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It was good to be home again@ISUG

I have to admit… the several times I was at TechEd – it was like a fish out of water.  First of all, SAP has hundreds of products – to cover them all adequately means that few products ever get much real focus.    Second, it seemed like more of an end-user conference than a hard core technical conference.   People were there to learn how to create reports in Business Objects, …what the latest features and functionality was in ERP vX.Y, etc.   Even the vendors were high level – offered barcode label printing, etc.   Very few real hard core techies around…..   Supposedly dCode will be different…..maybe….but still with all the products to cover……

Fortunately, the folks at ISUG agreed….and decided to restart the old TechWave conferences under the new SAP regime….rebranding it ISUGTech.   For those of you new to ASE, SRS, IQ, SQL Anywhere/MobileWhatever or PowerDesigner, this is the conference where you go to find out the deep technical guts and gore.    Usually, the topics fall into several categories:

1 – Tips & Tricks

2 – Internals

3 – Performance & Tuning

4 – How I survived a major implementation/migration/upgrade/whatever……

5 – The latest and greatest

….and there will be code on the screen.   Lots and lots of code.   Followed by step-by-step instructions…..hidden/undocumented trace flags, unlisted options, troubleshooting tips, tried-and-true best practices…..or ones that need to change because the product has changed……

This years’ re-launch event in Atlanta was no exception.   It was good to see a lot of the familiar faces from years past.   Peter Thawley, Stefan Karlsson, Rob Verschoor, Irfan Khan, Paul Vero, Jeff Garbus, Peter Dobler, Joe Woodhouse, Cory Sane, Mike Novak,  Annette Kirkpatrick (missed her session – darn it), Mark Mumy, Bradmark, IBM, Fujitsu, …..   There were a few missing – Kevin Sherlock, Anne Walker (fm Australia….although Joe tried to represent the Aussie segment admirably…..with his 32″ wide-screen laptop that dimmed the lights whenever he plugged it in).    Unfortunately, the timing was a bit off due to Passover and Easter holidays….and the lack of a whole lot of advance notice meant that some couldn’t get it into the corporate travel budgets in time.   However, it was enough of the usual crowd that Peter T even got harrassing Jean-Pierre about living in Mexico during his keynote (note to self – avoid front row)…..ahhhh yesss…..ISUG….come once – you are a visitor – come twice and we remember you….and feel free to pick on you……

…and the keynote usually has some customer whose transaction processing numbers are just staggering.   This year, China Academy of Railways…..runs entire system on 36 ASE instances….the numbers are staggering.   I’ve been to their NOC….impressive.    Essentially, they put the entire population of LA and NYC combined on a train every day….10’s of millions of people…….and during the Lunar holiday (Chinese New Year) move the entire population of the USA…     ….and they do it with people like me who dither about 8 different alternatives before we finally pick the schedule we want – or the one the company will pay for.   On trains so fast you will get there before you can get through the TSA line at our airports……  So, yes….they really do need to process 80,000 business transactions per second per node on 64 cores of the latest and baddest Power7 chip from IBM……

It was also good to be someplace other than Vegas.   …maybe we are working our way back to our old haunt in Orlando….Disney anyone???   Sorry – Space mountain is way cooler than staring at a roulette wheel……..

Since I am posting this in the SAP applications space, let me step back and explain a tad.    ISUG is to the SAP database technologies as what ASUG is for the SAP app folks and ABAP developers…..I think.  Not being a member of ASUG, I am not really sure.    ISUG is an independent user’s group – and as Mike Harrold likes to say, he is so glad SAP acquired Sybase as that meant they didn’t have to change the name of the organization….both SAP and SY begin with S…so ISUG stayed…instead of …welll….       As a user’s group, the focus is on the database technologies and custom application development – along with the usual local chapters, online forums for questions, the regular journal for members,  – which has a lot of technical articles (including the guts and gore of ODBC/ADO or .NET drivers from Paul Vero, DBA stuff from Garbus, and usually some PowerBuilder code snuck in….) – and then the typical annual conference (which is open to members as well as non-members).   This year, we bribed a few HANA guys to come along…and I think they were a bit surprised at how technical the audience was……

Since we are talking about the conference, let me share a few secrets.

Secret #1 – Go early/stay late

ISUG has always had pre-conference workshops…and this year added post-conference ones as well.   In the past, these were either accelerated mini-versions of courses from product education – or the more popular ones – deep dive training sessions on a particular topic/product.   The latter sessions often are classes that are not taught anywhere else and often are taught at ISUG by the folks who live, eat and breathe the stuff every day.   IQ performance and tuning from Mark Mumy.   PowerDesigner advanced techniques/custom coding by Matt Creason.   sp_sysmon performance analysis by Joe Woodhouse.   This year my colleague Chris Brown and I tag teamed on RS Internals & Performance Tuning (Monday) and ASE P&T via MDA (on Friday).   I think Monday’s session went well…..Friday’s had a few hiccups as the labs didn’t go as planned (running a VM off a thumb drive can offer some unique challenges)….    Point being, that a few extra $ on top of the conference fee gets you into a class you likely will never get elsewhere……and you also get time to ask those questions you have been squirreling away…..

Secret #2 – Ask The Experts

Sometimes we used to call this “stump the chump” booth……and we would pull in the likes of Dave Putz (who I think has memorized the entire source code to ASE), Mark Kusma, etc.   Essentially, this is a booth staffed whenever the exhibit hall is open – and staffed by product experts, etc. – who can answer questions about the best way to do things….and what not to do.   This year, I got one of the latter – a consultant came up explaining a problem in which the previous consultants had implemented RepServer in such a way that they claimed they had to rebuild the replication topology every time they failed over to the standby.  HORRORS!!!!   …..and yes, this was at a federal agency….no wonder our taxes are so high and the gov’t is broke.  As they say about consulting – “if you can’t be part of the solution, there is great money to be made in prolonging the problem”……

Secret #3 – Take a colleague…or two

There is absolutely no way in which you will ever be able to get to all the sessions you really want to get to.   The best solution is to bring a colleague and divide and conquer on the sessions – how else will you get Rob’s latest Tips & Tricks when he is speaking the same time that Chris Brown is talking about the best ways to tune Linux???   Ahhhhhh….you say – but can’t we simply download the presentations???   Even Mike Harrold who runs ISUG conference knows that most of the real presentations are being written….just prior to being presented.   In fact, if they didn’t force him to practice his keynote, Peter Thawley would likely be doing last minute changes as people were coming into the room.  Secondly, most of the long time presenters quite frequently will ad-lib lots of pearls of wisdom or nuggets – especially when someone’s question prompts some long ago nightmare problem…….    And some slides – e.g. futures/roadmaps are most never made available (which explains all those folks taking pics with their cell phones).    Just make sure your colleague shares his notes.   But if you go alone – think of all the fun you can extract from those that didn’t go… the end of Monday’s RS P&T session, one attendee was already turning down free dinner offers from his colleagues back at work in exchange for the materials….I think he was holding out for a office with a window, a laptop upgrade and …..     ….But, of course, ISUG members can download the audio recordings of the sessions….

Secret #4 – Ask questions

A lot of the sessions are led by experts.   There are reasons they did what they did…and why.   For example, in the SAP led sessions about new features, sometimes something doesn’t seem so obvious – e.g. why did shrinkdb take so long….until you ask and then you find out that it really wasn’t so simple after all (once you start moving pages, you have to backtrace index pointers, recompute data/index cluster ratios, etc.)…..and you learn that those folks in engineering have a tough job after all (and you learn a bit more about the product and how it works in the process).   Or when customer X explains why they chose to go a certain route…you learn how to avoid pitfalls you might not have thought about.   For example, Cory Sane of Wells Fargo was asked why they did a dump/load to a second machine during the multi-TB migration to a new platform, datacenter….and new ASE pagesize (that’s 3 changes in 1 shot) with minimal downtime.  His answer:  They oversaturated the old HW NIC and the WAN any other way – so it was faster to do a full db dump, stage tran log dumps and do a final log dump and use the new HW’s faster NIC and same datacenter LAN to speed up the data transfer.   More work up front – and longer prep time…= shorter down time.   Something that is all too common that folks just don’t think about – how easy it is for hardware or environment to cause a long process to be ….well…..tooo long.   As far as questions, don’t be bashful…..but if you are – approach them after the session and ask (but be willing to walk with them as they may need to leave the room for the next presenter).    Bribery helps, of course….as the folks from Brazil know – bring me some really good coffee (for the addicts at home) or lead me to Guarana (the real stuff….from Antartica….not that Coke knock off)……and I will answer just about anything……you might have to pry me off the walls…but….

Secret #5 – The Enhancements Panel

ISUG normally has a long list of enhancements that get sent to product management and engineering on a regular basis…..and every year they invite product management to take requests from the floor.   Often times it is as much about why things work they way they do as it is about why can’t we add feature X to the product.  This year was my first year at being on the panel…..and Peter T says I was lucky as everyone was just lobbing softballs instead of the usual hard questions.   Which was a good thing as I got tagged a lot to answer the questions.   And I learned a lot…..had to do some experiments when I got back….but I did find out that something that I always thought worked one way ….didn’t……and either needs to be fixed – or… needs to be documented on how it works and then fixed.  Not saying the normal enhancement process doesn’t work…..but when there are a couple hundred voices in one room all saying “do it”… can help prioritization.

…..for those of you new to SAP database technologies – maybe we will see you next year (it is reported that it will be the last week in March back in Atlanta).  Until then – join ISUG…and start finding out more about that brave new world that exists beyond SAPNotes……

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  • Having suffered reading the “Managing workloads with ase” a couple of years back, I couldn’t believe that this blog came from the same author. Made a pretty good and interesting read and looks the experience of the Sybase enthusiasts was much better than trying to unsuccessfully avoid the HANA pitch in Vegas. 😉 .

    After reading this blog, I do feel bad for not being there. Hope to make it in the next one.

    Great blog Jeff. Can you do the ‘Managing workloads with ase’ in the same style?

    warm regards,


    • Sudhir, you miss the point. The “Managing Workloads in ASE” doc is EXACTLY the kind of content “texture” that the conference is trying to get back to – pure nuts and bolts and highly technical (ie, useful).  Jeff just happens to have the talent to write both ways, and I hope he changes neither.

      I was sorry to miss this year (first miss over last 11 years) as I had insufficient funds and time to attend.  My vote is a return to San Diego!    No matter where it is next year, I will not miss it two years in a row.

      • It is highly likely to be in Atlanta again next year. We heard a lot of potential attendees say travel budgets were already allocated by the time they heard about this year’s conference, so the word will get out ASAP for next year’s.

      • I understand Sudhir’s point….tech stuff can be dry as drivel…..unfortunately, what one can say in a blog (and how you say it) differs significantly from what you are allowed to do in a white paper (that is supposed to be ‘professional’ and gets reviewed by the grammar cops)…..sigh…..corporations just don’t have a sense of humor anymore….

        ….I was tempted to reply “Thanks…to prevent further suffering, I won’t be updating the whitepaper for 15.7, 16.0, 16.x….whenever it happens.  Instead someone from techpubs will take it over and remove all the useful sections and generate it in a pdf without any active hyperlinks….”…..but thought someone might take me seriously….

      • well, I think the my words didn’t convey my appreciation correctly then. I was happily surprised by his writing style in this blog since so far I was following his tech side only. “managing workloads on ase” being one of the most notable and comprehensive works I have read in “then Sybase, now SAP” space. Its like catching my hard nosed math teacher drunk in the pub. (bad analogy again, I think 😉 )

        Best of luck to you and me for the next year then.

        warm regards,


        • ouch ouch ouch…my degree is in math…..and given that some of the best places to eat in London are pubs….uh oh…..hoo boy.   Good thing I only drink highly caffeineted sodas.  Especially in London – they must still tax their tea over there or something – glad we fought that war 200+ odd years ago…..

          But not to worry…not offended.   I will, however, reserve you a seat in the front row next year….it will be the one with the red concentric circles on it…..  🙂

  • It was also good to be someplace other than Vegas.   …maybe we are working our way back to our old haunt in Orlando….Disney anyone???   Sorry – Space mountain is way cooler than staring at a roulette wheel……

    Amen to that!

  • I lost track of how many attendees said “this is just like the old TechWaves!!”. There was a great energy all week, and yes, fabulous to see code and traceflags up on the screens again.

    For anyone who missed the conference, all sessions will be available (most with the presenter’s audio overlaid on the slides; some with full video) to ISUG Gold members. If you’re not already a member, it’s cheap and easy to sign-up and it will provide a discount to next year’s conference…

    Sign up at ISUG-TECH : Welcome to ISUG

  • I can tell you that the board is already planning next year’s conference!   Thanks for all the great feedback and it was truly good to see all of you and share in the deep technical content.  I can’t wait!  It really does feel like this is filling a large gap in technical content the likes you don’t see at other conferences.  The quality of the presentations is unquestionably the best around, bar none.   We are going to cover a bit broader areas and put some more focus into application development and possibly other product lines, but rest assured that it will not be at the expense of the core products covered at this conference!  One other note, we have a good deal of content from the conference (with some exceptions noted by Jeff above) going to be online for ISUG GOLD members.  Now is the time to join and get access to this content and the added benefit of a discount to next year’s conference!!! Sign up now!

  • Orlando would be a great place for the conference. As I remember, wasn’t it at the Gaylord Palms Resort? Maybe not as big next time, but just think, Disney World, Sea World, even a day trip to the Kennedy Space Center. I would actually bring my family to that one.

    Mike Harrold, I’ve haven’t seen the presentations yet at Is there a specific link to them?