Eye on Oracle


November 29, 2007  4:37 PM

Mitigating risk in application implementations

Derek Kuhr Derek Kuhr Profile: Derek Kuhr

The topic of mitigating risk in application implementations has sparked my interest lately. And at Oracle OpenWorld 2007 a couple of weeks ago, I was really looking forward to one session which featured a DirectTV honcho addressing how the well-known satellite TV provider mitigated risk during Siebel implementations and upgrades. 

Unfortunately, the session turned out to be pretty disappointing. I went in there expecting to hear some straightforward tips about specific things a company can do to keep bad things from happening. But what I essentially got was an hour-long commercial for Oracle’s Advanced Customer Services (ACS) division with DirectTV serving as a reference customer. ACS is made up of a few groups of Oracle consultants who help Oracle customers mitigate risk.

There were, however, a few nuggets of good advice in there peppered between praise over how great Oracle’s ACS consultants are and why everyone should be happy to pay for their services.

And so, without further ado, here are some risk mitigation tidbits to keep in mind when conducting a new software implementation or upgrade:

Remember that it’s not always the technology

People tend to think that when implementations go wrong, it must have something to do with the technology. But surprisingly, said Michele Corvino, an Oracle ACS product manager, that usually is not the case.

According to Corvino, Oracle conducted a study of its customer base and found that when application implementations fail, technology is to blame only about 20% of the time.

More often than not, she said, implementation failures are caused by problem with people, problems with processes, or both.

On the people front there are several things to keep in mind related to poor strategy, lack of governance, lack of executive sponsorship, incorrect training of personnel, having the wrong people involved, and not communicating properly about changes that are coming down the line.

Processes need to be inventoried before any new implementation or upgrade as well, because if you have a bad process someplace, you don’t want it carried over when the new technology goes live.

“If you don’t fix the process before your implementation,” Corvino said, “what you’re going to end to end up with is a bad implementation.”

Keep track of customizations

When planning to upgrade a highly customized application, you’ve got to figure out which of those customizations will be kosher in the new version of the software and which ones won’t.

Also, while some customizations may technically work following the upgrade, you still have to ask yourself whether they’ll still have the ability to scale and perform over time, said Steve Jines, DirectTV’s director of development for Siebel applications.

It’s important to conduct a major code review prior to any upgrade and then come up with “valid performance tests that truly represent what happens in the production environment,” he said.

Set up protocols to deal with unplanned downtime

DirectTV runs Siebel’s field service and call center software and with so many users online and so much transaction volume going on, any downtime is considered to be a huge expense, according to Jines.

That’s why Jines thinks it’s a good idea to make sure you have proper protocols in place to identify problems that cause outages.

One piece of advice to remember along these lines: In the event of an outage, make sure at least one person is assigned to examine all of the log files in order to identify the problem.

“Our first priority is to get the system back online,” Jines said.

Well, that’s about all but there’s no reason for the conversation to end here Let us know how your firm mitigates risk in new software implementations by posting your comments. Let’s get a real laundry list of risk mitigation tips going.

Have a nice weekend, all. I’m off to Flordia for vacation. Gonna go see the Mouse.

— Mark

November 28, 2007  12:17 PM

Oracle takes Database 11g into the ’scale-out’ era

Derek Kuhr Derek Kuhr Profile: Derek Kuhr

One of the more interesting sessions I attended at Oracle OpenWorld centered on the high availability aspects of the latest version of Oracle’s flagship, Database 11g.

According to Juan Loaiza, Oracle’s senior vice president in charge of availability, database management technology has come a long way in terms of being able to offer mainframe-like availability on low-cost servers such as blades.

“A lot of what’s going on is we’re trying to move availability onto what we call the scale-out era,” Loaiza told session attendees. He added that the characteristics of the scale-out era include “commodity building blocks, inherent scaling and redundancy.”

Loaiza said that because of their failover capabilities, Oracle Real Application Clusters are the key to avoiding unplanned downtime caused by server failures.

And in the event of storage failure, Loaiza said Database 11g fine tunes recovery from corrupt blocks and crashed storage arrays. A key aspect of 11g in this area is Automatic Storage Management, which mirrors data, he said.

If the downtime is caused by human error, he said, there’s a good chance that Database 11g’s flashback technologies can help. For example, Flashback Database can “move an entire database back in time” while Flashback Data Archive can automatically store all changes to selected tables in an archive that cannot be modified.

“We architected this so it could flashback against an unlimited amount of time.”

From the sounds of this session, it appears that Oracle is on top of its availability game, but I wonder if DBAs would agree with that. Is Oracle really doing all it can on the availability front? Or are there more features or technologies that you’d like to see added to the system? Post your comments here and we’ll likely contact you for an upcoming news story on the subjects.

— Mark


November 26, 2007  12:16 PM

Server virtualization: Buzzworthy?

Derek Kuhr Ken Cline Profile: Clinek

Of all the announcements and marketing-speak at OpenWorld recently, the release of Oracle VM seems to be generating some real buzz. But is the technology worthy of all the attention?

Oracle describes VM like this:

Consisting of open source server software and an integrated Web browser-based management console, Oracle VM provides an easy-to-use, rich, graphical interface for creating and managing virtual server pools, running on x86 and x86-64-based systems, across an enterprise.

Users can create and manage Virtual Machines (VMs) that exist on the same physical server but behave like independent physical servers. Each virtual machine created with Oracle VM has its own virtual CPUs, network interfaces, storage and operating system. With Oracle VM, users have an easy-to-use browser-based tool for creating, cloning, sharing, configuring, booting and migrating VMs.

Here’s a sampling of what bloggers think of the new product:

  • Mark Rittman: VM “certainly looks very interesting, although the need to install it on a separate, no-OS server and manage it from another will probably stop most of us downloading it tomorrow and giving it a spin on our laptops.”
  • Tom Kyte: “So, what was the biggest surprise news so far? Oracle VM. I’m a huge fan of virtualization — have been for a long time. This is going to be cool.”
  • Tim Hall concurs: “It sounds cool.”

Coolness aside, there is some dissent, of course. Case in point:

  • Christian Mohn: “Finally Oracle is recognizing that their customers want and deploy virtualization solutions, but bringing “Yet Another Xen” (YAX) solution to the market seems to me to be a bit strange. How many do we have now? 5? 6? In addition, refusing to offer support for other virtualization products like VMware ESX server seems like a bad move.”
  • Tarry Singh: “People should not forget this: Oracle doesn’t care about “generic” virtualization. They are only concerned about their own Oracle RAC and Grid project. This gives Oracle a platform to build its grid upon.”
  • Chuck Hollis: “[After the announcement], I went from being curious, to being amused, to being downright disappointed. . . . Broadly speaking, I think many parts of the IT industry has figured out what they’re going to do with virtualization. They realize it’s a big deal that means a lot to their customers, and changes all manner of things going forward. Unfortunately, I don’t think Oracle is one of them. Yet.”

What’s your take on Oracle’s virtualization initiatives? Is it just “warmed-over Xen” or the right product at the right time? What about server virtualization in general? Do you agree with Chuck Hollis, who writes: “Most everyone realizes that virtualization of IT is one of those once-in-a-career, gee-this-changes-everything types of technologies”? I’d be very interested in your thoughts.

Have a good week, Tim


November 19, 2007  12:23 PM

OpenWorld wrap-up

Derek Kuhr Ken Cline Profile: Clinek

The dust has settled and the blogosphere is taking stock of the OpenWorld show in San Francisco last week. Opinions run the gamut, from:

Pure magic: DBA Chen Shapira writes, “I spend most of my days in a mundane DBA world . . . And then, for one magical week, Oracle becomes exciting again. You meet people who are excited about what they do with Oracle. . . . In the Oracle Magic Kingdom, everything works. All the new features have no bugs, all patches install easily according to metalink instructions, Oracle support listens to your problems and has the right answers, you have sufficient maintenance windows to perform all your tasks, and performance issues are interesting and yet can be resolved within 45 minutes. Magic.”

to…

A firehose: Blogger Ontario Emporer writes, “Oracle doesn’t provide a clear agenda for anybody, which is why I refer to Oracle OpenWorld as a firehose. Even with my limited technological background and my laser interest in a particular portion of Oracle’s product line, I had to make some difficult session attend/non-attend decisions, especially in the first days of the conference. As a result, I missed the entire Unconference; there was too much Conference stuff going on. Add to this all of the private meetings, and it’s impossible to have a clear agenda.”

If you missed the information overload, don’t fret: Oracle’s OpenWorld page has many webcasts to imbibe. (And there were even Stevie Nicks fans there filming her performance, if you’re interested…)

So, what did you think about the show (the actual conference, that is)? Is it time for Oracle to split this monstrosity up into smaller, more topic-specific events? Or is the deluge of geeks and PowerPoints just what makes it great? Let’s hear your thoughts!

Cheers, Tim


November 16, 2007  3:35 PM

Quite a week

Derek Kuhr Ken Cline Profile: Clinek

Whew!

Mark, Barney and I are wrapping up a long, busy week in San Francisco at OpenWorld. We met a lot of you, saw a lot of PowerPoint, and heard a lot of executive-speak. It was a fun, informative week — although the word “zoo” springs immediately to mind!

We’ve posted four articles so far, including:

And there’s more to come, including a video interview with Oracle BI guru and blogger extraordinaire Mark Rittman. But now, time for some sleep!

Tim


November 14, 2007  12:18 PM

Oracle Fusion: Could there be a major announcement today?

Derek Kuhr Derek Kuhr Profile: Derek Kuhr

I’ve been here at OpenWorld 2007 in San Francisco wondering one main thing: What is Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s big announcement going to be when to takes to the stage for his keynote address later today?

I’m an OpenWorld veteran now, and one thing I’ve learned is that Ellison likes to drop major bombs whenever he gets on that stage. Last year he announced that Oracle would undercut Red Hat Linux, which was a pretty big deal.

This year, a story written by my colleague Barney Beal got me thinking that there may be some type of Fusion announcement coming. In that story, Barney quoted Chuck Rozwat, Oracle’s senior vice president of application development, “…we clearly said we would begin shipping Fusion applications in 2008. Stay in tune the next couple days; you’ll here more about that.”

Could it be that they’re moving up the release date in a surprise move? Doubtful, but if I turn out to be right, you’ll all write emails calling me an evil genius. (I know, I read too many comics.)

Anyhow, stay tuned for more coverage of Oracle OpenWorld 2007 all week long.


November 14, 2007  11:29 AM

Updates from OpenWorld

Derek Kuhr Ken Cline Profile: Clinek

We’ve posted a few new articles from here in SF at OpenWorld:

Oracle Database 11g and information management – Oracle Database 11g’s new features were designed to combat the latest and most prevalent information management problems, according to one Oracle executive speaking at OpenWorld.

Application integration takes center stage at OpenWorld – Oracle’s plan to simplify the application integration process could cause a stir among its systems integrator partners, one expert says.

More to come…

–Tim


November 12, 2007  12:01 PM

IBM acquires Cognos

Derek Kuhr Ken Cline Profile: Clinek

This just in: IBM has announced it will buy BI vendor Cognos Inc. for $5 billion cash. I wonder if the timing of the announcement right at the start of OpenWorld is in retaliation for Larry Ellison’s quip about IBM — “a pig with lipstick” — at the conference a few years ago?

The plot thickens! Stay tuned here at SearchOracle.com and our sister site SearchDataManagement.com for complete coverage of the purchase and its implications.

UPDATE : We’ve posted an article analyzing why IBM is acquiring longtime partner Cognos and outlining the implications for the business intelligence and performance management industry, customers and buyers.


November 12, 2007  11:40 AM

Doubts about Oracle virtualization

Derek Kuhr Ken Cline Profile: Clinek

Our surveys have repeatedly shown that interest server virtualization is high and growing. However, there are detractors that urge caution.

A detailed, informative conversation is going on about the pros and cons of virtualization over at Howard Roger’s Dizwell Informatics blog. Howard himself is a fan, having used VMWare and Parallels for learning purposes since 2001 (when, he says, “it barely worked, given the speed of the available physical hardware”).

However, he (and others) have become increasingly concerned with security issues. Indeed, he writes, “the best that current virtualisation products can do is not make security much worse… but given the exploits possible with another layer of code at your disposal, they almost certainly do make it worse. What they definitely don’t do is make it any better.”

This elicited a lively conversation. Some came to the defense of virtualization, saying “VM is my favourite technology since the invention of the CPU.” Others say that virtualization is great in learning, development and test environments, but putting it into production does elicit security concerns. Howard argues that

“There are three main arguments made for virtualising production systems: server utilisation increases; server consolidation; and increased security through ‘compartmentalisation.’ The point is that the third of those is a myth — and a dangerous one to boot.”

If you want to know what the Oracle community is thinking about virtualization security, this blog conversation is very informative.

Speaking of information, virtualization is a hot topic here in San Francisco at OpenWorld. Many of the big keynote speakers will be talking about their virtualization strategy, including Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, who will unveil a virtualization strategy called xVM and new products to bridge the gap between virtualization and management.

UPDATE: Here at OpenWorld, Oracle has just announced a new product, Oracle VM, which is server virtualization software that supports both Oracle and non-Oracle applications. Tim Hall blogs about VM here.


November 7, 2007  11:45 AM

Bring Devo back to OpenWorld!

Derek Kuhr Derek Kuhr Profile: Derek Kuhr

One thing can be said for Oracle conferences like next week’s Oracle OpenWorld 2007, which is being held in San Francisco: Oracle doesn’t skimp on entertainment.

I can attest to this first hand. At last year’s Oracle OpenWorld attendee appreciation event, which was held at the very cool Cow Palace, conference goers got to see a bunch of well known acts like Elton John, Joan Jett and Berlin. But in my opinion, the best entertainment of the night centered around a handful of grown men who like to wear terracotta planters on their heads: That’s right, Devo.

I found myself cramming into a packed stadium to see Elton John that night, and he started singing some crybaby ballad or some other God awful thing when it hit me like a brick: I don’t even like Elton John. So I immediately B-lined it for Devo’s stage, all the way dodging swarms of drunken OpenWorld attendees who were shoveling piles of free shrimp into their mouths and offering up unsolicited high-fives.

And it was worth it. Devo was awesome. I felt like a ten year old kid watching MTV all over again. Everyone was grooving out to greats like “Whip it” and “We are Devo.” Sure the guys from Devo weren’t looking nearly as young as they used to, but their unbelievable weirdness will always be timeless to me. 

A good time was had by all.  Here’s hoping that we get treated to another Devo show next week.


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