I’ve just returned from the RittmanMead 2010 BI Forum which this year was at the Seattle Hotel in Brighton Marina.
The event was limited to 50 attendees, and I think this was a good number. The event was explicitly pitched at a very technical expert level, and the audience very much represented this. Whereas at a larger conference you may find the odd manager wandering around pretending to be technical ;-) this event was most definitely not pitched at such types.
There was a distinct whiff in the air, and it wasn’t just on the Friday afternoon after 50 geeks sat in a room with no air conditioning for two days. The whiff, or rather, pleasant aroma, was of a product that Oracle have in the labs and looks distinctly good. Of course, “the product currently in the lab and soon to be released” is a euphemism for OBIEE 11g. We were treated to several peeks at it, starting with Phil Bates’ keynote speech on Wednesday evening before tea was served in the hotel’s very good restaurant.
Phil Bates’ keynote set the tone nicely for the whole event – no BS! I’ve been on the end of more sales pitches dressed up as “technical” than I care to count, and to be honest was expecting more of the same. Not this time. Phil talked passionately for well over his allotted time (no-one complained :-) )about “The product currently in the lab and soon to be released” (ahem), with frequent demonstrations from Mike Durran and Adam Bloom. It really does look like OBIEE 11g is going to be worth waiting for – there were lots of ‘oh cool!’ moments for me when I saw that this product’s really be thought about, and not just a bunch of marketing tosh and bug fixes built on top of the existing version, which is what a lot of software releases often end up being. There look to have been some really solid architectural decisions and advances made. Mike and Adam both did presentations on some of these features.
After Phil’s keynote had whetted our geek appetites for OBIEE 11g the product being worked on in the labs, we had our real appetites sated by the good food in the Seattle Hotel’s restaurant and some very nice wine to go with it. Good food and drink was a recurring theme throughout the Forum and one that I wholeheartedly applaud. Having been to conferences and courses where food is a blatant afterthought, consisting normally of curly sandwiches or skanky mini pork pies (although I have nothing against a real pork pie, which is in an upper echelon of food types alongside black pudding and pork scratchings), to be fed and watered well was a very nice change, and one that I think contributed to it feeling like a good interactive social event and not just a set of presenters talking at their audience.
After tea I headed off to my room to run through my presentation and fret some more about it. See my separate post for more information about that.
Thursday dawned to a lot of grumpy attendees sat around the breakfast table extremely annoyed with the fog horn that had apparently been sounding since 4am that morning.
I felt a bit smug as I’d not heard a thing being on the other side of the hotel facing away from the sea. Breakfast continued the good-food theme, with some nice black pudding on the fryup. Being nervous about my presentation I managed to both drop black pudding on my trousers, baked-beans on my shirt, and spill coffee on the table…
Mike Durran from Oracle was first up, presenting about the Architecture and Systems Management of OBIEE 11g (T.P.C.I.T.L.A.S.T.B.R.). This would normally be the kind of topic to get me slightly-unhealthily excited, but at this point all I could concentrate on was the clock on the wall and counting down until my execution presentation. Still, what I did pick up looked damn good and I can’t wait to start working with it. Whilst there are new graph types to keep the users happy (oooh), there look to be some really well thought out improvements to how OBIEE will be managed, deployed, and monitored. And as the OBIEE ‘sysadmin’ at our company, that makes me Happy :) With the standard disclaimers in place (i.e. don’t quote them on it, which I’m about to), it looks like Web Logic is the required application server for the first release, with other app servers being certified in the future. There’ll also be no OC4J equivilent, i.e. you have to run full WebLogic. OPMN will be required on every server, and will manage the OBIEE processes.
After Mike’s presentation was mine - “Performance Testing and OBIEE”. I actually really enjoyed it once I got started, and got some really good interaction from people in the audience. I was astounded and extremely chuffed on Friday afternoon to be given the Best Speaker award - a great honour given the awesomeness of all the other presentations there. Here are my thoughts on writing and delivering my first presentation. You can download the presentation here.
Elio Idema and Emiel van Bockel both did interesting presentations on modelling. It’s an area that I’m aware of as being something that must be thought through properly but am relatively inexperienced in. It was fascinating hearing people’s thoughts on different ways of doing things, and these were brought out further in the (planned) debate hosted by Emiel and Christian Berg later that day. Just listening to the debates, even if the finer points were beyond me, taught me more than a week-long training course has in the past. This would be one of my key reasons for anyone to attend this event in the future – getting the wealth of intelligence and experience in one room together at the same time is rare, and one I felt fortunate to observe and learn from. If I had to crudely summarise the modelling debate I would do so thus: there are very wrong ways, and there are several right ways. So long as you know why you’re doing it the way you are, and can explain why you’re not doing it another way, then you’re probably doing it the right way :-) Oh, and Christian and Emiel win best slide guaranteed to please a room of male geeks ([data] models - geddit?)
On Thursday afternoon we were treated to another peek at OBIEE 11g courtesy of Adam Bloom, talking about “Actions” in OBIEE that let it integrate with BPM and other applications using web services etc. It looks powerful, and a very interesting new feature.
On Thursday evening a coach took us into Brighton’s Kemp Town to Sam’s restaurant. The food, again, was great, although the venue maybe slightly too small / hard-walled for 50 geeks having loud conversations!
With ears ringing we all boarded the coach, most people disembarking at the hotel but the hardcore continuing on into town for a couple of digestifs…
Friday morning dawned bright and sunny and with it some more great presentations. First up was Antony Heljula, who did a superb presentation on OBIEE Architecture and Sizing. It’s something that there’s not a great deal written about and it was great to hear real numbers and justifications behind them, and had evidently been well-researched. Specific win #2 (#1 being the modelling discussions) of the conference for me was the chance to meet Antony and ask him about some performance test numbers that he quoted - and in discussion learnt of another method that I’d not considered. Using OBIEE’s GoURL feature is another way of kicking off requests to validate the end-to-end performance, and using something like curl I reckon could be automated nicely.
Mark did the next presentation, with a detailed investigation of the guts of the BI Server. Kurt Wolff, one of the original masterminds behind OBIEE’s ancestors, was in the audience and it was a fascinating and rare opportunity to get validation and thoughts “from the horses mouth” so-to-speak. It was yet another well-researched presentation and of the hardcore geekery level that I think everyone in the room appreciated. I think the BI Forum has a long and thriving future ahead of it on the basis of the kind of things being presented. At a larger conference the audience would probably be diluted to the level that something so in-depth would be lost on them. Mark also tried to put to rest the “Oracle Person of the Year” saga, a rumour which oraclenerd started a few weeks ago:
Craig Stewart of Oracle did a presentation on ODI 11g. This was the first non-OBIEE presentation of the Forum and I got the impression that the level of detail it went into wasn’t of interest to everyone in the room. It’s probably something that will have to be thought about for future Forums, whether to try and encompass all Oracle BI-related tools, or whether to focus on OBIEE. I wonder if the latter is a better approach, as it would be a shame for people interested only in OBIEE / modelling / etc were put off from coming for fear of too many “unrelated” presentations. Maybe the Forum needs an extra day with non-OBIEE presentations in that, so that people can pick and choose? Or maybe it’s just fine as it is, with everyone if not working directly on each product certainly needing an appreciation of it. (how’s that for sitting on the fence). Anyway, Craig’s presentation was interesting and re-enforced the WLS direction from Oracle, as ODI 11g agents will now exist as servlets (?) within WLS. Enterprise Manager 11g will also provide a management page for ODI 11g.
Adrian Ward had done an entertaining quiz for us on Thursday afternoon with the teams hand-picked by him. The quiz wasn’t by nature entertaining (well, for a room of OBIEE geeks I suppose a quiz about OBIEE syntax and behaviour was entertaining), but Adrian’s laissez-faire approach to question accuracy certainly was particularly on questions to spot syntax errors … with syntax errors in the given answers :) I’m going to stake a claim one of the amusing answers as my own
After another good lunch in the hotel restaurant, we had the final two presentations of the forum. Both were superb (I’m running out of words to describe the quality of the event!).
John Minkjan talked entertainingly and inspiringly about interface design, citing some particularly bad examples of dashboards and pie-chart abuse. It was particularly apropos given OBIEE 11g’s apparent increase in graphing and presentation options. It’s probably down to us to not abuse the power of the tool and educate our users and report writers why not to do the same too. He made a good point about techies vs graphical designers - if you’re going to customise Look and Feel, get someone who knows what they’re doing in design, not someone who happens to know which .xml file to hack.
Last but certainly not least was Venkat, talking about ADF, FMW and WTF. I tell a lie, I added the last one myself. I won’t even attempt to get across the gist of the presentation here, other than to say that there are some very exciting times ahead, and that it would behove anyone looking to update their skillset to look into WebLogic, ADF, and JDeveloper.
A couple of great quotations from the event:
- “Your information’s not “come alive”, it’s just jumping up and down!” - Reaction to new whizzy graphics in the next version of OBIEE
- “A refuge of charlatans” - describing BI in general. A similar sentiment to Christian’s comment on twitter:
Some random things that I jotted down as making the event so enjoyable:
- Unashamedly Hardcore geekery
- Fantastically experienced industry-leading attendees, both presenting and listening and contributing to adhoc discussions
- Good laughs, informal atmosphere
- Great food & drink
- Free wifi
- Friendly hotel staff
- Twitter hashtag worked well
- Sessions ran to time and were a good length
To sum up, a fantastic event and well done to Mark and the rest of RittmanMead for organising it - there was obviously a lot of work that went into getting it to run so smoothly. It was great having it all based around the hotel and I can imagine hopefully the same people coming back year after year. As a typical geek I shrink at the word “networking”, but if you think of it as an opportunity to meet other geeks who get hot under the collar at the same things you do it’s less scary. In seriousness, if you work with OBIEE or areas related to it, you should sign up for the forum now. The sum of the whole is much greater than the sum of just the presentations. The opportunity to pick other’s brains for experiences is invaluable, as is being able to collar Oracle product managers and bend their ears (sorry Adam, if I spoilt your dinner ;-))
Here are some blogs from others on the event, with some good summaries of the new 11g features: