Industry Leader Q&A with Andy Flower, President of the IOUG

With the annual Oracle users conference COLLABORATE about to begin, Andy Flower, president of the IOUG, spoke with 5 Minute Briefing about the IOUG's strong areas of focus in terms of overall conference content, and how the addition of the MySQL user base into the Oracle community is  evolving. Citing a MySQL keynote, 75 sessions at COLLABORATE focused on MySQL, and a new MySQL Council headed by Sarah Novotny, Flower says the IOUG is making strides in giving voice to the MySQL community within the IOUG and setting a stage for positive interaction with Oracle.

Do you have a sense for the attendance at the conference this year versus last year?
Flower: We are tracking a little ahead of last year. We did budget conservatively but we are now ahead of that, so we are excited. Not only did Oracle have a great [fiscal Q3] earnings report, but I also saw that the U.S. economy had a better fourth quarter than what was originally reported. I think some of these developments are underlying some of the trends for folks to invest in new technologies. And, if they are investing in new technologies, they are going to need people to understand those, and there is no better place than COLLABORATE to facilitate that. This is where you really get your money's worth in terms of maximizing investments, whether you attend virtually or on-site.

The IOUG recently created the MySQL Council to focus squarely on the MySQL community. How is the introduction of MySQL users to the IOUG progressing?
Flower: When we spoke last time just before Oracle OpenWorld, we already had the germ of an idea for the MySQL Council, but we wanted to get to Openworld and assess the situation for ourselves. We were able to make some fantastic connections prior to, at, and even after OpenWorld to put this council together.  We saw that there was a communication gap between Oracle and perhaps what you can classify as the open source MySQL community, which is not the entire community.  There was a lot of fear and uncertainty and much of it was tied to the fact that the transaction was held up in the European Union for a while and there was very little communication coming from Oracle - simply because of the legal process.

How has the IOUG supported the relationship between MySQL users and Oracle?
Flower: We wanted to be a bridge builder and we wanted to find people who were respected both in the MySQL community and people who we felt Oracle would respect and build a communication channel with. We put together the MySQL Council and they themselves selected a chairperson, and her name is Sarah Novotny [of Blue Gecko]. There is a big pow-wow held every year in Redwood by the International Oracle Users Group Community (IOUC), which is Oracle's umbrella for the entire global user community, and of which the IOUG is a member. We brought Sarah along with us to Redwood this past January because we knew this would really be the first time we would get access to folks from the MySQL product marketing and engineering side.  There are really two reasons the IOUC puts this together - so that you meet people globally who are users or customers, and also so you get access to Oracle and all the lines of business and what they are doing and planning.  This was the first chance - since OpenWorld - to really get in front of Luke Kowalski, the head of the MySQL product efforts at Oracle, with our council.  We had a really great conversation and Sarah and he were able to talk, and that was a really positive start. Now we are moving forward. We have got COLLABORATE coming up and members of the MySQL Council are going to be there, and some of them are presenting technical sessions too. 

We will also have a MySQL keynote presented by the head engineer Tomas Ulin. The MySQL Council is gathering questions from the community that they are going to filter down to a handful that Oracle will answer directly in Tomas' keynote and so that is something that we are pretty excited about. There are still a lot of folks that are afraid of what Oracle is going to do and this is one way at COLLABORATE for the IOUG MySQL Council, along with our friends at Oracle, to directly address some of those questions.

The role of the council is to represent the MySQL users to Oracle?
Flower: Yes, it is really following a similar model to what the IOUG did historically with the Oracle database, which was to find a way to create a collective voice and be an advocate for the community in Oracle that is done in a positive and constructive way.

What is different about forming user community now versus 20 years ago when the IOUG was started?
Flower: There is more noise now than there was 2 decades ago when the IOUG came together.  With social media, anyone can write a blog and have a million people read their thoughts. But that is not necessarily going to create positive interaction with Oracle. That is what we are trying to do and so we have established a relationship here where Sarah is taking the lead, and we now have a direct line to Luke Kowalski. Hopefully, we will build the bridge of communication. Not everybody is going to get everything they want and this would have been true even if MySQL had continued on its own and had never been acquired by Sun, and subsequently by Oracle. Once something gets to a larger size, you can't make everybody happy but if we can continue to have positive communication, most people will understand.

Are there any key concerns among MySQL community that have come to the forefront?
Flower: There have been a couple and we are going to try to address some of them at COLLABORATE.  For example, there is a public bug database and a private bug database, and there has been some concern that Oracle may or may not contribute its code sets and changes to the public bug database and update it consistently. That has been more of a concern than a reality, and we have had some conversations with the folks at Oracle about it.  Oracle is not against contributing code to the public version. They had to onboard Sun. There are systems that manage internal processes at Sun that had to be converted into the way that Oracle handled processes. That caused a number of delays which are normal in the integration of an acquired corporation into another but were not transparent to, or understood by, the open source community. That was one of the points Oracle tried to communicate - that they were doing a conversion of the internal bug tracking systems from Sun to Oracle. Those sorts of things we are looking to help with.

Would you say the IOUG is placing a strong emphasis on MySQL at COLLABORATE?
Flower: Yes. I think the last number I saw was 75 sessions on MySQL specifically and we are finding a strong uptake of people signing up for the MySQL Boot Camps.  A Boot Camp is our way of stringing together technical sessions into a curriculum throughout the week. And there is a lot of what we would call our traditional members signing up for the boot camps. They are  registering in the same way they have  always registered, picking  a lot of the types of sessions, but we are seeing a lot of them signing  up for MySQL

This was one of our research findings a few years ago - that MySQL was fairly prevalent in our Oracle user community - which is another reason for us to build a strong relationship with the MySQL community. We have members who are eager to drink from that fountain, and we want the experts in the MySQL community teaching them.

Several years ago, before there was even a whisper of the Sun acquisition by Oracle, we did a survey [conducted by Unisphere Research], and we found that somewhere in the neighborhood of 37-38% of our members had MySQL databases. And so, that was something that we found interesting at the time and we put on a couple of sessions about MySQL by several of our members that were knowledgeable about it. But when the Sun acquisition took place, we thought here is an opportunity to really address this need and bring this community, which is a bunch of database people, in with our database people using the Oracle database, and build a larger community.

The O'Reilly MySQL conference will be going on at approximately the same time as COLLABORATE.
Flower: This actually comes up quite a bit and I am happy to address it. First and foremost, it is a quirk of timing. We, and as far as I know, O'Reilly, book our events 2 or 3 years in advance and there is no way for us to foresee that these two events would be occurring at the same time. We did not even realize it until June of last year and it is unfortunate. Aside from the East Coast-West Coast aspect, there are some aspects that I think differentiate the conferences, but we don't look at COLLABORATE as competing with the O'Reilly MySQL conference and hope that they continue to do what they do. 

How would you contrast the two conferences aside from the obvious geographical difference?
Flower: There are multiple sub-communities, if you will, in the MySQL community. There are people that are true open source people and I think those folks will gravitate to the O'Reilly conference.  We have had a large interest within the Oracle community as it was in MySQL and so the way we are addressing it is that we want to make our members more well-rounded, and that includes them learning about MySQL.  That is a primary difference, but it doesn't mean that we wouldn't welcome anybody from the true open source community to come to our conference and, in fact, we would love for them to come and be a part of it. That is something that is going to have to happen over time - where you have the traditional MySQL users and the growing Oracle MySQL users continuing to have conversations and learn from each other. We also have a strong commitment from Oracle to participate in COLLABORATE.  We are getting a good number of the MySQL engineers that are Oracle employees who are going to be there onsite, some doing presentations, some in the campground, and some just floating that you can grab and talk to.

Aside from the stronger emphasis on MySQL at the upcoming COLLABORATE conference, what are some of the other key areas of concentration?
Flower: Virtualization with more of a cloud focus is a key area. In the database area, there will be an emphasis on data warehousing and Exadata, as well as all things RAC.

And, we actually have a beginners' database boot camp this year. As you go through the years, you forget that every day thousands of new people, who have never done it before, are given the job of Oracle DBA. And so we heard that from our members, and we put together a beginners' boot camp this year.

We are also offering what we expect to be the most popular sessions available online, and it is a really good cross-section of the types of sessions that we are offering. We put the sessions that we anticipate being the most popular into the largest rooms and then we also broadcast them via our Plugged In offering which folks can buy a license for if they are not able to attend COLLABORATE. For every virtual session slot that we have, we are offering two choices of sessions. Plugged In sessions include presentations by Tomas Ulin, Tom Kyte, Rich Niemiec, Mark Hornick, and Arup Nanda.  We are really eager for folks to both attend these and find out that they can get to these online.  Virtual sessions are open to the general public to purchase licenses, not just members.  Being Plugged In is not the same experience as being on site but if you cannot attend it is the next best thing. More information about keynotes and executive sessions is available on the IOUG website.

And what do you personally looking forward to at COLLABORATE?
Flower: I look forward to seeing everybody. I have been a volunteer with the IOUG since 1998 and I have made a ton of friends, and I get to see some of them only once a year at a conference - some of them a couple of times a year, if we all manage to be at OpenWorld at the same time. So I look forward to seeing everybody, and sharing what we have been doing over the past year, and seeing some of the sessions. I am a BI/data warehousing guy [with Right Triangle Consulting], so I like those sessions. But - primarily, it is getting that hallway conversation, that lunch table conversation that I look forward to.

For more information about COLLABORATE 11, to be presented by the Independent Oracle Users Group, Oracle Applications Users Group, and Quest International Users Group, April 10-14, 2011, at the Orange County Convention Center, West Concourse, 9800 International Drive, in Orlando, Florida, go to