Eye on Oracle

June 21, 2007  9:10 AM

DBAs are from Mars, managers are from Venus

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

All you unhappy DBAs out there who have been flooding our comment box — take note. Our management and career expert Michael Hillenbrand just wrote a great article, “DBA 102: Beyond the basics,” which might just contain the advice you need to get out of your job slump.

Michael doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for bitter DBAs whining about how unappreciated they are:

Having managed dozens of DBAs for over 15 years now, I can authoritatively say this — if you feel your manager does not understand you, chances are you need look no further than a mirror to place blame. In other words, if your manager does not understand you or the importance of your role, then you (and only you) need to change this. When was the last time you actually communicated with your boss? Do you provide weekly or even daily status reports? Do you explain difficult terms in easily understandable terminology? Do you provide charts and graphs showing how the databases are performing? Can you speak intelligently about the financial or business impact of downtime or poor performance?

Read on to find out exactly how you can do this. Michael provides some great examples of how you can translate your typical DBA-speak into language that your manager can understand (Hint: Talk money, and use pictures!).

The article also covers some of the hard (technical) and soft (non-technical) skills you need to go beyond the basics of database administration and ensure that you’re indispensable to your company.


June 20, 2007  9:23 AM

Database workload virtualization and you

Derek Kuhr Derek Kuhr Profile: Derek Kuhr

When I was first asked to investigate how increased use of virtualization technology will affect DBA careers, I was a little confused. To be honest, I didn’t immediately see the connection. I figured, ‘well, if the database is on a virtualized server, they’ll just manage it like they will any other database and their jobs will pretty much be the same.’

Boy was I wrong.

After looking into the issue more, I realized that database virtualization will mean a lot of change for the DBA. And at the very least, they’re going to want to familiarize themselves with some tips for making the process of database workload virtualization a simpler one.

You can read all about that stuff in one of my latest stories, “Virtualization means changing roles for DBAs.” But here are some highlights:

  • New technology is coming from Intel and AMD that will one day make database workload virtualization an easier process than ever before.
  • DBAs virtualizing workloads today need to be intimately familiar the behavior of their database workloads over time, or else the performance cost associated with virtualization could be too high.
  • DBAs working in Unix environments should become familiar with virtualization management and workload management software to manage database partitions and to help them anticipate spikes in demand that happen at certain times of the year.
  • More and more organizations are talking about virtualizing data itself as a way of getting up-to-date information quickly to increasingly service-enabled applications.

Some DBAs, such as the one interviewed for the article, say they are having success with database virtualization today. What’s your experience in this area? Are the performance costs of virtualizing databases too high at your organization? Let’s get a discussion going.

— Mark Brunelli, News Editor

June 18, 2007  10:10 PM

Woe is the DBA: An old-timer weighs in

Ken Cline Profile: Clinek

In response to the DBA rant-fest from a few days ago (“Database administration is for suckers”?), Marty M. sent me this note. Read on for a true old-timer perspective — it’s not pretty. . . .  

I REALLY enjoyed reading this article and finding out that there are a LOT of DBAs like me.  I have been in the IT business for over 32 years now, and I can testify that what the DBAs said is mild and very controlled taken in light of what I’ve experienced and seen in my time.

I have convinced my children that they should never want to have an IT job as the hours are long, the appreciation is lacking, and ultimately the job can be a killer (gave me a heart attack after 30 years).

I understand the feeling we are unappreciated — we are.  As statistics show, 85% of the time DBAs are blamed for problems yet only 15% are actually database issues.  DBAs know far more about applications, systems, etc. than other disciplines (and I have been those, lest anyone want to dispute this).  As one poster mentioned, management often makes decisions relative to databases WITHOUT consulting the DBAs who have to do it, then blame them for not achieving their goals, objectives or the project plan timetable (also not set by them).

The job does pay well (in dollars) but the cost is high (in health, social, etc.)  We are dismissed from consideration for management jobs because we’re ‘techies.’ We are often dismissed in job interviews because we aren’t expert enough in our fields by youngsters fresh from school (where they have the luxury of learning ‘by the book’ and memorizing trivia that is never used in the real world; e.g.,  knowing at least 3 of 6 pieces in the Oracle SGA).  Most of us are too busy to take classes — and are not allowed to take them by management (they cost too much) — yet we are expected to be the ‘experts.’  Conversely, the items the young pups test you on (and tell management you are ‘dumb’ about) are not realistically the things you see or do in the real world.  (I turned the tables on one interviewer by asking her a real-life question on a problem I handled in Oracle that she could not answer: the ‘error message’ from Oracle was bogus.  Only a person in the ‘real world’ would know however, so I do give them some slack.)

All that said, I did enjoy knowing I was not the only one feeling this way.  I would propose that another item that needs to be broached in our profession is how to properly interview a potential employee.  I submit that it is better to use the behavioral approach to problem-solving in judging potential IT workers instead of the ‘memorized the book’ and ‘got the certification’ methods.  I have certification (a CCP) but it is ignored because it is not an OCP or an MS certification.  I have interviewed several of these certified persons and several of the ‘book memorizers’ and have found, several times, that they were not good risks, whereas a person with the proper approach to problem-solving usually makes a good worker, even when they do not know the ‘technical stuff.’ The reason is that they can deduce the problem and resolve it because they understand what us old-timers called the ‘theory and science’ of computer science.  This is something I’m not seeing taught in the colleges/universities.

Anyway, as Forrest Gump said, ‘That’s all I have to say about that.’

For the complete range of opinion about this contentious issue, check out the dozens of comments from fellow DBAs. An even older-timer (in IT since 1963!) writes there to “keep your spirits up; if you are unhappy, then retrain. You didn’t get your current job because you were dumb.”


June 15, 2007  11:33 AM

Oracle 11g beta testing looks promising

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Tim of the Oracle-Base blog says he doubts Oracle 11g will actually debut next month (he’s thinking the “launch date” is actually a date range starting with July 11 and ending with December 31). But when it does debut, Oracle users may be in for a treat.

Christo Kutrovsky writes at the Pythian Group Blog that he’s recently been involved in on-site beta testing of Oracle 11g. This is a happy change from his day-to-day job, he says, when he typically tries to “make things work.” At a beta testing event, the idea is to figure how to break Oracle: “Have you ever been in a room full of people that cheer every time they get an ora-600?” Sounds like fun. How come no one ever asks our experts how to bring on an error message?

The good news is, according to Kutrovsky, 11g really is an improved version. He writes that it’s “a significant release, not so much for the new features added, but more for the perfection of the existing ones. Work has been done to improve almost every aspect of how the database works.” As an example, he mentions Enterprise Manager, which he used to dislike and now calls a “key component” of the database.

For some more weekend reading (uh, if you’re not hitting the beach, that is), check out this blog post that clarifies Oracle’s position on open source. If you’re at all confused about how Oracle and open source fit together, this should clear up what exactly Unbreakable Linux is, Oracle’s dependence on Linux as a platform and more.

Also, be sure to check out Lewis Cunningham’s list of mini-tips — our former XML and application development expert has 11 quick lessons (so far) on all kinds of useful stuff, like open source tools for Oracle and best practices for synonyms.

Take care,

June 13, 2007  9:33 AM

Oracle Database 11g: Ready or not, here it comes

Derek Kuhr Derek Kuhr Profile: Derek Kuhr

Oracle has finally announced the release date for Oracle Database 11g. And while most Oracle users out there probably won’t even consider upgrading for another year or two (according to recent SearchOracle.com survey numbers, most folks are still upgrading from Oracle 9i to Oracle 10g), there is sure to be a ton of interest on the part of users and coverage on the part of technology media outlets come July 11th. 

When that day comes (and I hate to blow our own horn) don’t forget that SearchOracle.com has been all over this story for quite some time. But before I provide you with multiple links to our highly informative (toot toot) coverage of Oracle Database 11g, let’s see what some people around the blogosphere are saying — or have said — about this soon-to-be-released, ummm, release.

Blogger Andrejus Baranovskis has written that he is pleased with the fact that Database 11g will ship with map data provided by Navteq.

“I think, it will be even more easier than now, for non-GIS people to start building [business intelligence] applications with included Oracle spatial technology functionality,” he wrote. “[The] developer will have everything out of the box – from data to tools.”

Tim at Oracle-Base blog said he thought that Database 11g wouldn’t be out until much later in the year, and adds that he feels somewhat responsible for the product’s early debut.

“My constant moaning about being bored and wanting 11g to be released soon has obviously done its job,” he quipped. “It’s truly wonderful to be the center of my universe.”

Tim at Oracle-Base blog also posted an interesting examination of Database 11g’s self-managing capabilities such as Database Replay and SQL Replay back in October, following a trip to Oracle OpenWorld.

Finally, according to blogger Eddie Awad, interested parties will be able to find Database 11g demos on Morgan’s Library within a week of the production release of Oracle’s flagship product.

If you’re looking to find more information about Oracle Database 11g, SearchOracle.com has plenty. Here are a handful of useful links to articles, blogs and podcasts on the topic:

What are you looking forward to in Database 11g? Or, what do you think should be included that isn’t? And when do you think your firm will upgrade? I’d like to hear what more end users like you have to say about this new release.

 — Mark Brunelli

June 8, 2007  8:57 AM

Friday wrap-up: Patching myths; resumes are useless

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

A sampling of what’s going on in the Oracle blogosphere in the first week of June . . .

As a follow-up to our recent post about how to snag an Oracle job, I offer Eddie Awad’s thoughts on the subject, namely that resumes are useless. (He references Andrew Wulf who claims that interviews are stupid.) The point these bloggers seem to be making is that you can’t always glean real information from a list of skills on a piece of paper, or even from how a job candidate presents themselves in person. Wulf wonders why interviewers rarely actually consult references (which might provide insight into how someone performs in the real world); he also notes that certifications don’t necessarily mean anything: “I’ve know people who aced certification tests and were utterly unable to develop any useful applications.” Awad says that resumes are usually “overcharged with buzzwords” but “when the moment of truth (the interview) comes, few candidates know the answer to very basic questions.” Bottom line? Know your stuff! If you concoct an impressive-looking resume but lack real skills, it will quickly become obvious.

Steven Chan lists and debunks five myths about patching — specifically, he addresses the most common reasons why people don’t upgrade their E-Business Suite environment. These include complaints about downtime, cost, and complexity. Chan dismisses these in turn. In response to the old saw, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” Chan would say that leaving your apps unpatched is asking for things to get broke. Kind of like never taking your car in for a tune-up — just waiting until it actually breaks down. “New releases are issued to provide new functionality and improve stability, performance, and security,” he writes. “If you’re running an older release, it has — by definition — issues in these areas that you may not have noticed yet.”

Finally, the topic of popularity in the Oracle blogosphere continues to draw attention. Justin Kestelyn feels “satisfied” that the OTN blogs are improving their reputation. He sassily remarks that “as an actionable resource (not just digital ‘fishwrap’ for blogger busy-bodies) — Oracle Blogs have few equals.” (I’m trying to wrap my brain around what the digital fish would be.) Doug Burns bounces back with a semi-rant on why the popularity contest is misled.

Who really cares if your blog is included on blogs.oracle.com or not? People are never going to believe this, but I can only tell you the truth. I’m spectacularly uninterested in my Technorati ‘ranking.’ […] Is it really so weird to just write what you want to write, have a good time doing it and occasionally help someone a little bit? […] Maybe part of the reason I’m within a million miles of the ‘Top 10’ of Oracle blogs is precisely because I *don’t* care too much?

I’ll leave you with that thought . . . have a good weekend all, and try not to obsess about your Technorati ranking too much.


June 5, 2007  11:18 PM

Is Oracle relational? Redux

Ken Cline Profile: Clinek

My post a few weeks ago, Thirty years of Oracle innovation — but is it really a RDBMS?, generated quite a bit of feedback. Actually, there was a lot of heat but not much light, as they say.

Here is a representative sampling of your comments:

  • “Of course Oracle started basing its DBMS on the relational model. Oracle falls far short of being a true RDBMS, though. This is not overly negative though as there is no DBMS that I am aware of that is truly relational according to the relational model.”
  • “Calling Oracle’s DBMS a ‘SQL DBMS’ — why bother? Who cares? Mr. Codd’s model was just a model, a paradigm upon which others can build.”
  • “Hats off to Codd and Date for developing relational theory. Sadly, they lacked a company with the vision to turn it into market dominance. Oracle provided that business vision. Credit is due for that. As for the academic question, which would you rather be, right or rich?”
  • “One thing to remember is that if databases in the ’80s were actually fully relationally-compliant, they would have used so many resources that the actual benefit would be negligible, because it would have eaten almost all available computing resources . . . “
  • “The work of Codd and Date deals with a theoretical mathematical model that would be great in an ideal world. Oracle built a product based on that theory embracing the limitations we have in the real world.”
  • “It’s about more than just a name. The marketing efforts of IBM, Oracle, et al have obscured the benefits of real RDBMS compared to its SQL imitations. After 30 years, hopefully the time is right for a new generation of truly relational systems. Certainly the technology is in place today to make that possible.”

You get the idea. The majority opinion is roughly that no, Oracle is not a relational DBMS but it’s close enough, given practical limitations. Of course, the majority is not always right.

Codd’s 12 rules for relational compliance are well-known. Which ones exactly does Oracle violate? What if the company, for some reason, decided that 11g should be a true RDBMS. What would change? Would it really affect DBAs or developers in the trenches? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Cheers, Tim

June 4, 2007  3:08 PM

SQL interview questions; getting hired as a DBA

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Are you looking for a new (or first) Oracle job? Worried about that big interview? (If you’re not, maybe you should be!) Here are a couple of resources to prepare you for your upcoming Oracle job interview.

Robert Vollman, at his blog thinkoracle.blogspot.com, offers some advice on nailing the SQL job interview. He has asked “literally hundreds of different questions” during interviews he’s conducted over the past 10 years, and he says seeing “SQL expert” on a resume isn’t enough – he knows how to find out exactly how much expertise a candidate really has. Vollman lists some of the basic, intermediate and advanced SQL questions that he’s apt to ask a candidate. Once he or she passes the “sanity checks,” Vollman tests the candidate’s knowledge of NULL and the DUAL table, and then finally addresses analytic functions, which he calls one of the “true litmus tests to the proficiency of one’s knowledge of SQL.” Click here to read the rest of Vollman’s advice.

For a more basic overview of how to handle yourself when looking for an Oracle job, check out our new expert Michael Hillenbrand’s article “Acing the DBA job interview: Getting back to basics.” Michael points out that just because DBAs are back in high demand, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get a great job just by sending out your resume. He offers some great tips for putting together your resume and cover letter, how to approach scheduling and phone interviews, dos and don’ts for the in-person interview, and etiquette for following up – as well as a hilarious list of 10 statements you should never say, all of which he heard directly from the mouths of actual job candidates over 20 years of hiring and managing DBAs. My favorites: “Can we wrap it up? I have to leave for another interview” and “Can you tell me what your company does?”

Have a great week,

May 30, 2007  10:06 AM

Oracle jobs: Skills you don’t need, skills you do

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Check out Computerworld’s list of the top 10 dead or dying computer skills—if any of these are on your resume, they claim, they’re not doing you any favors in the marketability department!

The list of IT skills to kick to the curb includes COBOL, the non-relational DBMS (such as hierarchical and network database management systems), non-IP networks, C programming and OS/2.

Computerworld’s readers wrote in in droves to come to the defense of COBOL, C and ColdFusion (another programming language on the list), as detailed in a follow-up piece. One of the many (irritated) commentors on the article wrote, “I’m surprised the author didn’t repeat the old canard about ‘the mainframe is dead.’ Because many things on this list are just as accurate.” Readers argued that C is still heavily in use for the development of embedded and mobile systems; one claimed that “COBOL is still one of the most important languages on the face of the planet—virtually every financial transaction touches a COBOL system of some sort.”

These readers sound defensive . . . are they just angry because their areas of expertise threaten to become obsolete? Or are these skills really still as relevant and in demand as ever?

As for skills you can use, Dimitri Gielis suggests getting some non-Oracle training to become a better Oracle expert. “The more you know of Oracle, the better you do your Oracle job? I think that’s only partially true,” he writes. “I believe having experience and soft skills are also important.” Gielis recommends following non-Oracle frameworks such as ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) and PRINCE2 for development.

Happy learning (and unlearning),

May 25, 2007  11:34 AM

May the 100TB Oracle data warehouse be with you

Derek Kuhr Derek Kuhr Profile: Derek Kuhr

As a true geek, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that perhaps the greatest motion picture franchise of all time — Star Wars — was born thirty years ago today. But how does one go about writing about Star Wars on a blog dedicated to Oracle technology? What’s the tie in?

Fortunately, Oracle made it easy for me. Yesterday, as fans around the globe — some dressed up as members of the rebellion, others dressed as Imperial loyalists — gathered to celebrate the 30th birthday of Star Wars, Oracle was quick to boast about its relationship with George Lucas’ Lucasfilm Digital Arts Center.

According to Oracle, the artists at Lucasfilm and Indistrial Light and Magic (ILM) use a 100TB Oracle data warehouse to design, manipulate, access and store the complex images that go into creating everything from fast-paced lightsaber fights to outer space battle scenes.

Oracle says the data warehouse — which stores every image ever seen in a Star Wars film or game — is connected to more than 1,500 workstations and receives 20 million daily requests.

“Every shot that leaves ILM generates thousands, if not tens of thousands, of rows in their Oracle data warehouse as it passes through their asset and render management pipelines,” Oracle said in a press release.

Now, if only we could get into that data warehouse and remove all references to Jar Jar Binks — because as far as I’m concerned, he never happened.

— Mark Brunelli

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