Friday, November 18, 2011

I Can Help You Trace It

The first product I ever created after leaving Oracle Corporation in 1999 was a 3-day course about optimizing Oracle performance. The experiences of teaching this course from 2000 through 2003 (heavily revising the material each time I taught it) added up to the knowledge that Jeff Holt and I needed to write Optimizing Oracle Performance (2003).

Between 2000 and 2006, I spent many weeks on the road teaching this 3-day course. I stopped teaching it in 2006. An opportunity to take or teach a course ought to be a joyous experience, and this one had become too much of a grind. I didn’t figure out how to fix it until this year. How I fixed it is the story I’d like to tell you.

The Problem

The problem was simply inefficiency. The inefficiency began with the structure of the course, the 3-day lecture marathon. Realize, 6 × 3 = 18 hours of sitting in a chair, listening attentively to a single voice (my voice) is the equivalent of a 6-week university term of a 3-credit-hour course, taught straight through in three days. No hour-plus homework assignment after each hour of lecture to reinforce the lessons; but a full semester’s worth of listening to one voice, straight through, for three days. What retention rate would you expect from a university course compressed into just 3 days?

So, I optimized. I have created a new course that lasts one day (not even an exhausting full day at that). But how can a student possibly learn as much in 1 day as we used to teach in 3 days? Isn’t a 1-day event bound to be a significantly reduced-value experience?

On the contrary, I believe our students benefit even more now than they used to. Here are the big differences, so you can see why.

The Time Savings

In the 3-day course, I would spend half a day explaining why people should abandon their old system-wide-ratio-based ways of managing system performance. In the new 1-day course, I spend less than an hour explaining the Method R approach to thinking about performance. The point of the new course is not to convince people to abandon anything they’re already doing; it’s to show students the tremendous additional opportunities that are available to them if they’ll just look at what Oracle trace files have to offer. Time savings: 2 hours.

In the 3-day course, I would spend a full day explaining how to interpret trace data. By hand. These were a few little lab exercises, about an hour’s worth. Students would enter dozens of numbers from trace files into laptops or pocket calculators and write results on worksheets. In the new 1-day course, the software tools that a student needs to interpret files of any size—or even directories full of files—are included in the price of the course. Time savings: 5 hours.

In the 3-day course, I would spend half a day explaining how to collect trace data. In the new 1-day course, the software tools that a student needs to get started collecting trace files are included in the price of the course. For software architectures that require more work than our software can do for you, there’s detailed instruction in the course book. Time savings: 3 hours.

In the 3-day course, I would spend half a day working through about five example cases using a software tool to which students would have access for 30 days after they had gone home. In the new 1-day course, I spend one hour working through about eight example cases using software tools that every student will take home and keep forever. I can spend less time per case yet teach more because the cases are thoroughly documented in the course book. So, in class, we focus on the high-level decision making instead of the gnarly technical details you’ll want to look up later anyway. Time savings: 3 hours.

...That’s 13 classroom hours we’ve eliminated from the old 3-day experience. I believe that in these 13 hours, I was teaching material that students weren’t retaining to begin with.

The Book

The next big difference: the book.

In the old 3-day course, I distributed two books: (1) the “Course Notebook,” which was a black and white listing of the course PowerPoint slides, and (2) a copy of Optimizing Oracle Performance (O’Reilly 2003). The O’Reilly book was great, because it contained a lot of detail that you would want to look up after the course. But of course it doesn’t contain any new knowledge we’ve learned since 2003. The Course Notebook, in my opinion, was never worth much to begin with. (In my opinion, no PowerPoint slide printout is worth much to begin with.)

The Mastering Oracle Trace Data (MOTD) book we give each student in my new 1-day course is a full-color, perfect-bound book that explains the course material and far more in deep detail. It is full-color for an important reason. It’s not gratuitous or decorative; it’s because I’ve been studying Edward Tufte. I use color throughout the book to communicate detailed, high-resolution information faster to your brain.

Color in the book helps to reduce student workload and deliver value long after a student has left the classroom. In this class, there is no collection of slide printouts like you’ve archived after every Oracle class you’ve been to since the 1980s. The MOTD book is way better than any other material I’ve ever distributed in my career. I’ve heard students tell their friends that you have to see it to believe it.
“A paper record tells your audience that you are serious, responsible, exact, credible. For deep analysis of evidence and reasoning about complex matters, permanent high-resolution displays [that is, paper] are an excellent start.” —Edward Tufte

The Software

So, where does a student recoup all the time we used to spend going through trace files, and studying how to collect trace data on half a dozen different software architectures? In the thousands of man-hours we’ve invested into the software that we give you when you come to the course. Instead of explaining every little detail about quirks in Oracle trace data that change between Oracle versions 10.1 and 10.2 and 11.2 or and, the software does the work for you. Instead of having to explain all the detail work, we have time to explain how to use the results of our software to make decisions about your data.

What’s the catch? Of course, we hope you’ll love our software and want to buy it. The software we give you is completely full-featured and yours to keep forever, but the license limits you to using it only with one login id, and it doesn’t include patches and upgrades, which we release a few times each year. We hope you’ll love our software so much that you’ll want to buy a license that lets you use it on any of your systems and that includes the right to upgrade as we fix bugs and add features. We hope you’ll love it so much that you encourage your colleagues to buy it.

But there’s really no catch. You get software and a course (and a book and a shirt) for less than the daily rate that we used to charge for just a course.

A Shirt?

MOTD London 2011-09-08: “I can help you trace it.”
Yes, a shirt. Each student receives a Method R T-shirt that says, “I can help you trace it.” We don’t give these things away to anyone except for students in my MOTD course. So if you see one, the person wearing it can, in actual fact, Help You Trace It.

The Net Result

The net result of all this optimization is benefits on several fronts:
  • The course costs a lot less than it used to. The fee is presently only about 25% of the 3-day course’s price, and the whole experience requires less than ⅓ of time away from work that the original course did.
  • In the new course, our students don’t have to work so hard to make productive use of the course material. The book and the software take so much of the pressure off. We do talk about what the fields in raw trace data mean—I think it’s necessary to know that in order to use the data properly, and have productive debates with your sys/SAN/net/etc. administration colleagues. But we don’t spend your time doing exercises to untangle nested (recursive) calls by hand. The software you take home does that for you. That’s why it is so much easier for a student to put this course to work right away.
  • Since the course duration is only one day, I can visit far more cities and meet far more students each year. That’s good for students who want to participate, and it’s great for me, because I get to meet more people.


The only thing missing from our Mastering Oracle Trace Data course right now is you. I have taught the event now in Southlake, Texas (our home town), in Copenhagen, and in London. It’s field-tested and ready to roll. We have several cities on my schedule right now. I’ll be teaching the course in Birmingham UK on the day after UKOUG wraps up, December 8. I’ll be doing Orlando and Tampa in mid-December. I’ll teach two courses this coming January in Manhattan and Long Island. There’s Billund (Legoland) DK in April. We have more plans in the works for Seattle, Portland, Dallas, and Cleveland, and we’re looking for more opportunities.

Share the word by linking the official
MOTD sticker to
My wish is for you to help me book more cities in North America and Europe (I hope to expand beyond that soon). If you are part of a company or a user group with colleagues who would be interested in attending the course, I would love to hear from you. Registering en masse saves you money. The magic number for discounting is 10 students on a single registration from one company or user group.

I can help you trace it.