Open Insights 19 – Avoiding A Fixed Fee Fix

OPEN INSIGHTS
Issue 19 – Avoiding A Fixed Fee Fix
May 1, 2006
by Sean Hull
Founder and Senior Consultant
Heavyweight Internet Group


Welcome to our free monthly newsletter, discussing news, developments and business best practices at the intersection of Oracle and Open Source software.

In This Issue:
1. Feature: Avoiding A Fixed Fee Fix
2. Audio Interviews
3. Current Reading
4. Lightweight Humor
5. Miscellaneous
6. Past Issues
7. Technical Articles
8. About Heavyweight Internet Group

1. Feature: Avoiding A Fixed Fee Fix

Recently I ran into some confusion and hit some roadblocks with a client over a fixed fee project. That inspired my thoughts, and insights in this month’s newsletter.

The Spirit and Letter of a Contract
Depending on the total cost of your project, or the piece of your project, it may or may not make sense to hire a lawyer to draft a complicated contract to cover all eventualities. Even if you have such a contract, it often remains difficult to stay on the path you paved. There are various boiler plate contracts on the internet, and I urge you to review them, and look for one which retains the fewest pages, and least complicated legalese and speaks more in plain language. Be sure to add in bullet points on what both parties intend to accomplish. Also include a clause that says the contract represents the entire agreement between the parties, and any amendments must be made in writing and signed by both parties. Furthermore keep in mind that if the contract is between two named corporate entities, a dispute cannot be settled in small claims court, and therefore both parties would need to hire lawyers.

One more thing to keep in mind. Lawyers often talk about the letter and the spirit of the contract. That’s because written english can never completely capture the idea two parties have about something. You make every effort to include details, but there is always ambiguity. If there weren’t, where would disputes come from? Keep asking questions, and looking for differences, and try to resolve them now between yourselves, and get those resolutions in writing. The more ironed out, the closer the letter of the contract will capture the spirit of the agreement you’ve come to. I’ll admit that no matter how many times I consider this piece, it remains extremely difficult. At the point you are about to sign an agreement, you don’t want to bring up anything that will prevent both parties from agreeing, but at the same time you want to be clear and honest about what you expect. Only real-life experience can make you better at this.

Holding Hands + Frequent Calls

With a new client, this can be the hardest part. Both parties are just getting to know each other, and just building a relationship. So there is a period of demonstration, and proving competence. This is very important, and consultants and freelancer’s often take this to mean, put in the extra effort, and go the extra mile. In addition, the promise of long-term work often stands out in front as an added incentive. Unfortunately such loosening of the reigns can allow projects and scope to expand and grow beyond the project outlines. I emphasize great caution here. You want very much to maintain your good relationship, but you also want to closely manage your fixed scope, necessarily implied by your agreed upon fixed fee. With that in mind I also emphasize frequent calls. Discuss the developments, difficulties, and hurdles you’re encountering as you’re encountering them. Don’t wait to mention a problem until it builds up to be a real obstacle.

Hitting Walls

With a fixed scope, discipline and prudence must be maintained. This is fortunate for the cost of a project as it doesn’t grow and expand, but it means you’re going to be saying “We can’t do that.” early on. You won’t be saying it out of ability, but rather out of practical constraints. But try to leave yourself a small golden parachute. Put some clauses in the contract that account for some expected walls, and how to route around them. You can even bill hourly for items which fall outside your agreed upon scope. But manage this. Let the client know during the contract negotiation what your concerns are both verbally, and in writing, and as issues come up mention them before they boil over.

There’s Light At The End Of The Tunnel
Above all, don’t lose hope. Differences can very often be resolved when all parties come to the table with an open mind, and give each other a fair chance to speak. Be frank, and sincere, and keep the end goal in mind.

Conclusions
Fixed fees, if managed carefully can be great for all parties. They can wrap an entire project into one lump sum that a company can easily budget and plan for, without trying to debate whether hourly fees make sense, or what those hourly fees will come to at the end. And if rounded out properly you may make some additional profit off of tasks you manage and perform regularly. However all aspects much be managed closely, else your road may take you into wild country.

2. Audio Interviews
We have a great audio interview or podcast that you’re sure to enjoy. We talk with Paul Vallee, Founder and President of Pythian Group, about their use of Open-source technologies in the enterprise, and why they’ve taken the reigns to maintain a Perl to Oracle library called DBD::Oracle. Click here for more.

Do you use Open-source technologies in your enterprise? Would you like to talk about your experiences, and business successes? We’d like to hear from you. Email me at shull@iheavy.com

3. Current Reading

Art of SQL – Stephane Faroult
In this phenomenal book on SQL, the language of getting data in and out of databases, Stephane takes a fresh approach. Using The Art of War by Sun Tzu as a metaphor for doing battle with your data, he takes you on a new journey through the trials and tribulations of modern database application tuning.

You The Smart Patient – Michael Roizen, Mehmet Oz
Drs Roizen and Oz take us on a guided tour through our modern world of medicine, helping us negotiate insurance, choose a doctor, and understand some of the common ailments and how to help our doctors help us.

Free Culture – Lawrence Lessig
Lawrence Lessig is a professor of law at Standfort Law School, and specializes in copyright and intellectual property especially in relation to discourse online. In this book he inspires, and encourages us to consider the dangers of putting too much of the control of copyright in the hands of big-business and media conglomerates.

4. Lightweight Humor
Back in The Onion archives, I found this hilarious article which is as funny today as it was in 1998!

Evil Genius Gates Drops Windows 98 Into NYC Water Supply

5. Miscellaneous
Learn from these audio interviews of great entrepreneurs and business leaders with Venture Voice Podcasts.

Monster.com is sponsoring some interesting podcast interviews by great business and other management gurus with Career Advice Podcasts.

Want to get a better idea of the job markets? Check out Indeed.com’s Jobtrends.

Keith Ferrazzi, author of previously mentioned “Never Eat Alone” a book about networking, and building relationships for your career, as a Tip of the Week.

6. Past Issues
Issue 18: The Cost of Consulting
Issue 17: Secrets Of The Interview
Issue 16: Success In Juggling
Issue 15: Marketing About Technology
Archive: Past Issues

7. Technical Articles
Oracle9i + RAC on Linux/Firewire: click here
Migrating MySQL to Oracle: click here
MySQL Disaster Recovery: click here

8. About Heavyweight Internet Group
In a nutshell, Oracle. Everything related to and surrounding the database technology we specialize in, but specifically setup, admin and tuning of Oracle technology. I have 10 years experience with Oracle, wrote a book on the technology, and write and lecture frequently. I’m founder and senior consultant of the company. In capacities where your company might hire Deloitte, AIG, or Oracle Consulting we can bring the same level of service and experience, at about half the price. Simple equation.

Visit us on the web at iheavy.com.

Open Insights 18 – The Cost of Consulting

In This Issue:
1. Feature: The Cost of Consulting
2. New Audio Interview Series
3. Current Reading
4. Lightweight Humor
5. Miscellaneous
6. Past Issues
7. Technical Articles
8. About Heavyweight Internet Group

1. Feature: The Cost of Consulting

I spend a lot of time with prospects, networking, exchanging ideas, and also fishing for new projects. Some of that time is spent on the phone, some at networking events, seminars, and conferences, and some just at lunches. Business as usual you say, right?

In a recent conversation and negotiation over costs for a project, a prospect expressed one of her concerns to me. “Well, I shouldn’t have to finance your lunch dates with other clients…” Now one might take this in an adversarial way, but of course she was merely expressing her interest in keeping costs down on her end, and what she preceived to be a lack of fairness in overall cost. But one thing it made me realize is how there is often a lot of miscommunication, and misunderstandings over the cost of consulting. So that got me thinking about this month’s newsletter.

I’ll start by talking a bit about some of those costs, hidden ones, and obvious ones, and then speak of some hidden benefits of hiring what at first might seem to be a more expensive resource.

Consulting can be a mixed bag in terms of business, and profit. There are ups and downs of the business cycle, and many activities that don’t directly contribute to income. One is keeping skills up to date, which involves following online forums, reading the latest books on the subject, attending and speaking at seminars, and generally being involved in the technical community. As a fulltime employee, that is a natural part of day-to-day activity, and mixes in with your weekly salary as an expected overhead. As a consultant however, those are dreaded “unbillable hours”. Writing this newsletter is another example of unbillable hours, as are phone calls and prospecting in general. In fact of the many aspects of consulting, including accounting, marketing, sales, networking, prospecting, negotiating contracts, billing, maintaining professional skills, and writing code or administrating a system, only the very last two are billable! Unbillable hours are a huge cost in consulting, but benefits, such as 401k, and health insurance are a few additional ones. Each and every one of those costs has to be captured, and encapsulated into an hourly rate, in order to simply be in business. If the money coming in doesn’t equal the costs, you simply won’t be in business for very long. It simply won’t work.

From the perspective of a prospect considering taking on a consultant for a project, it may still not be obvious why this all should concern them. I spoke with a hiring manager once who told me, there are lots of folks out here who will work for $30/hr, students, parttime freelancers, and people looking for a second income. He was right, I’ve met a number of these folks myself. I think they fall into two categories, (1) those for whom consulting is not their primary income and (2) those who are testing the waters, trying to get clients by underselling themselves. The former category of people unfortunately won’t make your business a priority for them, since the income isn’t a priority. And the latter group will inevitably not last long in consulting because they haven’t recognized all of the hidden costs. Take that $30/hr, multiply 40 hours, and 50 weeks (2 weeks vacation is yet another overhead) and you come out with 60k. But that doesn’t account for higher taxes, health insurance, and 401k, and make what businesses estimate to be a 20-25% cost on top of salary. So 80% of that is 48k, and that’s assuming you bill out every hour of every week of the year. More likely it’ll be around 75% of those hours, bringing you down to an equivalent salary of 36k, which is certainly not much of a salary by New York City standards. Take a salary of 90k as a base in NYC, with overhead figure 113k cost to the company, continue with our optimism and figure 75% of the year’s hours are billable, that’s 151k divided into an hourly rate and you get $75/hr.

From the perspective of your business, if you need someone for a quick one-week project, it probably doesn’t matter. In that case, assuming they can execute on what they say, cheaper is probably better. So what do you gain from hiring a resource that at first simply seems more expensive? You get projects done quicker, and anticipate more of the roadblocks, and hurdles in advance. You get peripheral benefits from years of experience, recommendations, opinions, and you get reliability. A consultant who’s been in business for ten years like we have, you know is going to be around after they finish the project. You’re going to be able to turn to them if something goes awry six months or three years down the line. You’ll also get the benefit of their network of contacts, and industry connections, foresight, and perspective.

In the end we’ve found clients pleasantly surprised by what they got for their dollar, at the close of consulting projects. You as a business, must be savvy, and factor not only an hourly rate but also how much time the project will take, whether all the cracks are filled in at the end. Ultimately you want to be sure your new bridge can stand the test of time.

2. New Audio Interview Series

We’ve started a new series of audio interviews or podcast that you’re sure to enjoy. In our first one, we talk with Paul Vallee, Founder and President of Pythian Group, about their use of Open-source technologies in the enterprise, and why they’ve taken the reigns to maintain a Perl to Oracle library called DBD::Oracle. Click here for more.

Do you use Open-source technologies in your enterprise? Would you like to talk about your experiences, and business successes? We’d like to hear from you. Email me at shull@iheavy.com

3. Current Reading

A testament to blogging, each and every one of the authors we mention here has a blog!

Collapse by Jared Diamond
Jared Diamond, famed author of “Guns, Germs, and Steel” points his attention to various human civilizations from history, and discusses what we can learn and apply to our present day environmental and geopolitical problems. Also read Diamond’s blog

Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Also the author of Blink, another bestseller, Gladwell discusses various social phenomenon which exhibit a tipping point. He talks about the word of mouth phenomenon, mavens, networking, social connectors, and how size impacts the affectiveness of working groups. This is a superb book, for its excellent no nonesense writing style, and focus on issues of relevance to all of us, especially in business. You can follow Gladwell’s ideas regularly at his blog.

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
Keith Ferrazzi takes a fascinating look at networking. Some of his deep insights include “don’t keep score”, “build it before you need it” and “social arbitrage”. I even managed to see him speak at the 92nd Street Y, and I highly recommend his book. He also has a blog Never Eat Alone. Keith also has a 15 point tip sheet called “Conference Commando” which is very good. Search google to find a copy.

We’d also like to bring your attention to Paul Beelen’s Advertising 2.0 Whitepaper. He discusses RSS for syndication of your content, as well as word of mouth advertising on the web, and how blogs are having such an impact. This is very good stuff for anyone running a business on the web.

Tom Peters is one of those famous and insightful people, that always sparks some new thinking when you read his materials. Check out his 111 Ridiculously Obvious Thoughts on Selling.

Have you started using Linkedin, or are wondering how to better manage your network of contacts and associates? Read Keith Ferrazzi’s howto Tools of the Trade: Linkedin

If you’re a blogger, you may be curious how to earn some income from all your hard work, and original content. Here’s a great way to get started Tag, You’re It! Leveraging Tagging For Your Blog

Lastly, I would recommend taking a look at Virtual Handshake by Teten and Allen. The entire book is available for free download off of their site!

4. Lightweight Humor

Here’s a funny one from the Onion CEO’s Success Credited To Unbelievable Handshake!

5. Miscellaneous

We’ve submitted an article to a great site called Change This. Change This is all about optimistic visions for the future, in technology, politics, social change, and business. We would really love your support. Simply follow this link and click the “Vote” button. That’s it.

6. Past Issues

Issue 17: Secrets Of The Interview
Issue 16: Success In Juggling
Issue 15: Marketing About Technology
Archive: Past Issues

7. Technical Articles

Oracle9i + RAC on Linux/Firewire: click here
Migrating MySQL to Oracle: click here
MySQL Disaster Recovery: click here

8. About Heavyweight Internet Group

In a nutshell, Oracle. Everything related to and surrounding the database
technology we specialize in, but specifically setup, admin and tuning of Oracle
technology. I have 10 years experience with Oracle, wrote a book on the
technology, and write and lecture frequently. I’m founder and senior
consultant of the company. In capacities where your company might hire
Deloitte, AIG, or Oracle Consulting we can bring the same level of service
and experience, at about half the price. Simple equation.

Visit us on the web at www.iheavy.com.

Open Insights 17 – Secrets Of The Interview


OPEN INSIGHTS
Issue 17 – Secrets Of The Interview
March 1, 2006

by Sean Hull
<shull@iheavy.com>
Founder and Senior Consultant
Heavyweight Internet Group

Welcome to our free monthly newsletter, discussing news, developments and business best practices at the intersection of Oracle and Open Source software.

In This Issue:
1. Feature: How to Interview
2. Current Reading
3. Lightweight Humor
4. Past Issues
5. Technical Articles
6. About Heavyweight Internet Group

1. Feature: Secrets Of The Interview
Anthony Bourdain is a famous New York City chef, has been on various talkshows, and published a spectacularly funny expose of the restaurant business called “Kitchen Confidential”. In it he discusses a restaurant owner and purveyer from the West Village who has a longstanding reputation, and interesting nickname to boot. This quote inspired this months newsletter…

“Bigfoot understood — as I came to understand — that character is far more important than skills or employment history. And he recognized character — good and bad — brilliantly. He understood, and taught me, that a guy who shows up every day on time, never calls in sick and does what he said he was going to do is less likely to f**k you in the end than a guy who has an incredible resume but is less than reliable about arrival time. Skills can be taught. Character you either have or don’t have. Bigfoot understood that there are two types of people in the world: those who do what they say they’re going to do — and everyone else.”

Now with all the interviews you’ve either had, or given, how often are you preoccupied with specifics of skills, and distracted by the details of the project itself to forget these important essentials?

I will certainly grant you that a good foundation and skillset is important. Basic problem solving, as well as theoretical and abstract thinking are crucial for technical positions. But all the Fortune 500 experience, name dropping, and buzzwords on the resume don’t necessarily lead that way. Specific skills may be less important as they are all learnable. Furthermore there is likely a huge pool of specifics for your project which will be new and have to be learned anyway. Did the individual work their way through college, hold jobs before college, are they on-time and confident?

If you think back to projects you’ve managed in the past you’ll find, as I have in subcontracting freelancers now for over seven years, it is that the ones who are driven and determined, and can execute what they say, when they say they will who you want to work with again. Can they estimate their time to complete tasks and follow through?

So how many times has your interviewee made mistakes and gotten back up? In my experience interviews are composed of questions of one type, but inevitably what clients compliment and thank me for after a project is completed, all boil down to those things which define character.
2. Current Reading
Copy This, by Kinkos founder Paul Orfalea, and Ann Marsh
Especially prescient this month, as it connects right in with our character versus skill discussion is Copy This. It’s the story of Kinkos founder Paul Orfalea, how he started the company, how he turned his dyslexia into an asset, and how he continues to lack basic reading and writing skills (unbelievably for a fortune 500 CEO), yet through his great people skills, and really paying attention to the things that matter he managed to grow Kinkos into a household brand. I saw Paul speak six months ago at the New York Small Business Summit, and he has real charm and charisma. I became even more convinced that the real skills that matter most are those very skills that interviews so often miss.

Pro MySQL, by Michael Kruckenberg & Jay Pipes
If you’re looking to move into the MySQL space, or you manage a few of these databases, this is an excellent APress title to take a look at. It skips a lot of the basics you can get from the manuals, and digs into the meatier material. I’ll also point you to a related article I did for DBA Zine: MySQL for the Oracle DBA

Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain has been through the trenches. Before I read this book I had no idea that might describe the kitchens of some of New York’s finest restaurants. Yet there it is in black and white, all the crazy hours, colorful characters, and wild stories that he tells so well. This book is not for the squeamish, and it may be that many of us would rather not know!

3. Lightweight Humor
Here’s an amusing Dilbert from a few days ago. The boss is grilling Dilbert over a project that is four months behind, and he tries to pass the buck.

4. Past Issues
Issue 16: Success In Juggling
Issue 15: About Technology
Issue 14: The Tricky Database
Issue 13: Oracle Heavy Lifting
Archive: Past Issues

5. Technical Articles
Oracle9i + RAC on Linux/Firewire: click here
Migrating MySQL to Oracle: click here
MySQL Disaster Recovery: click here

6. About Heavyweight Internet Group

In a nutshell, Oracle. Everything related to and surrounding the database technology we specialize in, but specifically setup, admin and tuning of Oracle technology. I have 10 years experience with Oracle, wrote a book on the technology, and write and lecture frequently. I’m founder and senior consultant of the company. In capacities where your company might hire Deloitte, AIG, or Oracle Consulting we can bring the same level of service and experience, at about half the price. Simple equation.

Visit us on the web at http://iheavy.com.

Open Insights 16 – Success In Juggling

Open Insights Newsletter
Issue 16 – Success in Juggling
February 1, 2006
by Sean Hull shull@iheavy.com

Founder and Senior Consultant
Heavyweight Internet Group

Welcome to our free monthly newsletter, discussing news, developments and business best practices at the intersection of Oracle and Open Source software.


In This Issue:
1. Feature: Success in Juggling
2. Expanding Newsletter
3. Industry Heavies – Interviews
4. Current Reading
5. Lightweight Humor
6. Book Reviews
7. Miscellaneous
8. Past Issues
9. Technical Articles
10. About Heavyweight Internet Group


1. Feature: Success in Juggling
In Godin’s “The Big Moo” there’s an article about success in business using a unique insight. “Juggling is about throwing, not catching.” Now being part-time juggler in real life, and having spent ten long years as an independent consultant, I can tell you first hand that this is incredibly, terribly accurate. The worse your throws are, the more catch-up you have to play. Good throws are easy to catch and so they make the whole process smoother, and more fluid.

Obviously there’s an analogy here, and I think a very serious one to ponder. Take for example this very excellent presentation by Dick Hardt entitled OSCON 2005 Keynote – Identity 2.0. This presentation is what I would call, slide after slide a perfect throw each time. He seemlessly takes you from one thought to the next, also building on the last until you get the picture. His presentation is very engaging because of that.

That’s another point about good consulting. Companies have spent so much time with cookie-cutter consultants coming from the big consulting firms that they sometimes assume boutique firms will be the same or worse. But the reality is those big firms have million dollar sales teams negotiating contracts for which they simply apply resources.

The other insight here comes from watching a beginner learn to juggle. Despite explaining to them how important a good throw is, they’re going to get excited at first, and get all worked up, and it’s still going to be difficult for them. You have to help them get over that hump. The same goes in consulting projects. In truth clients hire you because you have a proven track record at knowing how to throw, and hoping that you’ll be able to extend that skill to their business. With patience it can be done, and the insight from this example is that the patience really needs to be practiced all around the table. If as a consultant you expect all your clients to know what they want, you’re kidding yourself. If they knew all that, they could execute themselves without hiring you. So too, if clients expect that just plugging in the right resource will solve all their difficult problems, they have a few things to learn from juggling as well.

So set about your next technology project with this insight in mind. You want to be as serious about throwing, as you are about catching. And keep it in mind as you review and consider outside resources for those projects.

2. Expanding Newsletter
We’ve reached our 1200th subscriber for our monthly newsletter, and also decided on the name “Open Insights”. Thanks so much for passing us along to colleagues. With any luck we’ll double again in the coming year!

We’re also adding more features, and a contents section, so you can quickly jump to what you’re interested in.

3. Heavyweight Industry Interviews
I interviewed the authors of six open-source projects which work with Oracle, and published the interviews in their entirety on Oracle + Open Source. Included are…

Ljubomir Buturovic, author of gqlplus
Itzchak Rehberg, author of OraRep
Jeff Horwitz, author of extproc_perl
Paul Vallee, the author of m2o.pl
Tim Strehle, author of the OracleEditor
Clausen Yngve, author of ora2html

Read – Oracle Open Source Projects – The Interviews.

4. Current Reading
The Big Moo, edited by Seth Godin see also Remarkablize.com
Seth Godin edits this little book of insights, including essays and new ideas from such luminaries as Malcolm Gladwell, Mark Cuban, Tom Peters, and Amit Gupta.

The Database Hacker’s Handbook by David Litchfield, Chris Anley, John Heasman & Bill Grindlay
This book talks A to Z about database security, covering Oracle, SQL Server, DB2 and Sybase as well as open-source MySQL, and Postgres.

The Deep Hot Biosphere by Thomas Gold
The premise, backed by a lot of chemistry, and current respected science is that hydrocarbons, commonly known as fossil fuels are not of fossil origin, but are a natural component of the earth’s core. See also Abiogenic petrolium origin.

5. Lightweight Humor
This blog Gaping Void has some pretty insightful and humorous cartoons, all drawn on the backs of business cards. Here’s one about smarter and faster markets.

6. Book Reviews
Expert Oracle Database Architecture, by Tom Kyte
Tom Kyte’s books are always excellent, and this one is certainly no exception. Read the in-depth review here.

Cost-Based Oracle, by Jonathan Lewis
Jonathan Lewis as many of you know, is a world renowned expert in the field of Oracle database administration and tuning. His new book on Oracle’s sophisticated Cost-Based Optimizer will provide insights, and insider detail like no other you’ve read before. You can find the full review here.

7. Miscellaneous: Tags & Related News
We’ve added a few things to our blog “Oracle and Open Source”, including a “Tag Cloud” of keywords that appear most frequently on the Oracle blog aggregation site “OraBlogs”. To learn more about that, visit http://www.tagcloud.com. We’d also recommend taking a look at the social bookmarking site http://del.icio.us We have aggregated our favorite sites there as well.

8. Past Issues
Issue 15: Marketing About Technology
Issue 14: The Tricky Database
Issue 13: Oracle Heavy Lifting
Archive: Past Issues

9. Technical Articles
Oracle9i + RAC on Linux/Firewire: click here
Migrating MySQL to Oracle: click here
MySQL Disaster Recovery: click here

10. About Heavyweight Internet Group
In a nutshell, Oracle. Everything related to and surrounding the database technology we specialize in, but specifically setup, admin and tuning of Oracle technology. We have 10 years experience with Oracle, wrote a book on the technology, and write and lecture frequently. I’m founder and senior consultant of the company. In capacities where your company might hire Deloitte, AIG, or Oracle Consulting we can bring the same level of service and experience, at about half the price. Simple equation. Visit us on the web at iheavy.com.

Open Insights 15 – Marketing About Technology

By Sean Hull

Founder and Senior Consultant

January 1, 2006

Happy New Year everyone, and welcome to another year of Heavyweight Internet Group’s monthly newsletter.

Please forward to interested friends and colleagues. Subscription information can be found at the end.

Please also visit our sister site Oracle and Open Source for more frequent updates.

In This Issue:

Feature: Marketing About Technology

On The Lighter Side

Past Issues

Technical Articles

Marketing About Technology

At a recent day long seminar on Oracle technology I sat in on a panel where the

audience asked questions, and the panel responded with their professional expe

riences on that technology. One question was on Real Application Clusters, and whether it was a recommended solution for High Availability in a given environment. Should we go with RAC?

What struck me at that moment was two very opposing visions. One was of a bore

d technologist, who, having implemented the perfect high availability solution has very little to do because it runs so well. He affectively lets his genius work him out of a job. The technology just runs, and he has nothing really to do! The other vision was of a marketing/sales team, who has just sold a company on the latest wizbang technology that will save the business millions. They’re very excited because they know how much revenue it will bring into the consulting company.

What’s wrong with these two pictures? Well obviously the former picture of the

technologist who has nothing to do, we all know (I hope) is a fantasy. Despite all the marketing in the world self-managing systems remain, and I think will forever remain, a figment of the imagination. The complexity of technology systems, whether from security issues, upgrades, bugs, patches, new features, or new application development, will forever keep the technology administrator busy. Now the latter picture, I hope, also sounds fantastical, that of the perfectly happy consulting group who get everything they want. The truth is with enough insight, investigation, and research you can and should educate yourself be forehand about what’s reasonable, and within reach.

But what I also think is important, and want to draw your attention to is the two distinct perspectives. The technologists perspective is, or at least should

be to simplify the technology so it’s boring. So it’s ordinary in a way that

makes the business run smoothly. That way the technology facilitates, and provides, but doesn’t hinder, or become a nuisance. Now we know all technologists may not be of the mind to simplify, but we can point in this direction. So for instance when we look at upgrading systems to the “latest and greatest” we might think twice, and imagine being on the oldest supported version, which has every known bug ironed out, and support has a good document on every issue already tweaked, honed, and polished for your use. This isn’t as glamourous as using the latest Agile Software or Grid technology, but it may well be the most reliable.

And what of the other perspective? The marketing and sales perspective is to build the business, and in the case of consulting, find challenges, and ever bigger problems for which experts will be needed. This is a natural consequence of perspective, to build that type of business.

What you as a client hiring a professional services firm should keep in mind is all of these perspectives, as they all come into play, and point different minds in different directions. Hopefully with enough foresight, you can hire the right group, with just the right balance that won’t end up creating more opportunities for themselves, than they solve for you.

On the lighter side

Everyone who enjoys the great technology of google, but also wonders from time to time if there is an end in site should check out this great piece over at the Onion Google Announces Plan to Destroy All Information It Can’t Index.

Open Insights 14 – The Tricky Database

By Sean Hull

Founder and Senior Consultant

December 1, 2005
The Tricky Database
Which of these statements fits your thinking?

“Well we want the best of the best, so we got Oracle.”

“We have expensive problems to solve so we spent handsomely on the solution.”

“We need to be up more than 99.999% of the time, so we surely need Oracle.”
The truth is technology experts can tell you exactly what the database is and does but may not have the most insight into when and how to use it most effectively. And as managers we often have the above insights about problems that need to get solved, and budgets and so on and so forth, but the two bits of intelligence are often separated by an abyss of understanding, leaving money badly spent, or real business problems half solved.
At Heavyweight Internet Group I sit in the unlikely position of having one foot in both camps. So hopefully I can extend some insight, and possibly shed a little light on some of these questions. Ok, here goes…
1. Why are databases such a complex component in the enterprise?
Well to put it mildly, everyone has their hand in there. The finance department keeps accounting, and business intelligence there, helping to answer big questions about running the business, hr, marketing, and sales all want to keep contact info there. It’s your business’s proverbial golden nugget. So it needs to be available all the time, like electricity, or the telephone system. Unfortunately it’s a much more complex beast than those technologies, and is constantly evolving too. There are backups, security, patches, and upgrades to worry about. Not to mention application tuning, when the logic behind those lengthly reports becomes unweildy, or your data volume grows.
2. What’s with database “tuning” anyway? Is Oracle the PINTO of software?
This is a very interesting question for me, primarily because I can see it from two very different angles. From the management side I see this hunk of technology that looks for all intents and purposes like a very expensive Pinto, a Jaguar automobile of old. It needs constant attention, the parts are expensive, and so are the mechanics. But when I put on my engineering cap, I can see a shining piece of engineering marvel. A machine which, when tuned properly (not an easy task I grant you) will outperform any other datastore in the world. Thousands and thousands of transactions a second can be performed, while hundreds and hundreds of users are all connected simultanously asking it their own questions.
Now I will grant you that the machine does not come out of the box tuned very well as a starter system, the principal reason for this is there are so many types of uses. There are datawarehouses, terabytes of archival data, and reports that run all night long on million row tables. And there are transactional (dubbed OLTP) systems, perhaps driving the backend of a website or ecommerce site. Databases run financial institutions, and small startup companies, each with a different profile of needs. And what also makes it complex is that each of those businesses will be running on different hardware, from mainframes, to Linux servers, and Windows XP, to Sun Solaris. Some will have EMC storage, while others will have a cheap Intel based RAID controller with six disks. Every system can be tuning precisely, but out-of-the-box Oracle doesn’t just plop down and do what you want.
3. Will monitoring save me? What about the Remote DBA?

Automated monitoring is a really excellent way to keep your systems in tip-top shape. You spend time and money at the outset, but you gain peace of mind that your infrastructure will keep rolling. There are many ways to get monitoring, from commercial software packages that you can install, which provide fancy graphical front-ends to the database, to various Open Source solutions like Nagios which provide all the power, functionality, and customizability you could ever want, but perhaps with a few less bells and whistles on the interface.
If you’re not comfortable with these solutions, you can outsource this aspect of your infrastructure. Sign a contract with a vendor who specializes in this type of service, with a specific service level agreement, guarenteed response. That way it will be in their interests to keep track of the things that could most threaten your day-to-day operations, from security concerns and backups, to rogue or errant queries that are impacting performance. Even hardware monitoring is available, so the loss of a harddrive in your RAID array is noticed well before it threatens your whole system.
4. Is 5×9 reasonable? Can we do HA?
The industry talks about 5 NINES, that is 99.999% uptime as the sort of gold standard of availability. But lets really think about that. With only three NINES, you have room for 10 minutes of downtime per week, four NINES gives you only 1 minute per week, and five NINES gives you a mere 6 seconds per week. Here’s a more detailed look at what five NINES really means.
To put that in perspective, the power grid that runs the Northeastern United States was out in August 2003 for 24 hours. New Yorkers will remember this well. The last big one was the blackout of 1965. If you do the math that’s a real outage of 38 minutes per year, or a little better than four NINES. If you took all the little power outages businesses experience, the picture gets worse. Now granted many datacenters have their own power generators, but the point remains in complex systems, even with plenty of redundancy, and elimination of human error from the mix, some downtime is inevitable.
What about High Availability? Oracle offers this in a couple of ways. One through Dataguard, formerly Standby Database, and the other through Real Application Clusters (RAC). Yes these technologies will bring you closer to five NINES, but a reasonable and real assessment of the technologies, and real-world test cases, and relative expenditures have to be considered to get a true sense of what is reasonable to expect. As more complex components are added to the mix, both hardware and software, you have more points that can fail, and more possible software bugs too.
5. What about the Open Source databases? Will they change everything?
The Open Source databases vying for your attention these days include Firebird, MySQL, Postgres, and Ingres. The question of Open Source databases becomes more and more relevant everyday. As new features are added, and they become more sophisticated and feature rich, more businesses will use them for their data. Many enterprises are sticking with the watch and wait plan, and letting others live on the bleeding edge. We covered this over at Oracle and Open Source in an article War of the Databases?.
On the lighter side

A colleague of mine recently forwarded this excellent illustration. Everyone in the business of technology projects, whether you hire outside resources, or have developers in house, would benefit from understanding this. It is a picture with ten panels, each illustrating a different perspective of a technology project, from “How the customer explained it” to “How the business consultant described it” and even “How the customer was billed”. Well worth a look, and hopefully to keep in mind as what to avoid.

Open Insights 13 – Oracle Heavy Lifting

Heavyweight Internet Group Newsletter

Issue 13 – Oracle Heavy Lifting

November 1, 2005


by Sean Hull

Founder and Senior Consultant

Heavyweight Internet Group


Welcome to our free monthly newsletter, discussing news, developments and business best practices at the intersection of Oracle and Open Source software.


Please forward to interested friends and colleagues. Subscription information can be found at the end.


We are now writing material regularly for our sister site Oracle + Open Source so check there for more frequent updates.

Oracle Heavy Lifting


In consulting, I have the unique opportunity to both think deeply about technology, how it works, and what it can do, and also about business questions, what does a business need to do, and how will technology help it achieve greater returns. I just finished pouring over Tom Kyte’s new Expert Oracle title. It is an excellent book, full of plenty of deep insights about Oracle technology. As I was reading the chapters, I noted in particular which features required enterprise edition, and which are included in standard edition. You can find my chapter by chapter review on Amazon.


As I’m engaged with many different types of clients and businesses, I have the opportunity to see Oracle in various real-world situations, solving real business problems. I came to a profound realization that most enterprises decide how much to spend on Oracle in proportion to (a) the business problem & use they are putting it to and (b) how expensive the hardware and consulting services are. In other words the expense is relative to the budget constraints, and in proportion to the problem it is solving. However, with my technology hat on I realized that though it might seem like a rational decision from the business side, you may not be doing all the heavy lifting you think you’re doing. Put another way Enterprise Edition may not be what you need, or at least more than you’re using.


Without going into a tremendous amount of technical detail, I just wanted to outline the situations where Enterprise Edition would likely be worth the money, and when it may be overkill. When Standard Edition sits at roughly 10-15% of Enterprise Edition, that’s certainly something a business should consider.


A traditional way to separate database types is into two categories, Data Warehouse and OLTP. A Data Warehouse is characterized by very few users, doing large long running queries. OLTP or OnLine Transaction Processing is characterized by hundreds of concurrent users, such as a database which serves as a backend datastore to a website. An Oracle database can be tuned to prioritize and use resources most efficiently for each type of database.

So what does this have to do with Enterprise or Standard Edition. Well as it turns out Enterprise Edition proves a very attractive option for Data Warehouses. There are features such as streams, transportable tablespaces, materialized views, advanced analytical functions, and compression to name a few. None of these features are included in Standard Edition. Additionally there are other EE options which are attractive for Data Warehouses including Partitioning, and various ways to parallelize operations to help a single session consume the resources of the entire machine. These parallel operations can speed up dataloads, rebuilds, batch jobs, and large queries against even terabytes of data.


But what about Transactional environments (OLTP)? Many businesses use Oracle as a backend datastore for their online presence, such as banks, bookstores, airlines, and just about any other dynamic website. Well there are some features such as Fine Grained Access, Virtual Private Database, and Secure Roles which aren’t available in Standard Edition. There are also the Tuning, Change Management, and Diagnostics packs that are add-on options only available with Enterprise Edition. But many folks are just looking for speed and high availability features. Will Enterprise Edition help in this area? Well you only have Data Guard in Enterprise Edition, but databases can be cloned, and that process can be scripted, and although not seemless, and an integrated feature as Data Guard is, something similar can be done in Standard Edition. So how about the Parallel Features, and the Partitioning option. Will those help with Transactional databases? Let’s start with partitioning, it is a feature which may or may not be heavily used in your environment, but if your application is OLTP, chances are you’re not getting dramatic query improvements, because your queries are characterized by small frequent accesses by lots of concurrent users. Now partitioning will help you with maintenance and availability, but in that sense it serves more as a DBA tool, than a performance boost overall. What about the parallel operations. Again mostly for DBA operations, one-off rebuilds and dataloads can be made to run quite a lot faster but the day to day operation of your database may not be dramatically impacted by this feature.


With Oracle’s recent announcement of it’s Express Edition of 10g as well as it’s purchase of Innobase a commercial component of MySQL providing solid transactional support, your options are wider and more complex than ever before. Your best bet navigating this complex landscape is to get an accessment of your current infrastructure, or do sufficient research before investing in that new project. Like buying a car, ask lots of questions, don’t believe everything you hear, and kick the tires before you buy. Both Standard and Enterprise Edition can be downloaded for single-instance development use & testing off of Oracle Technology Network.

Technical Articles at IHEAVY.COM

Coming soon… A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Oracle 10g RAC

Note: The following articles will be returning to iHeavy.com soon. We’ve done some redesign and rebuilding, and have to add these again…

Tracking the Wily Proxy Hackers

Asterisk Calling Card Applications

MySQL Disaster Recovery

Dummy’s Guide to Linux firewalls

Wireless Truth or Dare

Mirroring for the Impatient

Open Insights 12 – What the Geeks Mean

Heavyweight Internet Group Newsletter
Issue 12 – What the Geeks Mean
October 4, 2005

by Sean Hull
<shull@iheavy.com>
Founder and Senior Consultant
Heavyweight Internet Group

Welcome to our free monthly newsletter, discussing news, developments and business best practices at the intersection of Oracle and Open Source software. 

Please forward to interested friends and colleagues.  Subscription information can be found at the end.

We’d also like you to take a look at our sister site http://oracleopensource.com where you’ll find other non-technical and related news and content.


What the Geeks Mean

I’m blessed for having gotten started with computers when I was very young.  Well that’s either blessed or cursed depending on how you look at it.  At any rate, having worked with computers for about 25 years, I know well what the geeks are talking about.  And having spent the last 10 years doing a lot of writing, and consulting for diverse businesses, I’ve learned to understand what the business folks are talking about.  I’ve learned business thinking, and learned about the concerns of business owners.  So this naturally leaves me in a comfortable position as International Interpreter for Geek to Suit communication. 

Well I’m just kidding of course, but seriously there is often a wide gap in understanding and I make it a point of constantly trying to bridge that gap.  So what I’m going to discuss this month are some of the big issues that come up on the technology end, and try to help you understand what your technology team is really talking about.  This will help you make better purchasing and budget allocation decisions, as some problems impact the business more seriously, or more immediately than others.  And don’t worry, we’re going to use a broad brush here, and not get too technical.  Those technical folks in the audience, be patient where analogies don’t precisely match the underlying issues.

The six sections below basically amount to areas where your systems may be encountering problems.  For each section I make a hopefully memorable and clear analogy, and then in parentheses I write the technical description of that problem that you may hear.

A. Our Disks Form a Single Lane Freeway
(Disk I/O Subsystem problems)

Disks, Disk Subsystems, or I/O Subsytems are basically the same thing.  On a PC that sits on your desk, or at home there is a normally a single harddrive which stores things while the computer is turned off.  When the system is booted, or a program is started, programs and data are loaded off that storage media into memory.  In server computing environments much the same thing happens, albeit there are many more parts.  It is often referred to as a storage subsystem because it may be composed of a stack of harddrives all managed together in one cabinet, and interfaced together in what is called a RAID.  Why should I be concerned as a manager you ask?  Well how these are configured (ie what RAID level) can dramatically impact the performance, and reliability of your SAN (Storage Area Network), effectively giving you a one lane highway in one direction (while writing to disk) while giving you a 5 lane highway in the other direction.  What’s more some configurations are more prone to crashing, and loss of a harddrive (crashing, and loss of a lane in our car analogy) than others.  

If your developers and system administrators are saying what they have is incorrect this may be because the particular server in question has a controller card which does not support the proper RAID type.  In that case new hardware would solve your problem.  External SAN/NAS solutions such as EMC or NetApp normally support all the various RAID types in whatever configuration and combinations you want.

Keep in mind that you want to keep the traffic flowing in both directions of your highway, and you want to keep the car crashes down.  Of course also want to get the most performance especially if you invested a lot on that expensive and fast car, Oracle.  Above all avoid the single lane freeway and its attendant accidents.

B. Our Network Is a Party Line
(Network + Database Security)

Some of us may recall back in the old days when you might have a party line running into your home for telephone calls.  When you picked up the telephone you might hear your next door neighbor on the telephone.  You would have to politely (or not so politely) ask them when they would be finished so you could make your call.  Beyond the inconvenience, the privacy concerns are obvious. 

In the technology world, much more of our communications are like a party line, or a postcard that you send through the mail, then you might imagine.  But how much?  And when and where should I be most concerned?

If you have a dedicated networking team, who manage the firewall, and keep patches up to date, you still may have to be concerned about wireless access to your network.  Believe it or not even encrypted WiFi connections can be breached within 10 to 15 minutes with the right tools.  You have no WiFi you say?  You only use a VPN to allow folks on the road to connect?  Well there can be vulnerabilities in all of that software, ones that can allow a hacker to breach the network, and steal valuable data. 

But even if you have all that covered, what about your Oracle database itself, the pot of gold hidden inside your network, and closely guarded.  Is it?  How safe is it from insiders?  Perhaps someone in the office wants to know the salaries of key people, or perhaps read and email or document about a potential merger or aquisition that may impact them.  There are many reasons you may want part or all of your database to be protected, even from certain internal folks. 

The best way to find out is to audit all of this.  Find out if the db has strong passwords, if data sent over the network is encrypted, and what if anything would or could be compromised, and how.

C. Trouble at the Interchange
(Middle-tier Problems)

Internet websites such as Amazon, Ebay, or your favorite bank as well as intranet applications (web based apps running in-house only) all use a three tier architecture today.  In simple terms the browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari) running on your desktop or laptop is the client.  The middle tier is the webserver and/or application server such as Apache, JBoss, Websphere, and so on.  The backend piece is your database itself.  If your systems are sluggish it could very well point to problems in the middle tier or at the interchange.  If cars aren’t getting off at the right exit, you have problems.

These servers can often be replicated quite easily, and in fact that is what many companies like your favorite online bank or bookstore do.  They also add lots of memory, and fast harddrives for reading the data and returning it back to you.  All of these middle tier servers send their database requests to the same database on the backend. 

If you’re just starting to provision new servers for a project, and haven’t decided on platform (Windows, Linux, Solaris etc), memory, cpu and so on, be sure to run performance tests first.  If you’re choosing between Windows and Linux you’ll want to consider your IT expertise, but also seriously consider the performance and stability you can expect on each platform.

D. Alphabet Soup Tuning
(SQL Query Optimization)

Your developer, database administrator, or consultant just came up to you and told you that you are experiencing serious problems because of bad SQL.  What to do?  Sounds like something the doctor prescribed, and maybe you’re feeling like you’ll need to call one by the end of it.

Here’s some help.  It is difficult to find a page in a book without an index to what you’re searching for.  It would be difficult to find an address on Fifth Avenue if you don’t know what street it is near.  In fact, if they weren’t in order (which they are not in the database without sorting) you have to go through every address from Houston Street to 59th Street.  That’s going to take you a long time.  What’s more if someone comes later looking for the same or similar addresses you’ll have a hard time writing them down because you passed so many on your way up Fifth Avenue.  This is exactly what happens in a database when an index is missing.  Or when a developer asks the database for all the addresses in New York City, when they only wanted the first one, or one with the last name Smith. 

Essentially your Queries (SQL) are the key to these types of messes, and the key to cleaning them up as well.  Since your database is executing hundreds of requests from various middle-tier servers, you want it to return quickly, and efficiently only exactly what is necessary, and cache it for related queries in the future. 

This is very often a problem we identify in tuning applications, and database problems.  It is also one that often doesn’t show up in development, when you only have a couple of streets worth of addresses instead of the whole island of Manhattan!

E. We’ve Got A Leaning Tower of Pisa
(Architectural Problems)

When you’ve built a complex software system, sometimes problems and issues aren’t related to small fixes, those potholes in the road.  Sometimes issues are serious structural or architectural problems, which could not have been anticipated when the system was built.  Such a leaning tower can threaten to collapse, if you continue to patch, and provide short term fixes. 

What to do?  A system-wide assessment might be a good place to start.  This should definitely be by someone outside the organization who can provide you with feedback without threatening his or her own position.  Such an assessment can be like getting a second opinion from another doctor.  It can also identify serious bottlenecks possibly caused by platform decisions which though structural, can be remedied easier than rebuilding the tower.  It may be that such an assessment points to the need for a complete rewrite of the application, possibly porting it to another platform which is more scalable.  All of these conclusions though perhaps difficult to hear, are what you want to know as they are important for strategic decisions going forward.  You may hold back a launch, or upgrade to a new version until you’ve fixed the fundamental flaws.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “The Tipping Point” used this aphorism:  “People don’t change when you tell them there is a better option.  They change when they conclude that they have no other option.”  So make your own conclusions, but make them informed conclusions.

F. Have We Done A Firedrill?
Disaster Recovery, Backups etc

Disaster recovery has been on everyone’s mind since the September 11th tragedy, and even more so following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  If your organization hasn’t run a firedrill, how can you be confident that you’re in good shape?  The answer is you can’t.

A firedrill much like the ones we all remember from elementary school, take an organization through EVERY STEP to recover the database, middle-tiers, and any other relevant systems from backups onto freshly setup servers.  If you don’t have enough beefy systems in-house to spare for such a firedrill, there are hosting services which can lease you usage of such servers on a short-term basis. 

In the process of this firedrill, you will learn some very important lessons.  First, you’ll learn if  you have all the pieces in place, or if you have to patch some things from the production systems to get it right.  That tells you if your backup is complete.  Second you will learn how long the process takes, and in running through it you document the process so you guarentee it’ll be faster in a real emergency.  Third and finally you will gain peace of mind because you can identify and fix the gaps before the impossible happens.


Oracle Open World – comments

We attended Oracle Open World this year, and have to say that it was one of the biggest in many years.  With all of Oracle’s recent acquisitions, many new vendors were there, and of course the media was there in attendance as well.

At our sister site Oracle and Open Source in a piece titled Restoring an Open World we discussed some of the announcements, and emphasis this year, on Open Source and Open Standards.  


Open Insights 11 – Google Wave or Tsunami


Heavyweight Internet Group Newsletter
Issue 11 – Google Wave or Tsunami?
September 1, 2005

by Sean Hull
<shull@iheavy.com>
Founder and Senior Consultant
Heavyweight Internet Group

Welcome to our free monthly newsletter, discussing news, developments and business best practices at the intersection of Oracle and Open Source software. 

Please forward to interested friends and colleagues.  Subscription information can be found at the end.

We are now writing material regularly for our sister site http://oracleopensource.com so check there for more frequent updates.

Google Wave or Tsunami?

With the recent announcement  of Google’s desktop messaging and VOIP client, the industry is full of analysis about how it will impact the playing field.  Some argue that it’s foray into VOIP will bring that much more attention to the amazing and destabalizing technology.  Some are also arguing interestingly that the new client could open up the instant messaging generally, which would be a big win for consumers.

Google’s new client Google Talk  is based on an Open Source application called Jabber  which is like a multi-lingual IM client, able to talk to AOL, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo, assuming you have  an account on all of those.  That they’ve embraced an Open platform, is further evidence of Google’s general trajectory of opening up areas of computing formerly held in rigid grip by commercial vendors, and proprietary protocols.

The discussion of Google Talk has also interestingly rekindled the rumors over a possible Google or Web OS.  Jason Kottke discusses this in depth as does Silicon Beat.  These discussions are no mere Slashdot scuttlebut, but ruminations by industry figures who likely have their finger on the Google pulse.

What would such an OS look like is anyone’s guess.  But if Tom Friedman has anything to say about it, the forces making the world a flatter playing field for business include work flow software, open protocols and Open Source software in general.   A flat playing field, like the internet, routes around monopolies, and finds ways to do business and computing cheaper, more efficiently and better.  

Open Source News

A comparison of TCO between Windows and Linux:
http://www.newsfactor.com/story.xhtml?story_id=100000028WT4

A Discussion of Open Source on Windows:
http://www.infoworld.com/article/05/07/06/28OPstrategic_1.html

CTO of Athena Healthcare discusses open source integration
http://news.com.com/Unlocking+the+enterprise+for+open+source/2100-7344_3-5840338.html?tag=nefd.lede

Success Story of Cendant Travel saves close to $100 million
http://www.cio.com/archive/070105/cendant.html

A changing software landscape
http://www.cbronline.com/article_news.asp?guid=96BD2055-DC6E-4D49-B0CF-50C52AEFFD14

Heavyweight Internet Group – Technical Articles

Tracking the Wily Proxy Hackers

Asterisk Calling Card Applications

MySQL Disaster Recovery

Dummy’s Guide to Linux Firewalls

Wireless Truth or Dare

Mirroring for the Impatient

Migrating a MySQL Database to Oracle 


Heavyweight Internet Group does Oracle integration with Open Source technologies, and has ten years experience in this space.  For more information visit our website at http://iheavy.com or call us toll free at 866 268-9448.