Tuesday, September 27, 2005

OOW2K5: The wrap up

It's oh so nice to go travellin'
But it's so much nicer, yes it's so much nicer to come home

Sinatra sang that. Going to OpenWorld this year was great but it meant I missed my son starting reception class (kindergarten). Fortunately I did get back in time to collect Fred at the end of his first full day: his smile when he saw me is obviously the thing that I will treasure most from the week.

Anyway, Oracle Open World 2005. Now that I am back at work what have I been telling people about the trip?


Thirty-five thousand attendees. That's a small town. It's partly a sign of Oracle's success as a product but also an artifact of the major acquisitions over the last twelve months. There were large contingents of JD Edwards and PeopleSoft customers attending OOW for the first time, obviously trying to get a handle on the nature of this Oracle beast. It will be interesting to see if they attend OOW2K6 in such large numbers. At times the sheer number of attendees was imposing. Yet the conference organisation coped. There was enough food, water, coffee for everybody. Most of the time the queues were not excessive (except at Starbucks in the morning) and usually people got into to their session of first choice. The conference scaled well. It must run on Grid. Speaking of which...

Oracle's Commitment to the Grid Architecture

Probably the single most impressive fact I learned this year was the nature of Oracle's own enterprise set-up: a multi-node cluster of 288 CPUs with a BI layer running against the OLTP layer on the same instance. (By contrast, when 10g was launched at OpenWorld two years ago the reference site for the grid architecture was EA's The Sims Online with eighteen CPUs.) But it's more than just resilience. Grid architecture is becoming a key enabling technology for Oracle. Benefits of implementing the grid cropped up in sessions I attended on security, data warehouse architecture and efficient data loading. Oracle have not quite cracked the manageability angle, there is still an administrative overhead to running a grid. But once it becomes possible for us to treat a grid as if it were a single box then any barrier to take-up should disappear.

Oracle's Commitment to the Open Standards

Project Fusion was the key message of the conference: turning the entire technology stack, from database to portal, into a single suite of integrated, hot pluggable components. The integrated bit is obvious. Of course all the products from a single vendor ought to play nice with each other. The interesting bit is their commitment to open standards, such that we can swap any part of the suite for a similarly compliant product from A N Other vendor. So Oracle is going to certify its E-Business Suite against JBoss and WebSphere. They are even contemplating certification against IBM's DB2 database, although this will depend largely on the attitude of the PeopleSoft and JD Edwards customers towards database flavour. Also openness requires there to be other vendors with standards compliant software, otherwise it's just another form of vendor lock-in.

Utility Computing Revisited

Oracle have gone a bit quiet on this front but Sun seems to be going for it in a big way. It's not going to be long before get a site to host your business app will be a simple as filling in a form of six checkboxes and uploading an RPM.

Data Vault

Currently this product is in Beta but it was the most interesting announcement of the week. Essentially it answers the question, "How can I stop my DBA getting access to my customers' credit card numbers?" With Data Vault we will no longer hust have to trust the integrity of our DBAs. It is a set of packages and practices that separates user management from security policy from system administration. So for instance we will be able to enforce different levels of access in local and remote databases for the same user account created with the same system privileges. We could prevent the DBA from querying any table with sensitive business data despite her possession of the SELECT ANY TABLE privilege. We will be able to prevent anybody issuing DDL commands during business hours. Data Vault will feature a robust audit function impervious to tampering by even a DBA. Of course, it will not be bulletproof, but working around Data Vault should require collusion between at least two and probably three people, which is (we hope) much less likely than a rogue individual.

Steven Feuerstein

Can you believe it's ten years since O'Reilly first published PL/SQL Programming? Me neither. Now that the book weighs in at 1198 pages maybe it's time to same goodbye to the ants on the cover in favour of something of a more suitable scale, such as a (stunned) water buffalo.


It was nice to meet up with some other ACEs, to put faces and accents (hi Laurent!) to the names. I have a pretty good Namedrop Quotient at the moment.

Oracle seem to have improved the community side of things since two years ago. I attended a couple of get-togethers with a good mix of Oracle and non-Oracle people, and I am sure there were other similar events to which I didn't get invited. The hot technologies in the modern world are those were people can contibute rather than be passive consumers. People feel differently about Java or Python than they do about VB. Participation is the key to a thriving community. By opening up OTN to non-Oracle writers and acknowledging the contribution of non-employees Oracle is moving in the right direction. Although I think it'll be a long time before we're downloading the new version of PL/SQL from SourceForge. Which brings me to...

Badge of the Conference

A freebie from Apress with the slogan, "Life would be so much easier if we just had the source code." Which is very true when you think about it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

OOW2K5: Running out of steam

Boy these are long days. I seem to be getting more jetlagged not less.

Anyway, did you get to see Larry? At 1:00pm the queue literally stretched round the block. (I am not obsessed with queues, honest.) Anyway I decided not to join the end of the queue and get sunstroke so I headed up to floor 3 in Moscone West to get backache instead. I do think it was the right decision: there was no durm und strang before Larry came on stage and to be frank remarkably little once he did appear. Of course it didn't help that poor TV reception made him sound like Ken Godwin out of the Wheeltappers And Shunters' Social Club. He seemed mortal rather than a colossus bestriding the database world. Flourishing his glasses was a nice touch.

There were no fresh announcements. Pretty much everything Ellison said had already been announced, mainly by Charles Philips on Monday. There was only one joke, a dig at Microsoft. The most interesting thing is how long the Q&A section went on for, overrunning by so much that the sessions after the scheduled break were delayed. Larry obviously relaxed once he'd got all the messages out of the way and could just be spontaneous. Unfortunately I missed most of the questions as my back was giving me gyp. But apparently the ridicule in the media about the multi-core licencing model has struck home, and a new licencing approach is on its way. That is, yet another licencing model is on its way. Is YALM a word? It ought to be.

That's it for me for 2005. This particular thirsty bear is off to Steven Feuerstein's party. Cheers.

OOW2K5: Breakfast In America

At the bloggers dinner last night Mark Rittman was commenting on the breakfasts provided in the conference centre. They are called "continental breakfasts" but really they are just cakes and coffee. Mark was saying that the resultant sugar rush makes a good hangover cure (being an abstemious sort of fellow I couldn't possibly comment) but, if supplemented by Coca Cola and Skittles, it also enlives even the dullest of presentations. Well, the organisers must have known the Oracle Bloggers would be in need of a tonic this morning because they've laid on a spread of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, that deep-fried, sugar-coated heart attack in toroidal form. Yummy. Can't stop, must dash!

OOW2K5: Queueing Theory

The large number of attendees is really starting to bite. Queueing, not Total Integration or Project Fusion, is the dominant theme of the conference. Whenever two or three delegates gather together they will discuss the queue for a particular session or lunch or the toilet. The queue to get into Tom Kyte's presentation yesterday morning was so long that even Mark Rittman, ACE of the Year and Oracle Goldster, was unable to blag his way in. The English have a reputation for queueing, but these days it's undeserved. The queues here are really orderly, self-policed single files. The normal English bus stop "queue" is just a bundle waiting for the arrival of a bus to trigger it.

There have been rumours that the Conference might move to somewhere bigger, like Las Vegas, but this seems unlikely to me. Moving events of this magnitude makes turning an oil tanker look like spinning on a penny. In 1995 I got into conversation with a couple of events organisers in a Covent Garden bar. Naturally the talk turned to our plans for the millenium. That was the near future to them: they already knew what they would be doing in 2005. Living ten years in the future must be a very odd way to be, a bit like Philip K Dick's "The World That Jones Made". Another idea that has been mooted by a couple of people now is that the conference could be split into or even three separate events. But it seems to me that if the key message is Total Integration of the entire stack from storage technonolgy through applications to the portal then dis-integrating the conference is sending the wrong message. But let's face it, queues are a nice problem to have. They are a sign of success. It would be a lot worse if the conference was just lonely tumbleweeds blowing the Moscone Centre.

The queue for Scott McNealy's keynote started more than forty-five minutes before his keynote was scheduled to start; the keynote, and that was only supposed to last forty-five minutes. Lucky I brought a good book.

So was Scott worth the rock star treatment? Hmmm, not really. As keynotes by CEOs go he is entertaining. But he telegraphs his punches: if the Powerpoint throws up a picture of Larry you know a joke about expensive suits is coming. And the announcements are a bit underwhelming too. Scott talked about, "Let's have an iPod moment!" But Sunfire X64 4+ is not an iPod moment. If hardware floats your boat then okay. But Sun launching a new server is hardly as radical a change of direction as Apple moving into consumer electronics. Even if that server can run Windows. Still, because of the commitment to "planet-sensitive computing" I think we can say it is a Mini iPod in pastel green moment ;)

The most interesting part of Scott's keynote was the emphasis on zero cost of exit. Give away your software to the Open Source community, keep to open standards and compete on your ability to support your own servers. This is an interesting business model, the apparently exact opposite of vendor lock-in. Of course, being able to leave Sun easily is only half the problem for a CIO. If the competitors are all have lots of proprietary, closed products then where else do you go to avoid being locked-in? Smart.

I went to Dr Paul Dorsey's presentation on "Data Modelling with UML" genuinely expecting a How-To. Silly of me, I really ought to read the abstracts. What we got was a broadside against Oracle for abandoning Designer in favour of JDeveloper. Dr Dorsey is smart, articulate and boy is he ticked off. Paul is the first to state that JDeveloper is a first-class tool for developers. His name remains on the JDeveloper 10g Handbook after all. It's just not a tool for database architects. His frustration is evident and understandable. Apart from anything else, the market for JDeveloper is a small one. The tool is competing against Eclipse. A whole bunch of Java coders will never look at JDeveloper simply because it has the Oracle brand. A whole bunch more won't look at it because they think RDBMS is a dumb idea. And JDeveloper panders to this mindset by allowing Java developers to treat tables as just somewhere to persist objects. Paul was fair, he blasted Rational Rose for exactly the same things.

The key thing is that the same class model must generate the Java objects, the relational tables and the mapping between them. Just as Dr Dorsey started to talk about the only tool around that can do this, the BRIM product he has been refining for years, the battery in his laptop went. Was this sabotage by a black bag special ops team from the JDeveloper group? Who can say? I'm sure Steve Muench has an alibi.

In the evening I went to the Oracle Bloggers dinner organised by Mark Rittman. I'm sure everybody else will blog about it so I won't bother to say much. I was a bit fazed by the barman asking which vodka I wanted in my vodka martini. Er, you know, vodka. Tom queried my choice of a vodka martini, gesturing with his own glass and saying, "It's all about the gin". To which I should have replied (but didn't), "No Tom, it's all about the data".

By the way, am I the only person wondering why the Women In Technology International stand is being manned by a man?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

OOW2K5: The numbers game

In his keynote yesterday Charles Philips said there were 35 000 attendees at the conference this year and it certainly feels like that. Particularly at the crossroads when we're interchanging between Moscone West and Moscone South; it's not quite Shibuya but it's not far off.

Yesterday I finally got to see Steven Feuerstein (Whom God Preserve) in action. It's 10 years since O'Reilly published the first edition of PL/SQL Programming, which made me feel very old as I bought that version. In fact I was the first kid on my block to have it. Afterwards I decided the time had come to upgrade at the Conference bookshop; I indulged the fan in me and asked Steven to autograph it. Today I court hubris by appearing at the OTN "Meet the Experts" session with Steven and Bryn Llewellyn (PL/SQL product manager). I think we ought to call it, You don't have to be bald to code PL/SQL but it helps. If you're reading this before 10:30am Tuesday 20, come along to the OTN Lounge in Moscone West.

I went to see Kent Graziano's presentation because the title seemed like a Zen paradox: Agile Methods and Data Warehousing. The Agile crowd (Scott Ambler notwithstanding) seem to have a strong antipathy towards databases of any sort so it's not surprising that Kent has had some stick from them over his interpretation of Agile practices. However I think his position is correct. As I have said elsewhere a lot of XP methods are very sensible and can deliver results. So what is wrong with refactoring the definitions to fit different sorts of projects. Agile practioners stress the importance of customer input but they only regard business people as customers. But what is wrong with saying that a BI Report programmer is a customer for an ETL process? Anyway, Kent's presentation has certainly given me some hope that it is possible to apply Agile methods even to apparently glacier-like projects such as datawarehouses.

Juan Loaiza's talk on the future of IT and databases turned out to be a discussion of Oracle's strategy for the next few years. The key messages are Total Integration, Agile Resilience and Unlimited, Unbreakable Platform. Not surprisingly the key technology is the Grid. Oracle have really pressed ahead with this: having grid-enabled the app server and the database they are now working on extending the grid to the storage layer. Fortunately for the SAN manufacturers none of the other database vendors seem to be following Oracle down the database grid road. Oracle's own E-Business suite is run on a single multi-node cluster with 288 CPUs. Of course they need all that crunch because they're running their BI and analytical programs in the same database as the OLTP applications. Now that's eating your own dogfood.

In the evening I tried to enhance my geek factor by attending the Linux Installfest. However, I'm afraid I bailed out when the kernel guys started and went in search of wine. Sorry, Todd. I resisted Laurent Schneider's urging to take the DBA Hot Seat test. This turned out to be a wise decision. I haven't really been a DBA since 8i and as most of the questions seemed to be about 10g features (especially Flashback and ASM) I would have ended up with only a promo T-Shirt, of which I have enough already.

Mind you, walking back to the hotel I could have done with a slogan T-Shirt. The sidewalks were pretty empty apart from the people sleeping on them. The slogan? "I'm not a criminal, I'm walking because I'm English".

Monday, September 19, 2005

OOW2K5: "Information Matters"

The warmup to Charles Philip's entrance was some lovely Flash animation with a modish soundtrack of (primarily British) pop rock. U2's "Beautiful Day" consolidated its position as the acme of corporate cool. First New Labour, now Oracle. Tranc techno remains the manadatory choice for soundtracking the videos.

The animation included some interesting phrases - "Information Matters", "Adaptable Process", "Information Driven". My personal favourite is "Execute With Insight"; h I can this see replacing "Terminate with extreme prejudice" amongst a certain sort of geek. Well, me at least. They also included a lovely quote from Ihop Corp endorsing the Data Hub: "we know how to sell more pancakes to our customers", which I think is a message we can all get behind.

Charles Philip's keynote was focused on Project Fusion and Oracle Fusion Architecture. It will be interesting to see whether this amounts to more than a marketing exercise in rebranding but it definitely sounds like Oracle is committed to building a complete technology stack that is both a fully integrated set of modules and a fully open framework in which any individual component can be substituted for another vendor's product. This will be an impressive one if they manage to pull it off.

I'm particularly intrigued to know how Oracle intends to implement all its apps as web services without the XML wrappers killing the performance of the suites. I know Microsoft's approach will be to use proprietary compilation of SOA calls to get the necessary performance. It can do so because it owns the OS and there are enough wholly Microsoft shops for this to be a viable strategy. Oracle can't do the same because they need to remain cross-platform, they don't own any OS and they have this tricky commitment to open standards to live up to. In the meantime, be the first on your block to describe yourself as "Hot-Pluggable!"

OOW2K5: Having an ACE time!

It's good to be back in San Francisco attending Oracle Open World 2005, as an ACE. Last time was in 2003 in the days when the ACE program was the OTN Community Award.

This time I'm staying in the Ramada Downtown, a motel so obscure that the cab driver had never heard of it. On the Ramada website it is described as "quaint". Finally I know what Americans mean by the word "quaint": it means just like in the movies. Americans call a sleepy English village quaint because it looks like something out of a Harry Potter film. My hotel is quaint because it looks like the set of an Elmore Leonard adaptation.

It doesn't have room service, just a leaflet for the local pizza delivery place. This is called Extreme Pizza, which is probably the only XP I think we can all agree on. Actually the Ramada is not at all bad. It's just it's so far out the lamp-posts have DB2 banners. Still on a clear day you can see the Marriott Intercontinental (where I got to stay in 2003).

I spent Sunday not being as jet-lagged as I was expecting. In the evening there was a dinner for the ACEs and the Oracle Magazine Editor's Choice Award winners. I got invited twice, as an ACE and a member of the magazine Editorial Board, but only had the one dinner. I did ask Kent Graziano if he was John Spencer, which was (I think) my only bloomer of the evening. Tom Kyte was on my table; at one point he used the word fricking, and he meant it. Tom and Ken Jacobs had a classic contest, matching error messages to the numbers. Tom on the role of the database in modern computing: applications come and go, only the data remains". I also learnt that Ken Jacobs is called Dr DBA after a presentation he did which was based on a television show; it turnes out to be Frasier and not Dr. Ruth (which was my guess).

I also met Mark Rittman, who is the ACE of the Year. He was remarkably coherent for a bad who spent the aftewrnoon in the pub. When I last met him it was in Birmingham, England; he had only just won the OTN Community Award and admired my OTN Expert fleece. I think he's been lobbying OTN to get to SF ever since.

Monday, September 12, 2005

BCS SPA Meeting

I read Kent Beck's Extreme Programming Explained in 2000, and it really fired me up. Project manager after project manager looked aghast as I raved, "The software is the design". Colleagues looked shifty when I mentione Pair Programming (I wear a beard, so I knew it wasn't my aftershave). Consequently I've never actually done any XP. However, I am Test Infected: I think Test First coding is the single most useful programming technique in my arsenal.

So it was mainly out of academic interest that I attended this month's BCS SPA session to hear Rachel Davies present an overview of the second edition of "eXtreme Programming Explained". There's been some re-arrangement of the furniture - the XP principles are now explained in a mind-map rather than that confused network diagram, some of the practices have been re-named - but there doesn't seem to be that much that's new.

The only new practice is something called the Informative Workspace, which is basically a visual plan of the project's progress, perhaps implemented as Stories on index cards pinned to the wall. Anybody who is interested can immediately see what the project has achieved and what is yet to be done simply by walking into the project room and looking at the wall. This is another example of the use of low tech in our high tech industry; like using the Hipster PDA instead of a Palm Pilot, the Informative Workspace works precisely because it isn't a computer-oriented approach. After all, whose first action on receiving the latest version of their project's plan in MS Project isn't to print it? Even though it comes out in an eye-wateringly small font (despite printing on A3).

There are some refinements. Simple Design and Refactoring have been amalagmated into a single practice, Incremental Design. Metaphor has been dropped, because hardly anybody used it. Some of the wackier names and concepts (Velocity, the Planning Game) have been renamed to make them more generally acceptable.

In fact, the main thrust seems to be towards making XP less, well, less extreme. The practices are graded into Core and Corollary sets. The practices are optional, in that we can now be doing XP even if we are not using all ten core practices. It's a bit like when SSADM version 4 came out: we can now tailor the method to the needs of our current project. Although I suspect we can't be XP if we're not doing Test First Coding, Pair Programming and Incremental Design.

There is a greater emphasis on continuous validation of the built software. We should always be ready to ship. So, not only are we supposed to test all the time but we are exhorted to do continuous integration all the time. Consequently the automated build and automated integration tests need to run in less than ten minutes. Daily builds have been replaced by Daily Deployments. That's right, into production with new code every day! To me this suggests that Kent Beck hasn't had much experience of dealing with FM-ed shops, where the change control process generally takes four-to-six weeks. In fact XP is still aimed at very small projects. Apparently there is a chapter on scaling XP to large projects but it basically consists of splitting one large project into many small projects, which doesn't seem like a satisfactory solution.

Down the pub afterwards someone remarked that lots of XP is simply obvious good practice and the rest is very dubious. Of course everybody thinks that about XP; if only we could get everybody to agree on which fifty percent of the practices are common sense and which are pants we'd be laughing. My colleague Paul O'Connell reckoned that XP is the product of an industry which has too many programmers and not enough engineers. So I held up my hands as an historian and we had an interesting discussion about the impact of feudalism on Japanese society.

By the way, given that XP is so keen on Pair Programming how come Kent Beck is the sole author of the book?