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Oracle and Spatial: An Update

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Thursday, June 7th 2012
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Summary:

At the Oracle Spatial User Conference this year in Washington, D.C., Jim Steiner, vice president of Server Technologies, discussed a wide variety of topics, from "big data" to Oracle's new program for partners called "Oracle Spatial Specialization." Executive Editor Adena Schutzberg sat down with Steiner to get more details.

I made a comment in my 2011 year-end recap that I’d not heard much about Oracle and its database solutions for geospatial data, processing and sharing. This year’s Oracle Spatial User Conference, held in conjunction with the Location Intelligence Conference in Washington, D.C., provided an update on the company vision and a new certification and specialization program for Oracle Spatial.

Oracle’s Vision in 2012

Oracle User Group attendees at the May 23rd Washington, D.C. event learned about the company’s vision from Jim Steiner, vice president of Server Technologies. His opening remarks organized ideas into packages of twos and fours.

First off, a “two.” There are two big differences between what we now call “big data” and what we more recently called just “data.” First, the rate of data growth is climbing thanks to new sensors, new social networks and new methods of data creation and capture. One estimate puts the rate of growth at 20 times the current rate per year. Second, we are finding new ways to draw value from these large data stores. In the past, such analyses were too costly or took too long.

Now let’s move to a “four.” Oracle sees itself impacted by four areas:

• information technology
• geospatial
• applications
• open systems

In response, Oracle is focused on tackling four challenges/demands on behalf of its users:

• supporting big data
• simplifying IT
• providing deep analytics
• enabling implementations in the cloud and/or on premise

Let’s take each in turn. The idea of big data, argued Steiner, is old. Its modern definition alludes to digital data: scanned paper documents as well as new collections from such as in-situ and remote sensors as well as from “the crowd.”

Steiner went on to describe four properties of this big data, the four “Vs”:

• volume (growing!)
• velocity (comes in and grows fast, and decisions need to be made fast; this type of data, sometimes described as a subset of big data, is termed “fast data”)
• variety (forms and formats)
• value (which is sometimes hidden in various ways)

All of those big data, and the demands put on them, lead to complexity. Oracle hopes to tackle the complexity by simplifying IT. That sounds like an awesome task and it is. One aspect of simplifying IT is providing what Steiner called “engineered systems,” the next generation of data appliances. The hardware and software combinations are selected with care, use advanced connections and are tweaked for performance. Oracle’s Exadata machine is one offering and there’s a business intelligence one as well. Atri Kalluri of the U.S. Census Bureau shared his experience with an Exadata implementation. The remarkable results included cutting processing times from several days to one.

Third on Steiner’s list are deep analytics, what those in our field tend to call analysis. One example Steiner shared with me later in the day related to the acquisition of Endeca. The company’s technology finds patterns really quickly. The trade-off for the speed is that the results are not exact, but “fuzzy.” While this is not a good solution for some things, it might be quite appropriate for others. If the analysis were used in a social app that yielded four great pizza places within a mile and one was a bit more than a mile, the world would not end. Similarly, if a Home Depot website recommended three other related items to the one searched and one was out of stock, again, the world would not end.

Steiner’s main point about the fourth topic, the cloud, related to simplified pricing for Oracle solutions. Simple monthly licensing is apparently a big step forward over previous options.

Three Things (and a Half)

I met with Steiner later in the day and challenged him to share with me three ideas he wanted our readers to know about Oracle in 2012. Here’s his list:

  • Spatial is in everything we do. It’s in the context, that is, in the very fabric of the Oracle technology.
  • Oracle solutions scale. Oracle is literally working at a different scale from other IT and database companies. The support of some of the largest geodata sets, LiDAR point clouds, is testament to that.
  • The technology and data are accessible and consumable. Oracle ensures this by supporting standards, working with partners and having a commitment to simplification.  Spatial technology should be presented to both developers and end users as “less of a professional GIS person’s thing” and more of a “just like other technology” kind of thing. This idea relates back nicely to “spatial is in everything,” above.
  • Oracle is innovating. The company innovates not only in its databases and proprietary software but in hardware and open source as well.

We then discussed my suggestion in the 2011 recap that we had heard little about Oracle in spatial in the past year. Steiner suggested that may actually be the result of some of the ideas in his three, okay, three and a half, points, especially 1 and 3. Because spatial is built in, it’s not called out or highlighted as being special. From a marketing standpoint, you can harp on that (for example: “Intel Inside” or Prego’s “It’s in there”) or not. Further, because tapping into spatial is not complex or any huge barrier to overcome, again, there’s no “big story” of implementation, just a solution that’s immediately applicable and useful. In short, sometimes invisibility is a good thing.

Oracle Spatial Certification and Specialization

The big “new” thing going on within the spatial arena this year at Oracle is not product related. Rather, it’s certification and specialization related. Readers involved in geospatial are likely familiar with the first term, but perhaps not with the second. Here is how Oracle uses these terms:

Certification refers to a single individual who has certain skills and can prove it via a credential achieved by passing a test.

Specialization refers to a company’s competency in selling and supporting a particular product or application area. That requires one or more employees who show certain skills, including one or more with certification.

Both of these credentials have been around for some time; this is their first appearance for spatial products/areas. So, how does a person become certified (and be called a specialist, just to make things confusing)? And how does a company acquire a specialization?

The certification process is most comparable to Esri’s Technical Certification program. Users develop proficiency, which is beyond book learning in most cases, and take a $200 test at a PearsonVue testing center. For now the program is in beta and some free tests are available for those willing to give it a go.

To achieve Oracle Spatial Specialization a company must have three solid customer references in the area of specialization; have people on staff who can handle pre-sales, sales and support (they are illustrated by non-proctored, online assessments, not paid, proctored tests); and have a staffer certified in the area of specialization.

The big selling point for certification was not discussed in the session I attended, but I assume it to be parallel to other technical certifications - to distinguish one’s self from the crowd and qualify for jobs with a certification requirement. The selling point for company specialization was discussed; it helps distinguish the company from all the other Oracle partners.


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