When the IOUG Meets the MySQL Community - Interview with Andy Flower, Sarah Novotny, Lenz Grimmer and Dave Stokes

In light with the formation of the MySQL Council under the IOUG (Independent Oracle User Group) and two upcoming conferences with a lot of MySQL content - Collaborate 11 and O'Reilly MySQL Conference, we talked to Andy Flower, President of IOUG, Sarah Novotny, recognized MySQL community member and the Council Chair, as well as Lenz Grimmer and Dave Stokes, MySQL community managers at Oracle, on their thoughts and takes of the IOUG and the MySQL community.

Andy, thank you for participating in the interview. Can you tell us about the IOUG, its goal and its relationship with Oracle?

Andy: Sure. The IOUG is one of the oldest Oracle user communities. We started as a database community, as Oracle was a database company. Our goal is to help our members - Oracle customers, who are users of the database and technology products - get educated on real world solutions so that they can best leverage their investment in Oracle technology and get the most out of it.

We accomplish this goal through a number of channels. For example, we have in-person events, so a lot of people can network and share ideas. We also provide formal education through conferences and webinars. But all in all, our goal is to really help our members become the best database and technology professionals they can with their Oracle technology.

Our relationship with Oracle is on a very positive trajectory, and has been for a number of years now. We work very well with Global Customer Programs and the Server Technologies group, and increasingly with the MySQL folks. It's really about establishing a two-way communication. Our relationship specifically with the server team has gotten to the point where they come to us for opinions on new ideas and new releases, get us involved in the beta program, and seek direct feedback from our members on the product. It has become a very good bi-directional relationship, and we'd like to continue that with other parts of Oracle that are relevant to our users.

Can you elaborate more on the "independent" part of IOUG - the Independent Oracle User Group?

Andy: Certainly. You know the "I" of IOUG stands for independence. We are self-funded non-profit organization. Oracle does participate in our events, and we're happy to have this great working relationship with them, but they do not fund the IOUG. That gives us a prominent position and an interesting opportunity to provide feedback to Oracle. Independence is very important to us because we want that freedom to be able to speak our minds and talk openly and honestly about our members' relationships with Oracle, their experiences, and how best to get value out of the products that they use.

As you mentioned, the IOUG has historically focused on the Oracle database products. When did you realize the interest in MySQL among your members?

Andy: Three years ago we did a survey among our members. It was just a general survey about different technologies that they use, the platforms that they run the database on, what other databases do they have in their environment etc. And we've found that around 35 percent of our members had MySQL in their environment. That was an eye opener to us. We expected to see more Microsoft SQL Server or IBM DB2 on the list, since a lot of large corporations have a little of everything.

MySQL was a surprise, a pleasant one. It was one of those things where we had one board member at the time who was interested in. So he did a couple of sessions on MySQL, but we didn't make a big investment because it wasn't an Oracle product then. When the Sun acquisition occurred, all of a sudden we recognized that we got a great match here. We have members who are already using MySQL, plus we know that there are a lot of MySQL users out there who are also Oracle database users.

So we got pretty excited about a potential opportunity to find ways and bring people together to share their experiences, just like what we have done traditionally around the Oracle database. In the meantime, we recognized that MySQL is an open source community, and it's different from other traditional software customers whom we have been engaged with through other Oracle acquisitions. Therefore, we wanted to engage with a number of leaders in the MySQL community to help figure out how best to move forward.

One thing that we are confident with is we know how to interact with Oracle and our members have deep knowledge in applying database technology. As we are now both part of the large Oracle community, we really want to make sure what we do is the best for the MySQL community. So we didn't rush and created a MySQL Special Interest Group right away. Instead, we decided to get people together, and figure out what is the best way to facilitate and bring MySQL into the broader Oracle community.

I hope the MySQL folks will find that the IOUG is actually a very welcoming community. We bond with other Oracle user communities, and collectively have knocked on Oracle's door and give them feedbacks, so we want to help MySQL be a part of that.

Selfishly, the IOUG also sees a great opportunity for our members, given 35 percent of them also have MySQL. We want to have educational content for them. And thus we are opening a channel for our existing members to learn by growing and establishing networking relationships with the MySQL community.

Fantastic. Let's move on to the next topic -- Collaborate and O'Reilly MySQL Conference. This year, the two conferences are being held in the same week, and both have a lot of MySQL content. Before I get your thoughts on this coincidence, can you tell us what Collaborate is about?

Andy: Sure. This is the sixth year we are doing Collaborate, which is a conference hosted by three of Oracle's largest user groups, IOUG, OAUG (Oracle Applications User Group), and Quest International. OAUG is the user group established initially around Oracle's eBusiness Suite product line, and Quest International is the JD Edwards/PeopleSoft user group.

As the name suggests, Collaborate is our three user groups coming together to collaborate. We typically have about 6,000 attendees at the conference. The educational content spans the products I mentioned above, including various modules, functions and capabilities of eBusiness Suite, PeopleSoft, and JD Edwards. Plus, there is a lot of technical content from an IOUG perspective with everything around the database -- from performance to storage management, and a big focus on security, business intelligence and data warehousing. On top of that this, we're adding 50 MySQL sessions this year, so throughout the week, IOUG will put on 400 Oracle technology sessions as part of the 1,200 sessions of Oracle related content across all three groups.

It is really a diverse conference, which gives us a lot of opportunity to interact with the broader Oracle community. Yet there is plenty of specific content for people who want more in-depth knowledge in a specific product or technology. For example, if you want to know how the purchasing module works in PeopleSoft, you can find a session on that. If you want to learn how to configure Exadata or how to improve performance in Exadata, you can come and see that as well.

It's also a really interesting and fun conference. This year we'll have a joint event on Wednesday night where we're renting out the Universal Studios theme park and all the attendees get to go. So you know it's a robust conference and we cover a lot of products at Oracle from multiple perspectives. But the key to this is that it's by and for the users. The conference is all about users and customers learning from educational sessions and spending time with their peers. That's really the main reason why people like our event -- because it's member-driven.

Collaborate does sound like a fun conference. Any comment on the coincidence of the timing with the O'Reilly MySQL Conference?

Andy: The scheduling of the event, first and foremost, was just completely coincidental. IOUG hosts the Collaborate conference with two other Oracle communities, i.e. OAUG and Quest International, so it's very difficult to make changes. Especially because of the size of the conference, we have to plan things out three years in advance. I can't speak for O'Reilly, but I suspect that they're in a similar boat that they need to plan their event one or two years in advance. It's unfortunate that we picked the same dates, but it is purely coincidental.

The one thing I will emphasize is that we have no intention of annually competing with the O'Reilly conference. The one difference with us is, as I have been saying all along, our goal is to provide an opportunity through which the MySQL community can join the Oracle community. And there will be people who continue to go to O'Reilly MySQL Conference because of its broader open-source focus or because of its additional value outside of the MySQL product or technology conversations. It's great for people who want that kind of venue. We don't want to tell people where to go and what to do. What we're offering is a great MySQL content and a channel for people who want to start engaging with the Oracle community more directly, and we can provide a bit more perspective from the Oracle angle through our conferences and educational events.

I think it's a great thing that people have choices. We have some speakers that will present at both conferences, but our content at Collaborate is not a replica of O'Reilly MySQL Conference. So if you are an East Coast person, it might be just more cost effective and convenient for you to come to Collaborate in Florida. And if you're in the West Coast, it's probably more convenient and cost effective for you to go to the O'Reilly conference in California.

Before I move on to Sarah, any final comments from you, Andy?

Andy: Now is an interesting time. We've seen artificial barriers in the early days of Oracle's acquisitions, and a lot of them have gone down. And we are working as a community much more collaboratively and closely together than we've ever had in the past. I don't think it's coincidental that people start to realize that you can't do things in a bubble and we all have to work together to get the best out of the entire technology stack - from servers to storage to software. So our communities recognize that and we're working very well together across the board. And I see the IOUG as a lever, a vehicle, to bring the MySQL community into the broader Oracle user community.

Thanks for the insights on the IOUG, Andy. Let's switch gear and talk about the MySQL community. Sarah, as a member in the MySQL community, what is your impression about IOUG?

Sarah: My impression on IOUG has been truly favorable. Not only do they understand community, they understand the culture of community. When Andy and the IOUG approached representatives of the MySQL community, they recognized that we have an existing culture associated and they respected it instead of trying to impose the "IOUG way" top down.

They asked, "What does the MySQL community want from us? How can we help? Here are some ideas we have. What are your ideas?" It has been fascinating to watch, and important for the MySQL community to notice, how open and welcoming the IOUG and the Oracle community have been to us, in a way that I didn't expect.

It was a surprise. Especially after the nine months of silence during the acquisition, the openness with which we have been embraced is fantastic. And at Oracle's User Group Community Leaders Summit, I took my two minutes of introduction to say thank you to the different community groups for being so welcoming to us, as opposed to trying to force any sort of framework onto our community. I believe there are a lot of opportunities for the MySQL community to grow - remaining true to the open-source world while drawing the best of breed ideas from the enterprise way -- through access to and learning from the Oracle user groups.

How did you get involved in the MySQL Council?

Sarah: I was on the list of people that the IOUG wanted to reach out to and talk to about the MySQL community. I have been involved and around for several years in the MySQL community. In this last year, with my company, Blue Gecko, I have been able to spend more time promoting MySQL and our services within the MySQL community. So that was a really lovely timing for me to have this opportunity to help the IOUG interact and interface with the MySQL community, and also help the MySQL community interact with IOUG.

As the leader of this group, can you tell us the role as well as the short-term and long-term objectives of the MySQL Council?

Sarah: There are a number of short-term goals that we have defined. Some of the longer-term goals are more nebulous still. In the short term, our primary purpose is to facilitate communications between our user community, the IOUG and Oracle, helping them both understand how to work and interact with the MySQL community.

An interesting example was when we put out the press release of the MySQL Council on the IOUG website. Initially it was a downloadable PDF, and that was just culturally strange to the MySQL community. If it's not a Web page, the community ignores it and moves on. So Giuseppe Maxia raised the point during the council meeting and said, "Can you make this HTML? Because that's the way we're going to get people to link to it". This is a simple example that shows how the MySQL Council is able to bring a cultural common ground between the MySQL community and the IOUG. The second goal is to use and leverage the IOUG's long-standing contacts within Oracle to route our community feedback to the right people at Oracle. It's important to get the MySQL community comfortable with the idea that the IOUG and the MySQL Council are there to help. Additionally, the IOUG is an organization that can help the MySQL community interact with, interface with, and get the best results out of Oracle.

In the longer-term, I see a really wonderful opportunity to fill out educational offerings for the IOUG, engage not only with the IOUG community, but also the broader community of Oracle users who also have MySQL in-house. Through that we can grow our community, grow our installed base, grow our network and our cultural interaction with two fairly different groups, while sharing the common goals of making databases perform well, and getting the right resources to the right people.

How will the MySQL Community benefit from the formation of the MySQL Council?

Sarah: I think the Council itself is more an anchor point as opposed to being itself a direct benefit; however the MySQL Council can facilitate all sorts of benefits towards the MySQL community. As the IOUG expands its education, community and networking, the MySQL community will have more access to organizations that don't think of themselves as primarily MySQL users. There is only upside in embracing the broader community for the MySQL ecosystem ; the vendors, the people who are running into issues, and the people who are developing patches against MySQL will find a larger audience for their work and concerns.

There still is uncertainty in the MySQL Community around what is going to happen with Oracle's acquisition, and I think that the MySQL Council can help mitigate some of that. Oracle hit a big milestone when they released MySQL 5.5 GA in December 2010, and it was a wonderful starting point. Nine months of silence as a result of the acquisition was really hard on a community that talks constantly about what they're doing. As we see more publications, more GA products, more information about what's happening and (I keep hoping) an eventual roadmap from Oracle, I think the community will find that the broader reach is very helpful.

Great! Thank you for your comments on the MySQL Council and the MySQL community, Sarah. Lenz and Dave, it's now your turn. I know many Oracle user groups around the world are incorporating MySQL sessions and content into their annual conferences. What was the general response and feedback you received from those activities?

Lenz: Let me chime in here since I have been attending the two biggest ones that were in Europe recently. So far, the two conferences I have been involved with were the DOAG conference, organized by the German Oracle user group, and the UKOUG which is the United Kingdom Oracle user group. They both have their annual conferences, and both created a MySQL track for the first time in 2010.

We were a bit late in the process, but were still able to whip a pretty exciting track of sessions, both containing speakers from the MySQL community at large as well as Oracle employees. We also had a few Oracle ACEs involved, such as Ronald Bradford. Both user groups were pretty strict about making sure that there is a good mix of content coming from Oracle as well as from people outside the company, which I found pretty interesting.

We came up with a really great selection of sessions, covering a wide range of topics -- from pretty basic introductory ones that attracted people new to MySQL but coming from an Oracle background, to deep dives into performance tuning and similar topics, and the feedback that I've received was very positive and almost overwhelming.

Compared to the MySQL events that I am used to, these conferences are huge. There is not only a lot of activities, but also a community feeling there. This was something I didn't really expect to happen. But people know each other and going out for dinner in the evening, and doing social stuff like we do within the MySQL and other open-source communities. At this level, it doesn't really matter what type of product you are interested in, and especially what kind of license is behind it. There are all kinds of technology users around us, and there is a lot of potential and opportunity for cross-pollination in a way.

The tracks and the sessions related to MySQL were very successful from my point of view. Most of the rooms were quite well filled. At the DOAG conference we even had to repeat some of the sessions since the room was completely full and people couldn't get in anymore. And the feedback was very positive from the reviews and comment forms that we've seen.

Overall, my impression was that there's definitely a lot of interest, and I am pretty sure that these groups will repeat having MySQL content for their upcoming conferences again.

That is great to hear. Do you expect even more MySQL content in those user group conferences this year?

Lenz: Yes, I think we can expect that to happen. I recently went to the Oracle User Group Leaders Summit meeting, and many of the leaders of various Oracle user groups around the globe expressed interest in having more MySQL content and asked us for help and support. So we will definitely see more of this happening this year.

Any final comments from the group before we conclude the interview?

Dave: I have been overwhelmed by the warmth of the reception we have had from the independent Oracle user groups and the other folks associated with them. Many of them have all been running MySQL for a long time, and they now feel kind of relieved that there is one single company to talk to when they have problems. And when they need help, they can find great resources at the MySQL Community.

Andy: We're just thrilled to have found folks particularly on our MySQL Council, and folks like Lenz and Dave, and others at Oracle who are willing to open the channels -- not to talk, but to listen, and this is fantastic.

This is a great comment to end this interview on. Thank you all for a very informative conversation.