Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Niagara vs Intel: Round #1

Sun have just published a benchmark comparing the performance Oracle 10g on one of their CoolThreads servers against a four-way Xeon server running Linux. The benchmark is the iGEN-OLTP benchmark. This is significant: when I attended a Sun presentation on the new Niagara chips earlier this year CoolThreads was positioned for calculation intensive applications, web servers, etc. rather than data intensive applications.

The headline result?

When running the Oracle database 10g, the Sun Fire T2000 CoolThreads server outperformed an equivalent 4-
way Dell PowerEdge server equipped with the latest 64 bit Intel Xeon processors by over 3.5x, while
consuming 1.6x less power and occupying 50% of the data center space. It was able to do this while achieving
a 3x better price / performance ratio.

One interesting difference is that the PowerEdge install was Standard Edition (four CPUs) but the Sunfire had to have the Enterprise Edition, because the Niagara chip counts as eight CPUs. Of course, through the magic of Oracle licencing policy for Niagra chips we only pay two per processor licences. This means the price differential between running SE on PowerEdge and EE on SunFire is marginal ($65,000 and $80,000 respectively). Of course, if the application needed to use Enterprise Edition functionality the price of the PowerEdge installation would increase dramatically. As it is, the cost of the hardware represents only a quarter of the total cost in both cases.

So, an intriguing benchmark. If only because it offers sites one way to move up from Standard Edition to Enterprise Edition on the cheap.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

India enforces a Blogspot blackout

The Indian government is blocking access to blog sites, apparently because terrorists use blogs to communicate. As somebody commented on Boing Boing,

Not only is this useless (because the terrorists can simply use proxies), it's akin to shutting off the country's telephone service because terrorists talk to each other through phones.

In the short term the blog-out is just incovenient for people. I helped one OTN forum user this morning by reproducing an entry from Scott Spendolini's blog (crucial to the success of their project apparently). But we cannot do this for everybody. The Boing Boing article includes a site with some workarounds. Unfortunately (like this blog) it's on Blogspot and so is useless to anybody whose ISP has already blocked their access.

In the long run, we can all agree the Mumbai bomb was horrific. Of course governments need to take measures to apprehend terrorists and prevent further carnage. The question the Indian government ought to be pondering is, will restricting access to the internet, by hobbling its tigerish software industry, end up doing more damage to the Indian economy, for no discernible return?

Update: 20-JUL-2006

According to Shivam Vij at Rediff this measure was actually aimed at suppressing individual sites which promote religious intolerance. The fact that it was applied wholesale to blog domains is due to a misunderstanding on the part of the ISPs. Consequently the blockade should be lifted soon. We shall see.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Preparing for Open World 2006

I am going to San Francisco this year, courtesy of OTN's complementary Open World passes for ACEs. Fortunately my Technical Director has agreed to authorise the expenses, which are coming out of a marketing bucket - so expect to see me in an LCMG polo shirt :) I'm joining Mark Rittman and Tim Hall in the Brit enclave in the King George Hotel, which sounds rather interesting. Apparently they do afternoon tea in the English manner. With luck this means BOP in a pot and not a teabag in a chipped mug.

However, I won't just be swanning around SF: I'm speaking too. OOW has accepted my abstract on developing PL/SQL with automated unit tests. To be honest I wasn't expecting this, as my submission was a last minute impulse. I had had some nice feedback from the presentation I did on utPLSQL at the UKOUG DE SIG last month, so I thought, what the heck. A good call, as it turns out. Apart from anything else, the best way to defuse co-workers' accusations of going on a jolly is a rejoinder of, "I'm presenting, actually".

I have mixed feelings about my third OOW. San Francisco is a cool place and I'm really looking forward to going back there again. It will also be nice to meet up with some of my fellow ACEs in meatspace rather than the forums. I hope the OTN area has a prime location this year. But the scale of the OOW2K6 enterprise is daunting. Indeed, 41,000 delegates is a scary prospect. There are towns smaller than that. It will be interesting to see how the facilities cope. Last year was bad enough. Between sessions the corridors of the Moscone centre were filled migrating geeks. The queue for Larry's keynote was already outside the building an hour before he was due to start talking. And that was a mere 29,000 delegates.

This year I foresee Soviet-era length queues for everything: Starbucks' coffee, internet access, the toilets. This is where jetlag gives us Europeans an edge: we're up and wanting to check our e-mail whilst the natives are still asleep. A good strategy for a successful conference will be to figure out where everybody is heading and go some place else. Avoid the queues by choosing minority-interest sessions. Face it, you're not going to get into any of Tom Kyte's presentations unless you take a sleeping bag and camp out in the foyer overnight. So come and hear me talk instead.

Friday, July 07, 2006

On becoming an ACE

Someone in the OTN forums wants to know whether they can nominate themselves to be an ACE. Quite recently one of my Dutch colleagues asked if I could advise them how to become an ACE. The answers to both questions is "No". I stumbled into ACE-hood. I was one of six charter winners of the OTN Community Awards (later rebadged as the ACE program) back in 2003. Five out of the original six people were nominated by OTN for participation in the OTN forums. Now there are many ways to become an ACE.

You could maintain a compelling blog like Mark Rittman. You could single-handedly create a tradition of best practice in PL/SQL programming like Steven Feuerstein. You could become the leading expert in installing Oracle on Linux like Werner Puschitz. You could run an excellent community website, give deep answers to questions on Oracle listservers and write a book on the Cost-Based Optimizer like Jonathan Lewis. Being an OCM didn't do Laurent Schneider any harm. Or, of course, you could just be as knowledgeable, dedicated and evangelical as Tom Kyte.

In that light, becoming an ACE for just answering questions in the OTN forums looks like the easy option. And it is. All that is required is patience with newbies, time to read and research questions, a basic level of writing ability and a willingness to engage across a variety of topics. Enthusiasm for good programming and administration is important. A sense of humour can be useful (but also dangerous: not everybody will get the joke). It also helps to know what you're talking about although I've never let this hold me back ;) For what it's worth I wrote on how to be a good guru some time ago.

In the end, you can't set out to become an ACE. It's something that happens to you along the way, a sign that somebody else has spotted your efforts and deemed them worthy of merit. Nor should you bother to try to become an ACE. If the activity is not meaningful to you irrespective of ACE-hood then you probably won't make the grade anyway. The perks are not that great (a complementary pass to Oracle Open World but meet your own expenses and that cool ACE logo whenever you post in the Forums). But the recognition is priceless. In this respect it's not unlike a janitor in the MoD being given the MBE for thirty-five years of service (i.e. cleaning toilets).

The bar has certainly been raised since I was nominated. If I look at some of the people who are now ACEs I think I must have walked into the wrong club. But I am an ACE too and I've got the sweatshirt to prove it.

Motorhead's Ace of Spades LP