DBAs Cheatsheet to Comdex

If you focus on database and data-center content, the Vegas show will live up to its Back to Business billing.

By this time next week, well know whether Comdex has really managed to vanquish the purveyors of massage chairs from its halls, as the Vegas shows reorganization is supposed to have accomplished.

In the meantime, DBAs and data-center professionals shouldnt look to Nevada for big news coming out of the database vendor heavyweights—Microsoft, Oracle or IBM. There will be plenty of panels and educational offerings to chew on, though, and Ive compiled a list (below) of those that pertain to database professionals in particular.

In addition, I buttonholed three database- or data center-centric Comdex presenters and/or vendors to get an idea of what we can expect. Heres what theyre up to at the show:

MySQL install party. Want to tinker with an open-source database? Bring your laptop over to the Open Source Innovation Center Tuesday or Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. MySQL AB, which markets (or unmarkets, as the case may be with open source) the worlds most widespread open-source database, will be hosting an install party where theyll feature demonstrations and real-time assistance in installing MySQL.

The install party is a first for MySQL, according to CEO Marten Mickos. As it is, the companys Web site provides some 35,000 downloads per day. Thats a lot of people who install MySQL without the companys help, Mickos pointed out. MySQL likes to brag that its the easiest database in the world to install and that it generally takes about 15 minutes to download, install and get running. Heres the chance to test that premise.

At the show, MySQL also will announce general availability of Max DB, the open-source database it picked up from SAP AG in the spring.

On-Demand and the Data Center. This session, part of Comdexs On-Demand track, will be examining the automation of system management and how it will impact performance and availability in the data center. Steve Wojtowecz, director of strategy at IBMs Tivoli Products division and a participant in the session, said that what it all boils down to is underutilization of resources such as servers. Nowadays, most enterprises would peg server utilization somewhere in the teens. Host systems and mainframes, meanwhile, are hitting at least 90 percent utilization, at the very least—otherwise, theres something very wrong.

The goal is to get back-end resource utilization on par with that of mainframes and host systems. In the on-demand data center, those back-end resources are shared across an organization, creating better utilization. Sound familiar? It should, since Oracle has been plugging the better-utilization theme with 10g.

So whats the difference between grid and on-demand? The price tag, according to Wojtowecz. Whereas grid computing is typically associated with servers and workload management, on-demand as it pertains to the data center is a more modest animal, concerning itself more with current infrastructures and how to better spread their wealth.

How does an organization evaluate whether its ready for on-demand? On-demand vendors such as IBM Tivoli have automation assessment tools that give businesses a feel for where theyre at in terms of being automation-ready. Assessments should be done with team members who can take a step back and do an honest assessment, Wojtowecz said.

Typically, enterprises will send an IT representative in, and he or she will do the assessment from a technical point of view. The problem is that many times, IT thinks its doing a better job than it is. While the IT team will supply most of the data that goes into the assessment, line-of-business executives have to be on hand, not only to give a more realistic view of current end-user experience but also to dictate which processes and applications get the highest priority when it comes down to doling out resources in the shared pool of on-demand.

  • Data Mining on Demand: Intelligent Business Decision Support. Everybodys drowning in Web-derived customer data, but Amazon.coms one of the few e-commerce sites that knows how to use it. This session, another in the On-Demand track, will serve you well if youre trying to move your enterprise toward Amazon-like capabilities, what with the online bookstores expertise in slicing and dicing demographics and customer buying history to serve up truly tailored site visitor experiences.

Josh Manion, CEO of Stratigent, a Web analyst consultancy, will be presenting. I asked him what it is that keeps most e-commerce outfits from reaching Amazons level of business intelligence. The differentiators, Manion said, boil down to two things: higher R&D spending and better discipline.

A high level of R&D funds help Amazon to craft tools that are specific to its highly granular use of customer data. In contrast, even though they capture oceans of data, most e-commerce companies will typically subscribe to a service that provides a standard, out-of-the-box report.

"Theyre not taking advantage of the same kind of customized benefit," Manion said. "What they should track and worry about is not necessarily the same thing as Amazon, [or anybody else]. They need to put some effort into identifying what are the specific things that drive their business."

The discipline comes in where a company like Amazon has a process in place to test every involved variable of a transaction, whether its Web page design or the offer of free shipping. As CEO Jeff Bezos has said, Amazon doesnt sit around debating page design for 20 minutes—instead, they just put the page up and run it for 10 minutes. Testing like that isnt hard or technically complex, Manion said—it just requires discipline.

Thats a taste of what Comdex has in store. If none of that grabs you, here are some other database-focused sessions that might:

  • Comdexs full three-day conference track devoted to Linux and open-source topics will have two database-centric sessions: "Open Source Database Shootout" and "Data Center Linux - Business-Hardening Linux for the Enterprise."

  • The Windows platform conference track will take a look at "SQL Server 2003 Tips and Tricks for DBAs and Developers."

  • The on-demand computing conference track has plenty more sessions than the ones described above. This track has two focuses: grid computing and on-demand. Getting a handle around these subjects is crucial for DBAs. Grid, for one, has come into the forefront of database discourse with Oracles upcoming 10g release and its corresponding grid hype. Likewise, the term "on-demand" gets applied to everything from data mining to networking to servers to you name it. This track will present an introduction to the grid and the business case, as well as a hodgepodge of on-demand sessions, such as "On-Demand and the Data Center" and "Data Storage: Is the Future Bright or Hopeless?"

Let me know what grabs your interest at Comdex, whether its autonomic computing, grid, data mining or anything else with "database" written on it.

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Database Center Editor Lisa Vaas has written about enterprise applications since 1997.