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UKOUG 2011 - OAK Talks and Unconference

There were a couple of new and related features at this years conference - the Unconference and OAK Talks.

The idea of an Unconference will be familiar to those who have attended Openworld - an unscheduled part of the conference that anyone can sign up for to present during a one hour slot. First come, first served. I was a little concerned about how this might take off because it needs a lot of advertising or to be in a prominent location, otherwise it just passes people by. Even at OOW, where they do a reasonable job of pushing it, it's not uncommon for sessions to be attended by a handful of people, although that in itself can lead to an interesting experience as I had several major OEM luminaries in my OEM session one year and it turned into a discussion of the finer points of the Performance Pages and potential improvements!

I feel the UKOUG could have done better here and I suspect they know that. The Unconference area was far from clearly marked and stuck out of the way on the balcony of the exhibition hall and my heart sank when I checked out how many people had signed up to present :-( Really, people should take this kind of opportunity to speak when perhaps their presentation abstracts weren't accepted or they want to talk on a subject that would have no chance of making it on to the main agenda. They could even try and be funny or entertaining! Then again, if you don't think you'll have attendees, you're hardly likely to sign up and so it becomes a vicious circle. I hope the UKOUG don't give up on it, though, and try to improve the promotion of it next year because I like even more opportunities for new speakers and more off-beat presentations where possible. I know that Greg Rahn had a 2-hour session there that people raved about and I was sorry I missed it.

It was at least partly to promote the conference that a few of us came up with the idea of getting Oak Table Network members to give some presentations and James Morle suggested OAK Talks. 5 x 10 minute presentations which would hopefully be short, entertaining and make an interesting point or two. By holding them in the Unconference area over lunchtime, we hoped to promote it. I discussed the background to this more here.

I'd agreed to be one of the speakers in the first lunchtime slot and when we all finally worked out where the Unconference area was, my heart sank again. It looked like the OAK Talks might become too literal as a bunch of Oakies talked to other Oakies.  Might as well have been in the pub, in that case! But, true to form, James took the thing by the scruff of the neck and an announcement was made in the Exhibition Hall so that the occasional person wondered in, if only for a place to sit down and eat their lunch ;-)

The main problem on the first day was that the noise-levels from the Exhibition Hall made it very difficult to hear people and the level of concentration killed the atmosphere a bit but, as new speakers took their turns, we started to realise that the only option was to shout a bit which wasn't too difficult in my case. Yet again, problems were identified and resolved and a small PA appeared for the next two days which made things better. It was still a pretty noisy location, though!

With 15 different talks of such varying messages and styles, I won't bore you with them all, but just pick out a few personal memories. Apologies to those who didn't make it - it's because you weren't very good. << Scottish humour.

- Tuomas Pystynen kicked off proceedings talking about RMAN and levels of backup compression and performance. Tuomas deserves a medal for being the first speaker because, as well as the noise and gradually growing audience, others would later discover that doing one of these talks was petrifying compared to giving a standard 45-60 minute presentation with the crutch of presentation slides and space to veer off track. Between the intimacy of the audience, the tight timescale and the lack of easy props, several of us discussed what a challenge it had been! Of course, it probably doesn't help that I suspect a lot of these talks had been developed entirely in a few minutes in a bar or airport somewhere ;-) Well done, Tuomas, for having the guts to get the show on the road!

- Me (of course) talking about You Probably Don't Need Exadata. This was inspired by Moans Longballs Nogood's much earlier paper You Probably Don't Need RAC and, whilst I planned it to be much more withering and sarcastic than I think I was (because I forgot most of my mini-speech as soon as I started), I was essentially making the point that Exadata is not the only solution out there and that the right solution for you depends on your workload and, erm, maybe some optimisation of your application might be a better first step? Just a thought. A personal highlight was Greg Rahn walking in 2/3 of the way through and the only available seat being right under my nose as I ranted and raved about Exadata, but it all added to the fun ;-) By this time, the area was pretty full and, when it was, it was actually a cool and unusual atmosphere to present in.

Here's a tiny version of the wide-screen shot, courtesy of Neil Chandler.

- The only thing missing from Neil's picture of Jonathan Lewis presenting on how to build test data rapidly for experiments is that he missed the moment when, after some discussion about whether Jonathan had made a mistake or not, Jonathan solved the problem by screwing up the bit of paper and deciding to eat it! A perfect informal presentation moment and exactly what the Oak Table Network is about. Are you sure you've written that properly? Cracking talk, too.

- Alex Gorbachev talking about the Oracle Database Appliance. I and others have questioned the value of the ODA and whether it hasn't perhaps been over-played a little by partner consulting companies? ;-) Alex, never one to avoid a challenge, decided he would pick this moment to say why he thought it was a worthwhile proposition. It keeps coming back to ease of deployment and he contrasted it with the somewhat more tricky work that had been going on at RAC Attack. At the end of the presentation he looked over and wondered whether he might have persuaded certain grumpy old people and got a begrudging and limited nod of approval! LOL

- Ever since I sat in a presentation audience with John Beresniewicz (JB) several years ago and he had murmured - "that's because DB Time is fungible", I'd become mildly obsessed with this property of DB Time and was hoping to hear him talk about it at UKOUG last year, but his abstract didn't make the cut. So an OAK Talk was the perfect opportunity for him to at least let a few more people know! As he'd thought about the subject longer, though, it turned out that maybe DB Time is more liquid than fungible but the practicalities are that maybe DB Time is a good metric to use when implementing charge-back for system resource usage because most metrics don't give a great idea of how much a system is actually being used by specific business exercises? He also higlighted how it can be sliced and diced across different application components, users, SQL statements and all the other nice dimensions that ASH gives you so it's easy to apportion time-based usage to the proper charging pot!

Updated Later: Oh, I almost forgot to mention the hilarious moment when JB, picking on a couple of people he knew in the room to make a simple point about costs, seemed to imply that my consulting rate might be higher than Cary Millsap's. In ... my ... dreams ... ;-)

There were lots of other talks I could mention and this became an immutable slot on my agenda. The opportunity to sit and chill out and not be bored senseless. It could have used a better venue, it definitely needed the PA and, as with anything so informal, it was at times sprawling and variable, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world, although most of us who presented wouldn't have minded missing out on the stress levels leading up to our individual moment!

I was discussing this later in the conference with a few of my many friends who are not Oak Table Network members. (Yes, it's true, I really have some.) They would have been keen to participate too and so the quesiton arises, should someone try to organise more slots in a similar vein next year? I'm interested in hearing further comments on that ....

Oh, and well done to James for herdiing cats and doing the most to pull the whole thing together.

Usual disclosure: My travel and accommodation expenses were covered
by the Oracle ACE Director