Why Automation Matters : It’s Not New and Scary!

It’s easy to think of automation as new and scary. Sorry for stating the obvious, but automation may be new to you, or new to your company, but plenty of people have been doing this stuff for a long time. I’m going to illustrate this with some stories from my past…

Automated Deployments

In 2003 I worked for a parcel delivery company that were replacing all their old systems with a Java application running against an Oracle back end. Their build process was automated using Ant scripts, which were initiated by a tool called Ant Hill. Once developers committed their code to version control (I think we used CVS at the time) it was available to be included in the nightly builds, which were deployed automatically by Ant Hill. Now I’m not going to make out this was a full CI/CD pipeline implementation, but this was 19 years ago, and how many companies are still struggling to do automated builds now?

Automated Installations

Back at my first Oracle OpenWorld in 2006 I went to a session by Dell, who were able to deploy a 16 node Oracle RAC by just plugging in the physical kit. They used PXE network installations, which included their own custom RPM that performed the Oracle RAC installation and config silently. The guy talking about the technical stuff was Werner Puschitz, who was a legend in the Oracle on Linux space back in the day. I wrote about this session here. This was 16 years ago and they were doing things that many companies still can’t do today.

I can’t remember when the Oracle Universal Installer (OUI) first allowed silent installations, but I’m pretty sure I used them for the first time in Oracle 9i, so that’s somewhere around the 2001 period. I have an article about this functionality here. I think Oracle 9.2 in 2002 was the first time the Database Configuration Assistant (DBCA) allowed silent installations, but before the DBCA we always used to create databases manually using scripts anyway, so silent database creations in one form or another have been possible for well over 20 years. You can read about DBCA silent mode here. Build scripts for Oracle are as old as the hills, so there is nothing new to say here. The funny thing is, back in the day Oracle was often criticised for not having enough GUI tools, and nowadays nobody wants GUI tools. 🙂

Sorry, but if you are building stuff manually with GUIs, it kind-of means you’re a noob. If consultants are building things manually for you, they are wasting your time and need to be called out on it. At minimum you need build scripts, even if you can’t fully automate the whole process. A deliverable on any project should be the build scripts, not a 100 page word document with screen shots.

Random – Off Topic

While writing this post I thought of a recent conversation with a friend. He was showing me videos of his automated warehouse. It had automated guided vehicles (AGVs) zipping around the warehouse picking up products to ship. It was all new and exciting to him. We were laughing because in 1996 I was renting a room in his house, and my job at the time was writing software for automated warehouses using Oracle on the back end. It wasn’t even a new thing 26 years ago. One of the projects I worked on was upgrading an existing automated warehouse that had already been in operation for about 10 years, with AGVs and automated cranes.

New is a matter of perception.

Final Thoughts

I’m not saying all this stuff in an attempt to make out I’m some kind of automation or DevOps thought leader. If you read my blog, you know all about me. I’m just trying to show that many of us have a long history in automation, even if we can’t check all the boxes for the latest buzzwords. Automation is not new and scary. It’s been part of the day-to-day job for a long time. In some cases we are using newer tools to tidy up things that were either already automated, or at least semi-automated. If someone is presenting this stuff like it’s some brave new world bullshit, they are really trying to pull the wool over your eyes. It should be an evolution of what you were already trying to do…

I wrote a series of posts about automation here.

Cheers

Tim…

My APEX History #JoelKallmanDay

For my entry in the Joel Kallman Day (#JoelKallmanDay) I thought I would run through my history of using Oracle Application Express (APEX).

I was aware of Web DB, but I never used it. I have this vague memory of taking a look at it, but that was all.

I remember Tom Kyte mentioning Flows and later Project Marvel, and being a Tom Kyte fanboy it sparked my interest. At that point the tool felt kind-of awkward to use, and since I had no pressing need for it, it got relegated to an idle curiosity for me. I would have a play, then ignore it for months. I kept my eye on it during the HTML DB and early APEX days, but it was still not something I used regularly. Typically what would happen is I would need to do something, I would “re-learn” APEX to do it, finish that task, then forget about it for months. The next time I needed APEX, it would often be a new version, so I would “re-learn” it again…

In 2009 I went to ODTUG in Monterey, and there was an APEX symposium as part of the conference, so I made it my mission to pick APEX sessions as much as possible. It was good to connect with some of the folks in the APEX community. Even back then it was one of the most dynamic Oracle communities. I knew a few of the folks already through meeting at other conferences, but it was fun to immerse myself in APEX for a while.

After that conference I slipped back into the habit of re-learn it, forget it, relearn it. I was constantly aware of it, and able to do relatively simple developments, but I never focused on it long enough to get good. Remember, my job didn’t involve that type of development, so it was hard to spend too much time on it.

Since joining my current company in 2012 I’ve used APEX a lot more. It started off with me writing little PL/SQL utilities for people and giving them a front end using APEX. Things like reports on interface staging tables, screens to manage database users and some simple CRUD apps. At that point APEX was kind-of underground in the company. There was only really me using it. As time went on I kept pushing it and gradually it started to pick up some momentum. We now have a few people that do APEX development as part of their role. At this point I’m relegated to managing the infrastructure behind it, and problem solving when people hit an issue. I’ve seen and heard so much over the years that it’s often easier for me to solve certain problems. Also, I know a lot of good people who can help. 🙂

I have this joke that I’ve got more than 15 years “experience” of APEX, but I’m the worlds worst APEX developer. Despite that, I know enough to know APEX is probably the most productive way to develop applications against an Oracle database. The “Low Code” nature of it is great for people with less experience of database development, but it’s also a great way to make skilled developers super productive!

I’ve written a small number of articles about APEX over the years, as well as some surrounding technologues.

So there you have it. My life as the worlds worst APEX developer on the planet. 🙂

Cheers

Tim…

The Myth of Oracle Fusion…

I read a post this morning by Grant Ronald talking about fusion apps. In Grant’s post he mentioned things that people have been saying about Fusion over the years. Middleware and Apps are not my specialist field, but I get to hear a lot about them from the conferences and ACE Director meetings, so I have been witness to the Oracle Fusion myth from the beginning.

Cast your mind back several years and the whole concept of Fusion was launched at OOW. We were told that the middleware stack was going to become a single coherent product, rather than the buggy rag-tag bunch of technologies we had in 9iAS and AS10g. Sounds good so far, but then all the existing stuff got rebranded as Fusion Middleware when the products it was made up of hadn’t significantly changed. That’s confusing.

Fast forward a bit and we were expecting something like real Fusion Middleware to appear, then the BEA buyout was announced and WebLogic became the core of Fusion Middleware. Oh. So this wonderful coherent product that Oracle had been developing and we were expecting soon was swapped for a best-of-breed app server from an acquisition. Strange and a little disconcerting, but at least we have a better app server now, except that some of the existing features still required you to install the old AS10g stuff. Still the name Fusion is plastered everywhere.

Fast forward a bit more and we have got to a point where applying the term “Fusion” to the middleware stack is less insulting, but if anyone experienced Fusion along the way they would probably have been left with a bad feeling about what Fusion actually means. It’s very hard to overcome a bad first impression. Are Oracle really surprised that the term “Fusion” is associated with myth and confusion?

OK. That’s the Middleware. What about Fusion Apps? Well, the name includes the word “Fusion”, so it takes on all the bad connotations associated with the infancy of Fusion Middleware. Added to that, since the original announcement of Fusion Apps there have been numerous acquisitions, all of which have no doubt added to the confusion about what Fusion Apps actually is. Then we are told there is no natural upgrade from eBusiness Suite to Fusion Apps. It’s a new product and we have to migrate data to it as we would any new ERP. Next we are told that the initial release will only be a subset of the modules we require, so we will have to run it alongside eBusiness Suite. Wow. This is really confusing. That sounds like a half-finished ERP built on a half-finished middleware stack. Once again, are Oracle really surprised people react like this?

Now I’m not saying the Fusion Middleware is bad. It’s come a long way. I’m also not saying Fusion Apps are bad. I’ve seen the demos and they look amazing. I’ve also talked to people in that field who are genuinely impressed and exited by it. I believe it will be a big eye opener and possibly a game-changer for a lot of people. What I’m saying is I can totally understand when people on the outside of our little goldfish bowl have a really bad and confused impression of anything containing the term “Fusion”, because it does have a very long and sordid history.

In my opinion the term Fusion needs to be scrapped and replaced, then perhaps we can forget the history and focus on the now. Kinda like they did with Beehive. 🙂

Cheers

Tim…

rlwrap…

During his unconference session at OpenWorld 2007, Lutz Hartmann used rlwrap to give SQL*Plus and RMAN command line history and basic editing functionality. Like the Windows Process Explorer post I wrote recently, this is another example of a gizmo I’ve used in the past then completely forgotten about, so I’m grateful to Lutz for reminding me. To see how I install and configure it click here.

Cheers

Tim…

Update: Someone and just told me my rlwrap post is now ranked higher than Howard’s on Google. This is really a “duck and cover” event. 🙁