Oracle Open World – Meet the Authors

A couple of weeks ago I was in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and departed to attend the Oracle Open World conference in San Francisco, a rather long flight. While on the plane I got a chance to see the recent movie “Iron Man 2”, which features a cameo appearance by Larry Ellison. As I was sitting on the plane, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean and bound for California, I thought “there you go, I’m sure we’ll hear about this at the Oracle conference.

 

Sure enough, as I walked into Hall D at the Moscone Center, here was the big display that remained for the entire conference just outside the keynote presentations:

 

 

And just up the escalator from the Iron Man display, Larry Ellison made sure we all got a chance to see the America’s Cup trophy he won back in February:

 

 

All very impressive. And the technical content was just as impressive.

 

 

I first started attending Oracle World conferences before they were called “Open World”, back when digit heads dominated the audience and most of the interest was in development tools. Today’s Oracle Corporation is much the same company with a dramatically broader and more comprehensive scope. Larry Ellison has dabbled in hardware in the past, and a couple of years ago Oracle began teaming with companies like HP to collaborate on some radical hardware architectures that achieved performance improvements in orders of magnitude greater than industry standards.

 

But thanks to their recent acquisition of Sun Microsystems, Oracle is in the hardware business in a more substantial manner than ever before.

 

 

All good database administrators know that data in RAM (Random Access Memory) processes much faster than data stored on a hard drive. Tuning a computer for performance has always included a step to review the management of RAM and hard drive storage of any database.

 

But in Oracle’s Exadata machines, they have taken the rather obvious step to increase RAM quite dramatically and eliminate the need for swapping information between the faster RAM and slower hard drives. I say “the rather obvious step”, but the fact is that nobody has done this before. It seems obvious in retrospect.

 

By building a machine with immensely large RAM – the latest Exadata machine revealed in September features two terabytes of RAM – Oracle has led the charge and increased benchmark speeds for database speed by orders of magnitude. It’s a brilliant move and one that has generated a rather healthy order backlog for their new Exadata machines.

 

The basic idea is to run the entire database in fast memory. It’s an obvious and brilliant move. Demand for the machines is huge and I’m sure will grow. As usual, Oracle is blazing a new trail that I’m sure industry will eventually follow.

 

 

While I was at the conference, on Wednesday, September 29, I participated in a Meet the Author event in the book store, a rather popular area at the conference. There I got a chance to meet and greet readers of Oracle Press books, and schmooze with other legendary Oracle Press / McGraw-Hill authors.

 

 

I’m in the picture above, third from the right.

 

This is definitely a great group of outstanding authors, a talented collection of Oracle professionals, and a fun and gracious group of people, I had a great time seeing old friends and colleagues and building new relationships.

Buzzword watch: Cloud Computing

I just read a post online by someone with a California police department who speaks of Google’s recent agreement with Los Angeles to bring in Google’s email platform to serve a local government office. This is described, in the post, as “cloud computing”.

Technically it is cloud computing. But this particular form of cloud computing is nothing new. Email online – through a web browser – has been around for years, since at least the mid-1990’s. The reason many people didn’t use webmail back in the early days was simple: you had to get web access to use it, and most people gained web access by paying a monthly fee to an Internet Service Provider, most of whom gave away email addresses with those monthly accounts. So who needed to also set up a free web-based account on Juno, or Hotmail?

I still remember when Microsoft acquired Hotmail in 1997, and web savvy pioneers lamented the impending doom of free browser-based email interfaces. Microsoft, the thinking went at the time, would bury Hotmail in exchange for pay-as-you-go services. Clearly that hasn’t happened.

Then there’s also the classic story about the time Microsoft didn’t pay their renewal fee to Network Solutions for a domain name associated with their implementation of Hotmail (the domain name was Passport.com), and the domain name registration expired, killing email access to a large portion of the 52 million Hotmail users. As the great behemoth of Microsoft engaged in troubleshooting, one lone technically sharp Hotmail customer named Michael Chaney figured it out and coughed up the $35 registration fee out of his own pocket with his personal credit card, reactivating Hotmail for the world. For his part in troubleshooting and repairing one of multi-billion-dollar tech giant’s flagship public products, Microsoft reimbursed Chaney with a check for $500, which he sold on ebay for much more.

BUT I DIGRESS … and that was all a long time ago.

The point is this: services such as Juno, Hotmail, and Google’s Gmail, have all been around in various forms and under various brand names for more than ten years.

They have all taken the complexity out of the problems of maintaining email servers and outsourced the management of email systems to other companies. None of them are new.

But cloud computing needs to be more than just the simple act of making software available through a browser, hosted offset by another company.

Cloud computing, by necessity, must offer comparable integration options, security, configuration, and other administrative features typically available to customers of hosted software.

In spite of the claims by even the leading vendors in the “cloud”, these capabilities are far from fully available. However, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until the day comes when outsourced online enterprise services can be provided across the web in a fully customizable, fully integrated network of ad-hoc a la carte tools, all from a secure multi-tenant managed platform. That day is inevitable.

In the meantime, don’t be taken in by old webmail systems wrapped up in 2010 packaging with newer buzzwords. Online applications have been around for a long time. I still remember working with the World Bank to set up online loan management systems through a web interface as far back as 1995 and 1996. We didn’t call it a “cloud” at the time, but that’s what it was – easy-to-use point-and-click interfaces available to users worldwide who had no need to deploy hosted applications in their own office – we managed it for them, through an easy-to-use browser interface.

That was literally over ten years ago. The concepts are not new. But the buzzwords are.

That being said, a wider understanding of it is also new. And so are efforts to establish web-based – or should I say “cloud-based” – integration efforts through customizable screens. That is the real challenge in advancing the cause of cloud computing. Once that technological hurdle is overcome, we’ll start to see real advancements in the area of cloud computing.

We Don’t Need Farms Any More, We Have Grocery Stores Now

This morning’s tech journals are carrying reports that the U.S. federal government’s chief CIO Vivek Kundra has warned U.S. federal agencies to prepare for a “data deluge” as Web 2.0 applications ramp up in usage.

But this quote got my attention: at the July 21 Open Government and Innovations Conference, Kundra reportedly stated that “‘[t]his notion of thinking about data in a structured, relational database is dead” [1]. He added “”Some of the most valuable information is going to live in video, blogs and audio, and it is going to be unstructured inherently.”

It’s true that a certain portion of multimedia is inherently unstructured. But it’s not true that the relational database is “dead”, hardly. Aren’t all of those videos, blogs, and audio stored in Web 2.0 applications that themselves are all built on a relational database management platform?

Isn’t this sort of like saying “we don’t need farms any more, we have grocery stores now” – ? Well, where does the grocery store get its food from?

Where does the Web 2.0 application store its information? How are the videos, audio recordings, and blog entries – tracked, timestamped, and identified in terms of authorship, category, popularity, rating, relevance, keyword, etc.? How are user accounts managed? How is IP traffic tracked? How is billing controlled? How is data presented to an interface? Searched? Tracked? Protected? Backed up? How is all of the information about them organized and presented?

Answer: a relational database.

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Federal Computer Week, July 22, 2009, “Kundra to agencies: Get ready for deluge

IT Acquisition Reform

There’s a great article today at DefenseLink about the need for information technology acquisition reform on behalf of the DoD. The bottom line: current IT acquisition is patterned after conventional weapons systems acquisition in ways that suited large scale industrial manufacturing, but run counter to the nature of the speedy development, adoption, and enhancements of information technology.

It’s not new to make this observation about IT acquisition. What’s new is the interest on the part of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) and the recognition by the White House that something drastic must be done quickly.

You can read the article online here.

Shock drowning at 47 years old: R.I.P. Rajeev Motwani

I just read that Rajeev Motwani was found dead Friday in the pool of his Palo Alto home. Very bizarre.

Motwani was the 47 year old Stanford professor who served as inspiration and advisor to many Silicon Valley success stories. Google co-founder Sergey Brin posted a reflection on Motwani on his blog on Friday.

Perhaps we’ll hear more as a complete report of the cause of his death becomes public.

But in the meantime, the moral I get out of this is: no matter how much fun your life might be, no matter what impact you may or may not have on the world … life is short.

Live well.

Online Technology and Journalism

Today I met with my fellow members of the National Press Club’s “Joan Friedenberg Online Journalism Awards” committee. Together we selected the results for this year’s awards categories, to be officially announced by press release from the Club, later this year.

As good as previous years’ candidates have been, this year’s submissions were even more advanced, displaying better uses of technology, more innovating ways to integrate online capabilities into the reporting process and the news consumer experience.

But as close as the competition was, the overall results were virtually unanimous. Stay tuned for the results: they’ll be announced sometime in the next several weeks.

GPS and Airliners

The US Navy this morning announced that they are joining the search for the missing Air France airliner, which disappeared off of radar early yesterday morning while en route from Brazil to Paris. The situation leaves me wondering … isn’t there global positioning satellite (GPS) capability on board these planes?

The answer is “yes” but the signals are not automatically sent to air traffic controllers – this according to Reuters in an article this morning titled “How Planes Get Lost“. [1]

The United States is working on such a system. It’s intended implementation date: 2013.

In the meantime, there still is no evidence indicating what may have happened to that particular Air France plane. As was reported this morning by Steve Huettell in the St. Petersburg Times, “If a plane crashes into the water, a homing beacon transmits an ultrasonic ping that can be picked up by sonar and underwater hydrophones. The signal carries to the surface from nearly 4 miles underwater for 30 days.” [2]

No such signal has yet to be reported.

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[1] Reuters, FACTBOX: How planes get lost, Wed Jun 3, 2009 4:32am IST, http://in.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idINIndia-40052920090602

[2] St. Petersburg Times, Air France jet’s black boxes are deep in Atlantic, June 3, 2009, Steve Huettel, http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/airlines/article1006804.ece

Oracle and Primavera


Starting this Friday (June 5, 2009), the Primavera.com website will begin autoforwarding to the Oracle corporate website. The acquisition by Oracle Corporation of Primavera is another in a long line of acquisitions by Oracle, and a worthy one for the software giant. Primavera software is a respected project management software platform with better built-in support for Earned Value Management that Microsoft Project or other systems.  Not that EVM can’t be done in the other systems, but Primavera has handled it for quite some time now with built-in functionality, making it a recognized leader in the field of EVM systems. With increased budget pressures and a greater need for project managers to integrate demonstrable results that track directly to the bottom line, EVM is an increasingly important element of project management. And now that Primavera is within the Oracle family, perhaps we can look forward to better integration with the growing legion of Applications within the Oracle universe.

Cyber Czar: Long Overdue

Friday’s announcement by President Obama concerning his appointment of a national director for cyber security is appropriate. But it would be a mistake to assume that this new announcement from the White House somehow implies that nobody in the federal government has been concerned with cyber security. On the contrary, several organizations have engaged in various forms of cyber defensive maneuvers and more. It’s this splintering of responsibility that makes the President’s announcement very welcome and intriguing.

Less than a year ago, I attended a briefing presented by USAF Major General William Lord, commander of the provisional Air Force Cyber Command. His presentation was bold and visionary, declaring the international networks to be a battlefield comparable to any other, in which battles were fought and real casualties realized. The conclusion was a bold plan for establish a comprehensive approach to establishing a clear military presence in cyber space. In doing this, Maj. Gen. Lord declared the USAF to be the leader of this charge.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM LORDS

The presentation was impressive. And the Air Force commitment is consistent, and at the highest levels. In April, 2009, a new course titled “Cyberspace Operations Executive Course” was made available at Maxwell Air Force Base, for three- and four-star generals. And in May of this year, Gen. Lord was promoted to be the new CIO for the USAF, replacing Lt. Gen. William Shelton. With the CIO title, Lord has also been nominated for the new rank of Lt. General. Elevating Lord to CIO underscores the significance of the role that cyber security will play in the USAF going forward.
Meanwhile, however, NSA has been very busy. There’s an interesting statement released at the NSA website’s official news section, by Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, Commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Network Warfare, and reportedly slated to lead the military’s efforts under President Obama’s new cyber security initiatives. In that statement, Lt. Gen. Alexander reports that USSTRATCOM has moved the Joint Task Force – Global Network Operations (JTF-GNO) under Alexander’s authority.
His statement goes on to state that “DoD is considering the establishment of a new sub-unified command for Cyber, under USSTRATCOM, that would be headquartered at Fort Meade.”
It’s worth noting that DISA is already scheduled to relocate to Fort Meade in 2010.
This convergence of organizations is timely and critical to the future operations that will work to protect the nation’s cyber resources.