Ian Abramson
Toronto, Canada

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AUTHOR BIO:Ian Abramson is the past-president of the IOUG, the Oracle technology user group, and an Oracle data warehousing expert with more than 20 years of experience. Based in Toronto, Canada, he is the director of the Enterprise Data Group for Thoughtcorp, a company that focuses on business solution architecture, solution development, system integration, data warehousing, and business intelligence. Ian has written numerous books on both Oracle and data warehousing and is a frequent presenter at Oracle and industry conferences and seminars. He is the co-author of Oracle Database 11g Beginner’s Guide Ian is an Oracle ACE focused on BI and data warehousing

SERVICES:Oracle DB, data warehousing, business intelligence, strategy, architecture


Oracle Database 11g A Beginner's Guide
Published on: 2008-12-18
Copyright: 2009
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Oracle Database 10g: A Beginner's Guide
Published on: 2004-03-31
Copyright: 2004
More Info


The Everything of Data

When do things change from hype to reality? Or when is it just more hype?  I have previously discussed how Big Data is changing everything; it had moved from simple hype to complicated reality producing very interesting results. The latest hype is the concept or the reality of interconnecting all of our data via the Internet of Things (IoT). This concept is one which should improve how things work. Not just businesses but I mean machines, distribution systems and people. I have to admit that I truly love the idea of being able to share information in a way that is meaningful and impactful through sharing insights and recommendations and ultimately improving our lives. We live in a complex world; now imagine your data becoming your life optimizer. 

The notion that all the data morsels we generate in our everyday lives and all of the sensors in our machines generate lots of information but generally these components never talk to each other. This connection between individuals, public sources, businesses and in our infrastructure grid can connect in a seamless way on to work together for a better individual experience and a improved global performance.  We can have simple things like our home dryers waiting until the power grid has a lower demand before starting to dry your clothes. Or that a doctor in a remote part of Canada can search a medical database of all medical symptoms; their treatment an outcomes to tailor a healthcare program for a sick patient. The interactions and benefits which we can ultimately achieve is limitless.
The question of hype is one which truly valid for IoT. We need to consider how can we share and share in a way that benefits people, governments and businesses. We have the technology today to begin the sharing but in reality we also live in a society where sharing information in this way scares people. They ask why should their confidential information be shared? I say why not. To quote Mr. Spock; “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”. We need to consider the up side and manage the risk of sharing.

Big Data has brought with it new challenges and new problems. The security of big data in Hadoop clusters is one which is evolving on a daily basis. We have options to encrypt, to restrict and to limit who can see what but the security of Hadoop is also quite basic and requires additional products like Kerabos to help in providing some security, but in many ways Big Data is available and if someone wants to get at it they will have an easier time then trying to break into a well-secured Oracle database. Then again Oracle does have a 25 year head start on Hadoop.

So is the Internet of Things hype? I don’t think so, I think it’s more of a dream state. One where data can live together and provide value well beyond its original intention. So it’s one dream that I hope to help bring to reality.

Designing a Future-Proof Data Solution

The challenges we face today when designing solutions is how do we avoid the pitfalls of constant design changes? How can we reduce the impact to our data designs? Is it even possible?
The design of a data warehouse has been well discussed and debated over the years. The battle between Ralph Kimball and Bill Inmon over the years is legendary. The choice of an Information Factory versus a Dimensional approach continues to be one which all new data warehouses need to consider. In this discussion the choice is really immaterial. Whether you choose either design approach you will still need to consider how the design will be developed. Can we build the design incrementally? Can we minimize the impact of the overall project and minimize regression testing? This is the constant challenge we face when developing data solution at EPAM, especially when using Agile practices to drive our project success. The key is to design and develop once and to evolve the design as you go but there are some key considerations you will need to make when designing to optimize the design and minimize the refactoring which may be required by design changes.

The first item you must consider is using Design Patterns for Data Warehouse modelling techniques. This approach basically says that all objects will be built using templates which can be used to address most of the needs within your design. This means, that similar tables in the design will follow predefined patterns. At the most basic level we predefine what a dimension and a fact will look like. They will include a surrogate key and the various attributes required by each. In addition they will include control fields to allow us to manage how and when data is processed. For more complex facts or dimensions we also provide a template which allows us to support all of the different slowly changing dimensions as well as to manage quickly changing facts, both of these more advanced design methods provide us with the ability to manage the data effectively and consistently. For relationships we look to an approach where we define intermediate tables to manage relationships. We build “bridge” tables for this purpose which provide a reliable manner to relate facts and dimensions to improve performance and extend query capabilities in the future and form a key part of allowing the model to work across multiple subject areas.

The second consideration is to Design with the Future in Mind. In this situation you are faced with the choice of building based only on defined requirements with little consideration for future requirements. In the Agile context this seems like an obvious approach of design what you need when you need it. The concept of Just-in-Time Design is one which has been discussed and developed in the past few years. However when we put this practice the reality is that you want to try and define your facts and dimensions as completely as possible at the time you first design it to ensure that you design for the future needs in addition to the ones you have at the moment. This will result in additional attributes which might only be used in a much later sprint but are defined in order to reduce refactoring. In addition it may be necessary to define additional dimensions so that you will minimize the rework when it comes to adding dimensions to fact tables in the future. The key is to design what you need when you need it and provide as much forward thinking in your object definitions as early in the process as possible.

The final suggestion I would have to future-proof things is to ensure that your data warehouse is designed to support the integration of multiple data sources right from the start. So add additional attributes and ETL functionality which supports this approach. The data warehouse is really all about providing the business with an integrated and reliable solution; therefore you must design with the goal of integration from the beginning.

Ultimately the design and development of a data warehouse requires the data architect and data modeler to look to the future. They need to anticipate data requirements and to try and define that data objects and relationships as completely as possible right from the start and you can avoid the many pitfalls of a data warehouse design by designing with the end in mind while allowing the design to evolve based on business needs.

Master of Your Data using the Database
I recently was involved in a project for an organization who needed one thing. They needed a master customer and master product list to enable cross-organization analysis. This may seem like a simple task; create a single customer and product but it is not simple.

As JFK said about going to the moon, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.", the same is true of customer and product integration and mastering. MDM as a technology and a process is not easy it is hard but it provides so much value in the end that it is worth the journey to achieve.

The challenge of MDM is focused squarely on creating a technical solution which enables the business to automate the process of matching customer and products into a single master list. This can take significant effort to get to the point where the rules you defined for matching are meaningful and effective. 

The project I was involved in required us to create a solution which was cost effective and did not include the use of a matching product like DataFlux or Trillium but was based in the database and ETL tool. Our database of choice was Oracle which provided some SQL extensions to support matching. We implemented the matching within an ETL tool (Talend) which further extended our capabilities which we had in the database. A number of functions were consider and the following Oracle functionality was used in our cleansing and matching approach:
  1. Regular Expressions where used to find patterns and remove and alter to enable a standardization of names and addresses
  2. Equi-joins and other join types to match
  3. Soundex or Metaphone function in combination with other matches to enable fuzzy matches
  4. Jaro-Winkler, Levenshtein and Distance functions for fuzzy matching
  5. ETL Tool Functionality which further extends the base database functionality
 All of these functions can help you to find the right matches in your database and provide functionality to build your own MDM solution where you can leverage the investments you have already made in your database and tool without making a huge investment in software.

I will be presenting this solution at COLLABORATE13 in Denver in April, and this entry should help you as you consider an alternative approach to matching which will be critical to your MDM solution.

Oracle OpenWorld 2012 – What’s New…..

Last week I attended Oracle OpenWorld. This was at least my 10th time attending the event and it continues to grow and change as Oracle does. One thing that does not change is San Francisco, which is always amazing and this year was sunny and warm.


The conference is the annual gathering hosted by Oracle and is the place where the company gets to talk about what is new and what is influencing our businesses. So Oracle made many announcements during the week related to Cloud, Big Data, new hardware and a new release of the Database. Each is hot these days and Oracle continues to bring new and updated offerings to the market to meet this changing landscape.

In the Big Data space as with the Cloud space this year was a year to encourage the adoption and use of the technology. In the area of Cloud Oracle offered plans for people to migrate from in-house systems to the Cloud. They discussed strategies on how to make the transition as easy as possible. The challenge I heard about companies moving to the Cloud has been the fact that the systems people have are old or have been significantly customized and the move is not one which is simple or straightforward. This move for some companies will not be as easy as was described.

The big news for news for me was the fact that Oracle had officially released a new version of the database; version 12c is on the way. This new version has a number of enhancements the biggest for me was the concept of the pluggable database. The pluggable database is a feature which provides significantly better support for databases to be better able to react to hardware, platform and version changes. The pluggable database can be easily moved to another container database which can have many pluggable database within it. Of course Oracle made other changes to the new version of the databases but this was the most significant as it changes the underlying architecture of the database

Of course as usual the big buzz was about Big Data. Oracle continued to sell the concept and help customers to see how Big Data can help. This year the idea transitioned from theory to practice and experiences. People were now discussing use cases (as I did during my Big Data presentation). The why is moving to the how. Below is Andy Mendelsohn, Oracle Senior VP Databases telling us about the Oracle stack for Big Data and how the Big Data Appliance can help.


Overall the event was the usual offering for Oracle OpenWorld which helped many to better understand what is coming and how we need to get ready for it.

My IOUG is coming to Oracle OpenWorld

It’s that time of the year again. The summer is slowly coming to a close. The evenings are getting colder and the days shorter. The other thing that arrives at this time of the year is Oracle OpenWorld; the annual gathering of Oracle customers hosted by Oracle. It all starts on September 30th, when I and lots of other Oracle professionals will descend upon San Francisco for the annual event.

I have to admit one of the great highlights of the week, is the very first event of the week. This is the IOUG  at the User Group Sunday event where the user group starts the week with presentations , discussions and panel on the deepest parts of Oracle’s technology, where users share their stories and experiences. I will be presenting a seminar about Big Data: the Future is Now. OpenWorld is the place where I get to meet old friends and colleagues and hang out with my cool cousin (who lives in San Fran), it is one of two gatherings of users and it is the place I renew many friendships. It is like a geek pilgrimage. 

The remainder of the week is all about Oracle. It is at OOW where we get to hear from Larry Eliison and listen to his vision for the future. We hear about some of the new technologies which will become part of our fabric in our future. I remember hearing about Big Data a few years ago as a concept and now it is becoming mainstream. I will be speaking during the week about how Agile has helped EPAM to deliver Big Data projects; a very exciting topic these days to allow for effective creation of data and reporting solutions. And of course there are the networking events… this year we even get to see Pearl Jam. And then some Oracle Music festival which includes Macy Grey. How do they do it?

So why not come by and see all of us in the user groups and become part of the fun?

Here are Ian’s Top 5 Benefits of the IOUG at OpenWorld

5. Best directions to sessions
4. IOUG helps people separate reality from hype… after 5 drinks.
3. Get to finally meet TV star.. John Matelski. Looks like he may be the next host of Meet The Press!
2. Coolest t-shirts
1. Special IOUG lines at all food and drink counters for all OpenWorld events!

So I hope to everyone at the event. You will find the IOUG booth at Moscone West in the user group pavilion. See you there.

A Business Intelligence Adventure

There are times in your life where you get a chance to experience something different and exciting and last week was one of these experiences which I will not soon forget. Last week I had the opportunity to be part of a Business Intelligence event being held in Minsk, Belarus by my new company EPAM.

The chance to go half-way around the world to speak about my favorite topics was at the same time exciting as it was scary. I travel a lot for work and pleasure but this was different. The countries of the former Soviet Union have always held a special connection with me; as my grandparents were from Latvia and the Ukraine and Minsk was right in the middle of both. I didn’t know what the trip might hold; would I be able to get around without speaking any Russian? Would they like what I had to say? At least we had some commonalities like hockey, the weather and our love of data. All my fears quickly dissipated once I finally left the airport. The Minsk airport is still a bit of a throwback to the days of Soviet rule.

20120516_063251The airport has only 6 gates and no lines. When you arrive in Belarus you need to purchase medical insurance ($2 Euros) and of course meet with Passport control to get final clearance into the country. This was the first time I travelled to a country which required a visa, and although before my trip I was anxious about entering the country it was a smooth trip to Minsk


I was headed off to visit the team at EPAM. I had a trip which took me through the countryside and into the city. I was struck by how much the Minsk area looked like any Canadian place. The forests of white birches was a welcome site. The cars that they drive there are no different from ours, but what was different was the grandeur of the architecture and how it seemed like a modernized version of the old Soviet Union. The streets in the city core are wide and grand. Below is an image of Independence Square which houses the Belarusian government and a huge shopping centre which is right below the square.

Minsk_pana1This is what I expected, these are the type of buildings which I pictured in my mind. The biggest realization was that the shops were fully stocked with goods, much like we have in Canada. The brands might be different and you can buy vodka for less that $10, but this is a country where success is coming as they evolve from their modest past. This is a country that has welcomed the new age and are working to bring and grow.

The visit to EPAM and speaking at a BI event in Minsk was my reason for being there. EPAM is company with a strong knowledgebase in many technical areas. They are a company of 9,000 professionals who deliver top-notch solutions and now with the purchase of Thoughtcorp they can begin to show that strength in Canada along with our team.

20120517_101723So back to the experience. I presented at the first <epam> BI conference held in Minsk. It covered subjects such as what is data and why is it important to how Oracle and Microsoft can support data solutions for it’s customers. It was a great time where I discussed the future of data and how important it is becoming today. Where businesses which embrace data and fact-based decision making can make a significant impact to an organization’s success. The audience was great and the questions where thoughtful and interesting. It was a great experience which I will not soon forget.

20120518_173910The next day was a visit to <epam> and I had the chance to talk about my experiences using Oracle and how we run data projects. I was again struck by the quality of the people I met. This was a strong team which wanted to learn more and get even better. We discussed Oracle direction around data and how we can get the most from our database investments. This is a picture of the offices in Minsk, with the lead of the Oracle Performance team, Andrei. It was a awesome experience and was a great introduction to the people and skills which EPAM bring to the market. I thank them all for letting me be a part of it all.

Of course no trip to Minsk would be complete without some comments about the food and drink. Belarus is known for some great vodkas and this trip I got to experience many choices. Straight vodka (awesome), cranberry vodka (awesomer) and some vodka made with Bison grass (a spicy, smoky awesomeness). The food was also an experience and reminded me of my childhood when my family would make very similar dishes. The potato pancakes were a throwback to the days when fried food was good for you. All of the food here is made from scratch and I am told it is all organic.

Overall, the trip to Minsk was an experience which I will never forget. The team at EPAM taught me a lot as well, it was a chance to see how a country like Belarus can rise to become a modern and technically advanced country, Belarus is a place with few natural resources but one thing they do have is a lot of smart people doing some very innovative things. It was great to experience and I look forward to my next visit to Minsk… after all I forgot my sports jacket in a bar in Minsk, so I need to go and pick it up!

Author Profile
Name: Ian Abramson
Location: Toronto, Canada

Website: Ian's Oracle Community Blog

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