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Oracle geeks of the round table

Putting a high-tech spin on the traditional poker night, a group of elite Oracle gurus formed the Oak Table Network and achieved a sort of cult status among geeks around the globe.

Technology whiz Mogens Norgaard's ex-wife talked him into buying the massive oak table in his living room, and he likes to joke that he paid for it twice: once at the store and again as part of his divorce settlement. Norgaard kept custody of the weighty piece of furniture, never imagining that it would become an emblem of Oracle expertise, serving as a centerpiece to a world-class collection of Oracle professionals.

The Oak Table Network (OTN) was begun in Copenhagen, Denmark, two years ago, in Norgaard's living room. A late-night informal gathering grew into a professional networking organization whose members are authors, consultants, database architects and developers who investigate topics such as the quality of Oracle's Enterprise Manager (OEM), the new rules of solid-state disks (SSDs), and how requirements for concurrent space management in databases can best be met.

"We were gathered for something called the master class, where Jonathan Lewis [author of Practical Oracle 8: Building Efficient Databases] was teaching for three days," recalled Norgaard, who invited a gang of intense technical professionals to his house after Lewis' seminar.

"At dinner time, these nerds would close down their laptops, put their plates on top of those laptops, and continue to debate heatedly," said Norgaard, founder of Miracle A/S, a database consulting company in Copenhagen.

Finally, those nerds found seats at Norgaard's impressive oak table and held a high-tech version of the traditional boys' poker night. Laptops, beer bottles and cable wires were strewn about. Hence the OTN name.

It's a nonprofit, invitation-only group dedicated to the intellectual pursuit of all things related to Oracle technology. The group currently has 42 members, including one woman. About half its members are employed by Oracle.

"It's been a gradual process of gaining trust and respect between all the members," said OTN member James Morle, author of Scaling Oracle 8i and founder of the consulting firm Scale Abilities Ltd., based in Cirencester, U.K.

"Now we rely on each other not to waste anyone's time and not to ask silly questions," Morle said.

The OTN, though, does have a sense of humor. The group members give out T-shirts bearing the slogan "I challenged the Oak Table Network -- and won" to anyone who poses an online inquiry the group cannot answer within 24 hours. And recently, several OTN members brought Norgaard's oak table to OracleWorld in Copenhagen to show off their talents. Just for fun, Norgaard said, "We attempted to make the world biggest laptop Real Application Cluster (RAC)."

"There was just a lot of nerds standing around having fun," Norgaard said. "They loved it. No magicians or naked ladies or anything. Just the ability to come and talk to people who have nothing to sell."

In September, the OTN will attend its first U.S. Oracle event. OracleWorld planners have convinced the OTN to leave its huge oak table at home and have promised to provide a similar one for the group on the showroom floor.

Of course, about half of the OTN members are independent consultants, and they will likely reach some customers at shows where they have booths -- or tables. Still, the OTN is about drilling into Oracle technology, not drumming up business, Morle said.

Morle is currently contracted by Oracle to help improve its Oracle Enterprise Manager (OEM).

"Basically, it does not have a good reputation in the current marketplace," Morle said. "One of the things it hasn't done well, and we are still working on making it [do it] well, is support and maintenance of RAC. Before now, its performance was questionable. But we've made quite a bit of headway. It's quite good now."

Other OTN members include Anjo Kolk, who invented what is called the YAPP method, or yet another performance profiling method, which is widely used by Oracle database administrators; Cary Millsap, who started the system performance group during his 10 years at Oracle and then founded Hotsos Enterprises Ltd.; Steve Adams, who runs the Australia-based Ixora consulting company and is a well-known lecturer on the Oracle circuit; and Carol Colrain, a RAC specialist at Oracle and the group's only female member.

"In order to become a member, you need to be well known for the contributions you have made to the profession," Norgaard said. He is among four OTN members who have joined Oracle's 10i beta program, where they interact directly with developers. (OTN group member Pete Sharman is heading up 10i beta testing for Oracle's consulting unit.)

"The knowledge base of the Oak Table members allows us to dissect behaviors and problems in a highly scientific manner," Morle said. "Scientific principle is one of the underpinnings of the Oak Table Network."


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