It's All About the Database at IOUG - An Interview with Andy Flower

Earlier this year, Andy Flower took over as president of the Independent Oracle Users Group from Ian Abramson. With Oracle OpenWorld right around the corner, Flower talks with DBTA about how the IOUG is changing to best meet the challenges and opportunities presented by the expanding Oracle ecosystem, despite what continues to be a difficult economy. For the IOUG, it is "the year of the member" and it all starts with the database, he says.

DBTA: How are Oracle's recent acquisitions, including that of Sun - with MySQL - changing the approach of the IOUG in supporting the Oracle community?
Flower: Not all of Oracle's acquisitions are related to us and so we pick and choose the technology areas that we feel are important to our members. Sun is one of those where we see a lot of opportunity, in particular with MySQL, simply because, from polling our membership, a lot of them are not only Oracle customers but also Sun and MySQL customers.  There is a whole MySQL community that knows very little about Oracle. We see an opportunity to fill that gap and help them understand what Oracle is all about, but also to bring like-minded people together so that we get a broad understanding of how you manage different types of applications with different types of database technology.

DBTA: Is MySQL the technology component of Sun that is bringing the greatest number of new members to the IOUG?
Flower: Yes, but we are also thrilled to be working with the Large Tape Users Group, as a result of the Sun acquisition. We have already been supporting them. They are a smaller group and unlikely to become part of COLLABORATE but we are fully supporting them.

DBTA: They have joined the IOUG?
Flower: They are running on our infrastructure. We are managing them more like a SIG within the group, and we are still referring to them as the Large Tape Users Group.

DBTA: How is the assimilation of the new members progressing?
Flower: It varies. The Large Tape Users Group was fairly well organized already. Oracle is involved with this and they directed us to them - or them to us - and the next thing we knew everything was working well.

The MySQL component is a little bit different because it's larger and much more diverse, and it is an open source community, which has different flavor to it altogether. But we are following a similar model.

Oracle is helping to facilitate connections into the Oracle/Sun people that are in the MySQL space and they in turn are introducing us to some of the more active users within that community. We have met with them in-person to discuss how we are going to deliver value to the MySQL community. We are still working through that, and we are thrilled with the cooperation we are getting from the MySQL folks that now work for Oracle. Our hope is to start later this year- post-OpenWorld and then really at COLLABORATE 2011 - to really be able to deliver value to that MySQL community.

DBTA: What are the key challenges that you see ahead in the coming months?
Flower: One of our key challenges is really about dealing with the acquisitions. There has been a lot of activity around Oracle and what should we ago after, what should we not go after.

Even though the Sun acquisition is a big one, there have been many others that came before. We are starting to se the dust settle a little bit within Oracle on how they see what they have acquired and whether they will be standalone products or something completely embedded into something else, and  that has allowed us to refocus back on members.

It is all about the database and working outward from there. How do we support the different types of applications with the new technology that is embedded or associated with the database?  And so this year we are really refocusing on that. That is how we are addressing the breadth of technology that Oracle has put out there - this refocus on the DBA and on what is important for them from  11g R2 to security  to supporting mixed uses like operational systems as well as  BI and data warehousing to Exadata, but it all comes from the database.

DBTA: It has been a difficult year from the standpoint of the economy. How is the IOUG evolving to support members?
Flower: Our big conference every year is COLLABORATE, but if you look out over the last few years we have been diversifying and doing more webinars for our members and putting more online content. We recently revamped our website and launched it at COLLABORATE. We feel it is much more interactive and richer.

DBTA: Has this impacted the IOUG as well?
Flower: We are finding better and more cost-effective ways to deliver the same content and in some instances we are able to deliver it better with a broader distribution.

For example, beginning last year we have had a greater focus on an online presence and we are going to continue with that, with more education being delivered that way

We have also begun emphasizing corporate memberships rather than individual memberships because there are more economies of scale. That is another thing that we have done to make the cost of membership more palatable for companies.

DBTA: What else?
Flower: One of the other things that we are doing is a lot more cooperative work with other user groups whether they are Oracle communities or non-Oracle communities. We are finding that if we can share the load a bit we can reach out to more people. We had a very successful BI program that we started last year with ODTUG, which is the Oracle Development Tools Users Group, where we did regional events and shared the resource load, and that way were able to deliver half-day BI sessions in more cities.

We are doing a similar thing this year, and it is being branded as "Fusion Soup to Nuts" which was kicked off at COLLABORATE and  we are doing a series of Soup to Nuts webcasts which the IOUG is participating in with OAUG, ODTUG, Quest, and the Higher Education Users group. We all participated in the Fusion Soup to Nuts webinar series in July and Oracle is interested in helping us take it on the road either in North America or globally. We are finding more ways to deliver more content, not only online on our own, but through collaboration with other Oracle and non-Oracle groups.

DBTA: What are the areas in which IOUG members most need training now?
Flower: We still find that with 11g R2 adoption that people need a better understanding of the powerful new features that they can be taking advantage of, and we are seeing an uptick in Exadata sales, so a better understanding of the Exadata machine is required. Of course, security is an ongoing area of focus, as well as business intelligence tools like OBIEE.

DBTA: Will those be areas of focus at OpenWorld?
Flower: We have a SIG day on Sunday at OpenWorld and all of the users groups have the ability to have meetings or sessions, but we choose to put on educational sessions as opposed to just SIG meetings and our focus is on those areas. We have also provided speakers to Oracle for Monday through Thursday. We also had planned to include MySQL as part of that but Oracle is holding - pun-intended - a Sun Day as well, and they put together a series that included Sun Solaris and MySQL with a whole series that they are promoting around the Sun technology, and so our MySQL speakers will be participating in that program.

DBTA: What are the IOUG's additional areas of focus for the rest of the year?
Flower: This being the year of the member we are focusing on making sure that our members are getting what they need and what they want and at the same time finding ways to work within the growing Oracle community - but from that member center.