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

At OpenWorld, Oracle's annual week-long conference in San Francisco for customers and partners, Andy Flower, president of  the Independent Oracle Users Group, spoke with 5 Minute Briefing about the emerging challenges facing IOUG members,  the group's plans for the year ahead, including additional training and certification around Exadata, and how Oracle's engineered systems approach is being received.  "The overall need for analytics, the growth of data, and the managing and processing of more and more data - those areas are the central themes for us," Flower noted.

What will be the IOUG's main areas of focus for 2012?

Flower: We did our strategic planning session this summer and one of the things we are focusing on very intensively and directly is Exadata - really the "Exa" stack of things. That is becoming important to our members.

One of the things that's a little bit of a challenge is that when Oracle announces a new product like Exadata, there is very little that we can do other than be a conduit to help have conversations with Oracle about it. But now that there is enough critical mass of customers that have Exadata and that now have experiences to share, we can start to add value.

How are you focusing on Exadata skills requirements?

Flower: We have an Exadata SIG but we are also expanding our Exadata offerings to be a little more broad.  We are planning on doing Exadata in-person training dotted around the nation, at various locations where it is convenient for folks, outside of COLLABORATE. Clearly, we will have a focus on Exadata at COLLABORATE but this will be in addition to, and outside of, COLLABORATE. We are also developing an Exadata certification program.  That is in the initial stages but it is something that we think will be helpful and useful going forward

The whole thing around Exadata is very exciting, what is going on today with Exalogic and now, with Exalytics, and the Oracle Big Data Appliance - adding the additional components for Hadoop - the Hadoop loader and the NoSQL database. Some of our members have already been talking about and addressing the impact of big data, and I think now that Oracle is dealing with it from a technology standpoint, we then will also begin to address it from a content and education standpoint, and enable the sharing of success stories. It will be interesting to see what the adoption of the new technology is because there are already members currently using technologies like Hadoop to do big data analysis.

Will the IOUG training and certification effort expand to include other Oracle appliances?

Flower: Oracle says now that Exalogic is growing faster than Exadata was at the same point in its history and I think that is because people now believe that Oracle can deliver. Now that people have Exadata and see that Exadata works, it probably loosens the constraints on jumping in - but there is still not a lot out there. We still have to see what it means and what the uptake is.

I think Exalytics will be an easier thing to do because it does work so well, it extends the Exadata platform to really begin to deliver those really frontline, on-demand, critical metric and analytic sets that businesses need and are asking for. I am excited to see more about it and how it works, but from an architecture perspective, it makes complete and absolute sense so I think it will be something that will have quicker uptake and we will be able to talk about more with our members within the next year.

Are the IOUG's plans for regional training in answer to continuing economic difficulties?

Flower: Indirectly, I think it is, but we have had some other things like this. In the past year, we had our Real World Performance Tour and we discovered that there is a demand out there to make presentations locally.

Historically, we relied on our regional affiliates to drive what the local content or local interest would be and that works to a degree, but we are finding that when we have these larger umbrella events, we can then start to schedule those out and target specific locales. We are still working with our regional groups - and they are critical to us - but we are driving the content from the IOUG and asking if they would like to have this as opposed to saying, what would you like to have? We are taking the input and survey data that we are collecting and saying, This is what people want to learn about, so let us take it to them.

When will these events take place?

Flower: The planning is on now. We probably won't deliver this content until 2012. It is sort of like the sports calendar. There is this lull in the summer, and COLLABORATE in spring and OpenWorld in autumn, and it is that period in the middle that we are going to try to fill - and it is also going to be dependent on the availability of speakers and resources, and what the regional groups schedule.

Unisphere Research recently completed some major research studies for the IOUG in cooperation with Oracle. Was there something that you didn't expect?

Flower: There were two studies - the Data Warehousing study and also the Petabyte Challenge study on database growth.

I was surprised at how large the demand was for media data, like video and audio, to be included with the data that underpins the analytics and that our members internally are managing those things as opposed to referencing things like YouTube. They are actually managing internally video and audio data.

But I think the biggest thing that I took away from the research was change - and not only big data and cloud and all those things that people are talking about in the big keynotes. The business demand for analytics - and the different types of analytics and the latency of the analytics and the need to have them be more real-time is forcing change. The technology is now giving us that ability - with Exadata and Exalytics - but are organizations prepared? The IT departments and the business customers need to fundamentally change how they are organized to deliver to this.

If I have got all of this stuff in an Exa-stack, how to I make it so that I can deliver this most efficiently without having to coordinate multiple resources on the IT side, and what shifts to the business side in terms of the create-your-own applications - what is the balance there?

The holy grail ever since we have been working on data warehousing is to make it more user self-service. And the technology is getting there and yet we are still very traditional; our organizations are still the working the way they were a decade ago and I think that  has to change in order for us to be efficient, cost-effective and be able to leverage the technology. It is going to vary from one organization to the next, but this is a change that is not only technical but it is also organizational and it will to continue to drive how they deliver services.

In addition to Exadata, what else is the IOUG focused on?

Flower: Exadata is our big focus but we are continuing to evolve a lot of the other branches that we have had. We are now in a position where we are going to be focusing more on the middleware technologies. When Oracle launched Fusion Middleware, we did not know how many customers there were and it was hard for a user group to really put any programming behind it. But now Oracle is delivering products that  traditional database customers are using that are built with Fusion Middleware and these customers now have to install and support Fusion Middleware and they now have to deal with the application servers more than they did in the past. As a result, you will probably see an uptick in our focus on Fusion Middleware simply because it is now becoming more important to our core members - and Exalogic fits into that, as well.

Is virtualization another key topic for IOUG members?

Flower: We just launched our virtualization SIG. Virtualization is very important because it really underpins the ability for organizations to be efficient with how they deploy computing environments for whatever their needs are. Even if they have this one big stack now, they still have to be able to divide it into pieces and provision it appropriately and so virtualization is also a key focus for us.

Looking at our key themes going forward, it really is dealing with growth in data - big data if you want to call it that - but that tends to be applied to unstructured data.   The overall need for analytics, the growth of data, and the managing and processing of more and more data - those areas are the central themes for us. And then, as an adjunct to that - the whole concept of the cloud and what it is to virtualize, and support data environments in a private or public cloud.

How are members accepting the Oracle approach of a complete integrated stack?

Flower: It is hard to say just yet. A customer may have a server from IBM, they are running AIX, they have an Oracle Database, and EMC storage, as an example, and there are still a lot of people with that. From our data warehousing study, we see that the largest percentage of customers tend to re-platform every 1-5 years so within a 5-year timeframe, people will re-platform, and I think when they start to re-platform, they will take a stronger look at a complete stack, and think about getting the benefits of a fully integrated architecture.  I think you will see more of that. Will that drive even further adoption of the complete stack all the way through applications? It remains to be seen.  Oracle clearly would like you to buy everything from them, but as they say, rightly so, you can take pieces out and put different pieces in if you like, but it does disrupt the full integrated stack. Strictly from a database standpoint, I think we will see a continued growth, an accelerated growth through these re-platform cycles to Exadata and by association Exalogic as people start to re-platform applications.