
select "ALL" from everything
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-00904: "ALL": invalid identifier

I was not happy with this though, I was having to put the quotes in my line and be careful about the syntax.

So, what is the word ALL used for? A quick check of the SQL reference manual:

It is the opposite of DISTINCT and the default, so we never have to put it in the statement.

With the above in mind I was able to quickly come up with something close, but not quite, what I originally asked for. See below for how.

mdw1123> create table everything (KNOWLEDGE NUMBER NOT NULL)
  2  /

mdw1123> insert into everything values (42)
  2  /

mdw1123> select all knowledge from everything
  2  /


Having said it was not quite what I had originally set out to do, I actually prefer this version.

Of course, I cleaned up after myself. It feels odd typing in commands that have an English meaning that would not be what you want to do – I could not get over the nagging feeling that the below was going to cause a lot of data to disappear :-) :

mdw1123> drop table everything purge;

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