Tag Archives: Book Review

To the ‘Microsoft Azure’ Cloud

To The Cloud: Powering An Enterprise introduces the concepts of cloud computing from a high-level and strategic standpoint. I’ve read quite a few tomes on cloud computing and I was interested to see how this one would stack up against the others.

The book is not too weighty in technical language so as not to be overwhelming and intimidating. However at ninety five pages, one might argue it is a bit sparse for a $30 book, if you purchase it at full price.

It is organized nicely around initiatives to get you moving with the cloud.

Chapter 1, Explore takes you through the process of understanding what the cloud is and what it has to offer.

Chapter 2, Envision puts you in the drivers seat, looking at the opportunities the cloud can offer in terms of solutions to current business problems.

Chapter 3, Enable discusses specifics of getting there, such as selecting a vendor or provider, training your team, and establishing new processes in your organization.

Finally in Chapter 4, we hit on real details of adopting the cloud in your organization. Will you move applications wholesale, or will you adopt a hybrid model? How will you redesign your applications to take care of automated scaling? What new security practices and processes will you put in place. The authors offer practical answers to these questions. At the end there is also an epilogue discussing emerging market opportunities for cloud computing, such as those in India.

One of the problems I had with the book is that although it doesn’t really position itself as a Microsoft Cloud book per se, that is really what the book aims at.

For example, Microsoft Azure is sort of the default platform throughout the book, whereas in reality most folks think of Amazon Web Services to be the sort of default when talking about cloud computing. Although specifically, Azure is really a platform, while AWS is Infrastructure or raw iron, that can run Linux based Operating Systems, or Windows Azure stuff.

Of course having a trio of Microsoft executives as authors gives a strong hint to readers to expect some plugging but a rewrite of the title would probably manage readers’ expectations better.

The other missing piece with this book is a chapter on tackling new challenges in the cloud. Cloud Computing – Azure or otherwise, brings challenges with respect to hardware as using the cloud means deploying across shared resources. For example it’s hard to deploy a high-performance RAID array or SAN solution devoted to one server in the cloud. This is a challenge on AWS as well, and continues to be a major adoption hurdle. It’s part of the commoditization puzzle, but it’s as yet not completely solved. Such a chapter to discuss mitigating against virtual server failures, using redundancy, and cloud components to increase availability would be useful.

Lastly, I found it a bit disconcerting that all of the testimonials were from fellow CTOs and CIOs of big firms, not independents or other industry experts. For example I would have liked to see George Reese of Enstratus, Thorsten von Eicken from Rightscale or John Engates from Rackspace provide a comment or two on the book.

Overall the book is a decent primer if you’re looking for some guidance on Microsoft Azure Cloud. It is not a comprehensive introduction to cloud computing and you’d definitely need other resources to get the full picture. At such a hefty sticker price, my advice is to pick this one up at the bargain bin.

The Age of the Platform by Phil Simon

The Age of the Platform book coverI picked up Phil Simon’s The Age of the Platform after running into his blog, and some of his writing online. Simon is an interesting guy with an obvious strong technical background. He’s also an accomplished speaker and you can find several videos of his speaking online.

The first thing that struck me about this book was how it came to be. The book was funded through Kickstarter, an online platform for people to fund their creative projects. Perhaps it was Simon trying to drive home the point of his book. But it gets better, he self-published the book through Motion Publishing. Furthermore the book isn’t cheap for a paperback at $20. That said I admire that he has obviously eaten his own dog food, as the proverbial saying goes, and done it himself.

The premise of the book is that we’re entering a new age exemplified by four companies, namely Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. He takes us through a quick history of each company, then illustrates their successes and how each of them have successfully created platforms to extend their reach. Continue reading The Age of the Platform by Phil Simon

Review: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

Here Comes EverybodyClay Shirky tells a great story. Here Comes Everybody begins with a case of a lost phone in a taxi cab, and the extraordinary turn of events that led to the owner retrieving it. From photos posted online, to NYPD who were uninterested in following up, to taking it all online. Through that online publicity, the story got picked up by the NY Times and CNN, which put pressure on the police to track down the taxi.  It’s a great example that illustrates the nuances, both good and bad, powerful and persistent that the Internet can unleash.

Throughout the book he weaves stories about the network effect, friends and friends of friends, and how that impacts information, organization, and the spread of ideas. Citing examples such as the SCO vs Linux court case and Groklaw, flash mobs and political organization, Shirky notes how all these events were influenced and facilitated by the Internet. Continue reading Review: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

Book review – Trust Agents by Chris Brogan & Julien Smith

Trust Agents Stumbling onto 800-CEO-Read, and their top books feature, I found Brogan and Smith’s work.  Brogan’s blog intrigued me enough so I walked down to the Strand here in NYC to pick up a copy.

What I found was an excellent introduction to the nebulous world of social media marketing, where you find all sorts of advice and suggestions on how to engage your target audience.  If you’re feeling like an ignoramus on matters of social media, Trust Agents is a great place to start and will give you ideas of how to ‘humanize’ your digital connections.

The authors illustrate the Trust Agent idea with Comcast Cares for example and how they engaged customers, and what worked so well for them.  Or Gary Vaynerchuk and his game changing Wine Library TV about wine.  He also emphasizes that building relationships online is a lot like building relationships in the real world a la Keith Ferrazzi of Never Eat Alone fame.  Engage in meaningful ways with people, don’t market to them. Share valuable tidbits, and the community will reward you tenfold.

A ‘trust agent’  lives by six principles:

  1. Make your own game – be willing to take risks and break from the crowd
  2. Be ‘One of Us’ – be part of the community by doing your bit and contributing to it
  3. The Archimedes Effect – leverage your own strengths wisely
  4. Agent Zero – position yourself at the center by connecting people and groups
  5. Human Artist – learn how to work with people; help others and be conscientious of etiquette
  6. Build an Army – you need allies to help spread your ideas

The book is excellent.  Put it on your holiday list.

Book Review – The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The Lean Startup coverWhat do you do after founding not one, but two companies and watching them fail miserably all by the time you were barely out of college?

Move to the Valley, make shrewd investments in other startups and become insanely rich like Sean Parker? A Bit lofty perhaps. How about try, try again and succeed. Then reinvent yourself as a guru dishing out startup wisdom through your blog and publishing a book that ends up the top of the New York Times Bestseller’s list. That’s essentially what Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup did.

True entrepreneurs fail many times before they succeed and continuously find opportunities to reinvent themselves. Ries is one of them. He’s taken all that he’s learned from his failures, and later successes, from his college years in the 1990s right through the dotcom crash, and packaged them into a guide for startups to consult in their quest for world domination.  Continue reading Book Review – The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Book Review – Help! by Oliver Burkeman

Help! by Oliver Burkeman

Help! How To Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done

I’ve long overcome that sheepish feeling when browsing the Self-help section at the bookstore. Sure, How to Make Friends and Influence People or the Seven Steps to World Domination in your bookcase aren’t exactly the sort of titles to suggest a deep intellect but I like to keep an open mind when checking out the latest hardcover secret to happiness and prosperity. Basically I try not to diss a book just because it’s got “soup” on the cover.

I will concede that publishers have gone a bit overboard with churning out the number of self-help titles in the last 20 years or so. As with anything that proliferates you’re stuck with having to wade through the swamp of well, BS. HELP! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done by Oliver Burkeman is ideal for those curious enough about self-improvement but too cool to buy into mind-body-soul mantras.

Continue reading Book Review – Help! by Oliver Burkeman

Review – Test Driven Infrastructure with Chef – Stephen Nelson-Smith

In search of a good book on Chef itself, I picked up this new title on O’Reilly.  It’s one of their new format books, small in size, only 75 pages.

There was some very good material in this book.  Mr. Nelson-Smith’s writing style is good, readable, and informative.  The discussion of risks of infrastructure as code was instructive.  With the advent of APIs to build out virtual data centers, the idea of automating every aspect of systems administration, and building infrastructure itself as code is a new one.  So an honest discussion of the risks of such an approach is bold and much needed.  I also liked the introduction to Chef itself, and the discussion of installation.

Chef isn’t really the main focus of this book, unfortunately.  The book spends a lot of time introducing us to Agile Development, and specifically test driven development.  While these are lofty goals, and the first time I’ve seen treatment of the topic in relation to provisioning cloud infrastructure, I did feel too much time was spent on that.  Continue reading Review – Test Driven Infrastructure with Chef – Stephen Nelson-Smith

APress – Expert Oracle DB Arch by Tom Kyte

I have a confession to make. I haven’t read an Oracle book cover-to-cover in almost three years. Sure I skim through the latest titles for what I need and of course check out documentation of the latest releases. That’s what good docs provide, quick reference when you need to check syntax, or details of a particular parameter, or feature, but have you ever read some documentation, sift through a paragraph, page or two, and say to yourself, that’s great, but what about this situation I have right now? Unfortunately documentation doesn’t always

speak to your real everyday needs. It is excellent for reference, but doesn’t

have a lot of real-world test cases, and practical usage examples. That’s where Tom Kyte’s new book comes in, and boy is it a killer.

I’ve read Tom’s books before, and always enjoyed them. But his new APress title really stands out as an achievement. Page after page and chapter after chapter he uses straightforward examples pasted right from the SQL*Plus prompt to illustrate, demonstrate, and illuminate concepts that he is explaining. It is this practical hands on, relentless approach that makes this book 700 pages of goodness.

Already an expert at Oracle? You’ll become more of one after reading this book. With reviewers like Jonathan Lewis I expected this book to be good from the outset I have to admit. But each chapter delves into a bit more depth around subjects that are central to Oracle programming and administration.


One of the things I loved about this book most of all is its complete lack of screenshots! But how does one illustrate a concept then, you might ask? These days with graphical interfaces becoming more and more popular even among technical folks, I run into the question of the command line over an over again. How can you be doing sophisticated database administration of the latest servers running Oracle with the command line? Or another question I often get is, can you really do everything with the command line? The answer to both is a resounding yes, in fact you can do much more with the command line. Luckily for us, Tom is of this school too, and page after page of his book are full of real examples and commands that you can try for yourself, with specific instructions on

setting up the environment, using statistics gathering packages, and so on. In an era of computing where GUIs seem to reign like magazines over the best literature of the day, it is refreshing to see some of the best and most technical minds around Oracle still advocate the best tool, command line as the interface

of choice. In fact it is the command line examples, and happily the complete lack of screenshots that indeed makes this book a jewel of a find.


As a DBA you might wonder why I’m talking so highly of a book more focused towards developers. There are a couple of reasons. First this book is about the Oracle architecture, as it pertains to developers. In order for developers to best take advantage of the enterprise investment in Oracle *** they need to thoroughly understand the architecture, how specific features operate, which features are appropriate, and how to optimize their code for best interaction with them. Of course a DBA who is trying to keep a database operating in tip top shape needs to be aware of when developers are not best using Oracle, to identify,

and bring attention to bottlenecks, and problem areas in the application. Second, it is often a DBAs job to tune an existing database, and the very largest benefits come from tuning application SQL. For instance if a developer has chosen to use a bitmap index on an INSERT/UPDATE intensive table, they’re in for serious problems. Or if a developer forgot to index a foreign key column. This book directly spearheads those types of questions, and when necessary does mention a thing or two of direct importance to DBAs as well.


Chapter 2 has an excellent example of creating an Oracle database. You simply write one line to your init.ora “db_name=sean” for example, and then from the SQL> prompt issues “startup nomount” and then “create database”. Looking at the processes Oracle starts, and the files that are created can do wonders for your understanding of database, instance, and Oracle in general.

Chapter 3 covers files, files, and more files. Spfile replaces a text init.ora allowing parameters to be modified while an instance is running *AND* stored persistently. He covers redolog files, flashback logs, and change tracking file

s, as well as import/export dump files, and lastly datapump files.

Chapter 4 covers memory, and specifically some of the new auto-magic options, how they work, and what to watch out for.

Chapter 5 covers processes.

Chapter 6, 7, and 8 cover lock/latching, multiversioning, and transactions respectively. I mention them all here together because to me these chapters are the real meat of the book. And that’s coming from a vegetarian! Seriously these

topics are what I consider to be the most crucial to understanding Oracle, and modern databases in general, and the least understood. They are the darkest corners, but Tom illuminates them for us. You’ll learn about optimistic versus pessismistic locking, page level, row level, and block level locking in various modern databases such as SQLServer, Informix, Sybase, DB2 and Oracle. Note Oracle is by far in the lead in this department, never locking more than it needs to, which yields the best concurrency with few situations where users block each other. Readers never block, for instance, because of the way Oracle implements all of this. He mentions latch spinning, which Oracle does to avoid a context switch, that is more expensive, how to detect, and reduce this type of contention. You’ll learn about dirty reads, phantom reads, and non-repeatable reads, and about Oracle’s Read-committed versus Serializable modes. What’s more you’ll learn about the implications of these various models on your applications, and what type of assumptions you may have to unlearn if you’re coming from developing on another database to Oracle. If I were to make any criticism at all, I might mention that in this area Tom becomes ever so slightly preachy about Oracle’s superb implementation of minimal locking, and non-blocking reads. This is in large part due I’m sure to running into so many folks who are used to developing on databases which do indeed dumb you down *BECAUSE* of their implementation, encouraging bad habits with respect to transactions, and auto-commit for instance. One thing is for sure you will learn a heck of a lot from these three chapters, I know I did.

Chapter 9 Redo & Undo describes what each is, how to avoid checkpoint not complete and why you want to, how to *MEASURE* undo so as to reduce it, how to avoid log file waits (are you on RAID5, are your redologs on a buffered filesystem?), and what block cleanouts are.

Chapter 10 covers tables. After reading it I’d say the most important types are normal (HEAP), Index Organized, Temporary, and External Tables. Use ASSM where possible as it will save you in many ways, use DBMS_METADATA to reverse engineer objects you’ve created to get all the options, don’t use TEMP tables to avoid inline views, or complex joins, your performance will probably suffer, and how to handle LONG/LOB data in tables.

Chapter 11 covers indexes, topics ranging from height, compression count, DESC sorted, colocated data, bitmap indexes and why you don’t want them in OLTP data

bases, function based indexes and how they’re most useful for user defined functions, why indexing foreign keys is important, and choosing the leading edge of an index. Plus when to rebuild or coalesce and why.

Chapter 12 covers datatypes, why never to use CHAR, using the NLS features, the CAST function, the number datatypes and precision versus performance, raw_to_hex, date arithmatic, handling LOB data and why not to use LONG, BFILEs and the new UROWID.

Chapter 13 discusses partitioning. What I like is he starts the chapter with the caveat that partitioning is not the FAST=TRUE option. That says it all. For OLTP databases you will achieve higher availability, and ease of administration of large options, as well as possibly reduced contention on larger objects,

but it is NOT LIKELY that you will receive query performance improvements because of the nature of OLTP. With a datawarehouse, you can use partition elimination on queries that do range or full table scans which can speed up queries dramatically. He discusses range, list, hash, and composite partitioning, local indexing (prefixed & non-prefixed) and global indexing. Why datawarehouses tend to use local, and OLTP databases tend to use global indexes, and even how you

can rebuild your global indexes as you’re doing partition maintenance avoiding a costly rebuild of THE ENTIRE INDEX, and associated downtime. He also includes a great auditing example.

Chapter 14 covers parallel execution such as parallel dml, ddl, and so on. Here is where a book like Tom’s is invaluable, as he comes straight out with his opinions on a weighty topic. He says these features are most relevant to DBAs doing one-off maintenance and data loading operations. That is because even in

datawarehouses, todays environments often have many many users. The parallel features are designed to allow single session jobs to utilize the entire system resources. He explains that Oracle’s real sweet spot in this real is parallel


Chapter 15, the final chapter covers loading and unloading data. A significant portion of the chapter covers SQL*Loader for completeness, but he goes on to celebrate the wonders of external tables for loading data into Oracle. In particular there is an option in SQL*Loader to generate the CREATE statement for an

external table that does the SAME load! This is great stuff. External tables provide advantages over SQL*Loader in almost every way, except perhaps loading over a network, concurrent user access, and handling LOB data. External tables can use complex where clauses, merge data, do fast code lookups, insert into multiple tables, and finally provide a simpler learning curve.


Yum. If you love Oracle, you’ll want to read this book. If you need to know more about Oracle say, for your job, that’s another reason you might read this book. Oracle is fascinating technology, and Tom’s passion for understanding every last bit of it makes this book both a necessary read, and a very gratifying


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