IBM Insight 2014 – Brain Dump

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Whew, what a week. I’m coming out of the conference with at least 20 ideas for new blogs, including a new “Internals” series that I want to work on. I call this post my Brain Dump as I share out random things I learned and ideas.


For me, the conference started on Saturday. As an IBM Gold Consultant, I’m eligible to go to what’s called “CAC” – which I think stands for Customer Advisory Counsel. A chunk of what was discussed was covered by an NDA, so I cannot go into much detail. I think I can tell you it exists, though. It was preview and a more in-depth version of some of the other sessions at the conference, with slightly less vague mentions of some of the things IBM is working on. It was my first year there, and I’m probably the youngest Gold Consultant or person eligible for that. It felt in some ways like being a newbie again, but the other consultants and partners are really nice and welcoming. Unfortunately, lunch was rather non-vegetarian, and when I asked about vegetarian food and they said there was nothing, I ate my salad and cookie, and slipped out to buy some supplementing food at a little nearby store. Dinner was fun on Saturday night, on IBM’s dime – sat with some Gold Consultants and IBM execs and chatted. Again, pretty close to the youngest in the room, and felt rather on the junior side.


On Sunday, I took it a bit easy, in preparation for the week. Had lunch with a couple of sales guys from my new employer and few of their contacts, and the evening held a Gold Consultant reception and the Expo hall opening.


Monday started out with the general session, which was generally just fine, and fun to tweet about. After that was an interesting but not airtight session on converting information about SQL statements into monetary costs (The Monetary Cost of SQL Statements with Christopher Godfrey and Mike Galtys), which I was interested in not so much for the ability to charge back, but for the ability to quantify to a client how much working on their SQL has saved them. I don’t think I could go that far with it without some work, but it’s an interesting idea that is still percolating.

The IM Keynote was on Monday, and it featured Grant Imahara from Mythbusters. He was ok, but the scripted banter at these things always gets me. It was cool to have someone who worked on R2D2 and a giant Lego ball that my kids would go nuts over there – he had geek credentials, anyway.

One of the announcements on Monday was about DashDB which is an offering on BlueMix and maybe Softlayer that delivers BLU as a service. It might be interesting to play with, and from bits and pieces I’ve heard about it, I think it’s pretty well engineered on the back end.

I went to two other sessions on Monday – one was Matt Huras’s session on BLU (IBM DB2 with BLU Acceleration in 2014: The Latest News from the Lab). An excellent session which I unfortunately came into late, but still managed to learn a ton about shadow tables (they’re using replication to move the data to the shadow tables). A lot of the session was about Cancun – they’ve increased performance in several areas, including optimizations for group by, better CTE support, increased update performance, filtering on FKs, better execution plans in nested joins, better use of PK indexes at query runtime, better varchar compression, the support of user-maintained MQTs on columnar tables, the support of the MERGE statement, HADR with BLU.

I closed Monday out with Berni Schiefer’s session IBM DB2 Performance Update. Berni had a lot of interesting things to say- the two biggest that stood out to me were the fact that we should now be aiming for 8-16GB of memory per core on DB2 servers, and a couple of interesting things I want to blog in more depth about – the use of GPUs for DB2, and the base performance impact of DB2 10.5 over 10.1. He also talked about how BLU uses CPU at a higher rate than previous releases of DB2. He said that in the past, 80% CPU utilization was a sign of contention, but with BLU it is just expected that DB2 will use almost as much CPU as you can throw at it. There were great other things too – I’ve got at least a page of notes, and tagged this as one of the presentations I definitely want to download. (note, presentation not available for download yet as of this writing!)


Tuesday dawned awfully early after a late night on Monday, and I skipped breakfast and the general session. That’s the first general session I’ve skipped. My first session was What’s New in IBM DB2 BLU Acceleration: Tips and Insights into the Latest 2014 Enhancements with Sam Lightstone and Guy Lohman. This session had some repeats of stuff I’d already heard, but some interesting things as well. I learned that while BLU was already faster than row based tables for complex workloads, in Cancun, it’s even faster – with base 10.5 being 10-50 times as fast as row based tables, while Cancun is 35-73 times as fast. Focus for Cancun was placed on getting inserts and loads faster -with ELT (which they seem to be using now instead of ETL) improvements of 49-112 times and insert from subselect up to 35% faster. The caveat to these is that such operations are still slow if they would have relied on the tertiary indexes that cannot be created on BLU tables. Accessing a single row by PK is still 50% to 2 times slower on BLU than on row based tables. One interesting concept that came across in this session was thinking of traditional indexes as an approximation of a columnar store – I’d never thought of it that way. Also, they laid out the expectation that for BLU systems, memory should be about 5% of the data size.

The next session is one of my favorites of every conference – the panel (Ask the IBM DB2 Technical Leadership Team with Phil Downey, Matt Huras, Leon Katsnelson, Sam Lightstone, and Berni Schiefer). This one was on the smaller side, but I always learn so much from the questions that others ask. I was torn in this time slot as Melanie Stopfer was giving her only presentation of the conference at the same time. How in the world could Melanie Stopfer, the favorite presenter of so many, have only one session?!?! I realize scheduling is so hard at these things, and I want to go to so much, but Melanie should have at least two or three sessions. The most interesting thing that stuck out to me in the panel was a discussion about parallelization of backups. Backups are done in parallel only by tablespace – so one large tablespace can cause backups to run long. The way to get around this is to split up into more tablespaces – maybe even using range partitioning to split large tables across tablespaces. So sad I had to skip out early to make a lunch meeting.

On Tuesday Afternoon, I went into my first Lab – I hadn’t managed to do one when I went last year. I found it absolutely awesome. I chose a lab on HADR and TSAMP – a bit worried that it wouldn’t be advanced enough, since I consider myself a bit of an expert in this area. But I have always wanted to better understand the TSAMP structures behind db2haicu, so I went for it. The lecture part of this scheduled lab was a bit on the basic side for me. But the lab included three options – basic, intermediate, and advanced. I skipped straight to the advanced one, and wow, was it good. Exactly the level of detail I wanted and the commands to do everything. Because I took it not as a drop-in lab, but as a scheduled one, I got to keep the book. I plan to blog about the stuff I learned there. Just goes to prove to me that there is always something new to learn, even in areas of expertise.

I did go to the No Doubt concert on Tuesday night, but I’m not a big fan of LOUD or strobe lights, so it wasn’t really for me. I feel for the performers at these conferences with audiences that are only half into them.


Wednesday’s general session was really good. Captain Philips was great and would have been the high point of the general session speakers if it wasn’t for Kevin Spacey, who was truly incredible. No odd scripted banter with IBM execs for these guys – just good speaking and good humor. Kevin Spacey somehow made the tie-ins to the conference themes not seem wooden like many speakers do, and dropped a few F-bombs without seriously offending anyone that I talked to. He played the audience so incredibly well – never seen anything like it. If you get a chance to see him speak – go! As a side note, I’ve now become a House of Cards addict.

IBM also announced a partnership with Twitter surrounding Twitter’s data that could prove interesting if done right. I’m interested to see what that turns into.

I went to the analytics panel (Architect Panel: Distinguished Engineers on Analytics), which was interesting, but did not get a ton out of it since I’ve been so focused on OLTP databases for the past 8 years. One interesting suggestion from a participant there, given frustration with the Knowledge Center and the horrible search issues there, was to feed the DB2 documentation into Watson and see how searches would work then. Great idea – I hope the right people at IBM were listening. Think about how that would prove to people who work with data the power of the Watson platform.

I did a drop-in lab on shadow tables that was excellent – “OLTAP – The New Frontier of Database Workload Powered by DB2 with BLU acceleration”. It was great and thorough – just what I was looking for to really understand the new BLU shadow tables introduced with Fixpack 4 (Cancun). I’d love to get these going in a real environment and blog about it, and may do it in a sandbox and blog about that.

The sleeper stand-out session of the conference for me was “Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Most Underused Functions in IBM DB2”. I was glad I chose this in a time slot where there were literally 4(!) other sessions I also wanted to go to. I missed “Fun with SQL” – sad, that’s a fun session. And Chip, I so wanted to see speak in another session. But this session should have been titled “9 things Ember can blog about” – and it’s 9 only because one of them I’ve already covered in a blog post. So many great things here to base blog entries on.


Thursday was the best technical day of the conference for me. Packed full of great technical sessions.

For me, any day that starts with a Matt Huras session is just awesome. The guy knows and can explain so much. He goes to the right depth, and doesn’t over explain or under explain. He gives me a strange look now when I go to his internals sessions at every single conference – twice a year. He tweaks the presentation a bit, but what I find is that first, I change between conferences – what I’m interested in or what I’m working on – so I hear and see different things as important each time. Also the questions that people ask tell me about what people are interested in and lead to whole new tangents. My big epiphany this conference is that there are so many things from this session I can blog about! I now have a whole series of Internals blogs planned. I feel absolutely idiotic for not thinking of this sooner – one of the things I always lament about not being able to find anywhere other than a conference is the material covered in this internals session. Well there ya go – I know enough of many of the topics now to write well about them. I’m so excited, I want to jump in and start writing these!

I went to Ken Shaffer and Dom Turchi’s session – IBM DB2 Linux, UNIX, and Windows Online Version Upgrades. I’ve got a client interested in an online upgrade, so this was a good one for me to see. Ken’s also a friend. It was interesting to see the way they were able to get through an upgrade with just 15 minutes of downtime.

One of my favorite newer IBM speakers is Michael Kwok. He’s the head of data warehouse performance for DB2, and I went to see his session on “Enhancing your Operation Analytics Warehosue Performance Experience with IBM DB2 10.x”. He reminded me that just moving to 10 from 9.7 gets about a 10% performance improvement out of the box. He also went through a lot of the details a to why the performance is better. I really enjoyed a performance session that wasn’t just about BLU, but talked about more details on how compression helps performance almost across the board, how prefetching was improved with 10, and how the optimizer was improved as well. He also gave me some ideas on how I could better make use of charts on the blog and he had some interesting ways of displaying some of his data.

On Thursday, I went to the in-person version of the Lab I had gone to on shadow tables. This let me see the presentation part of the lab, and ask a few questions, as well as get a copy of the lab book. I left early since I had already done the lab portions, and wanted to get to the last two sessions of the day.

I like to hear Dale McInnis talk as well. I went to his session – Building a Continuously Available System with IBM DB2. I spend a fair amount of time with HADR and db2haicu/TSAMP and like to know the options for availability for my clients. Dale also has an ear on what IBM is working on with their big WebSphere Commerce clients, so it’s interesting for me to hear what little I can get in that area as well. He both talks at a high level about things to consider for availability – RTO vs RPO and all that, and also digs down into the details of some solutions. It sounds like he is heavily involved with the availability choices for DashDB and SQLDB on Bluemix, and those are interesting to hear. I was interested to hear about the GDPC option that would only be done with lab services from IBM involved, but sounds fun to figure out and set up.

For my final session of the conference, I went to “A Close Look at Deploying IBM DB2 in a Shared Multitenant Environment”. This was a good session to think about the various ways of doing multi-tenant and the details and drawbacks. Using RCAC and table partitioning, you could even serve multiple clients from the same database. Think about backing them up separately, partitioning what data they can see, etc – very interesting.

Overall Experience

It was a very different experience for me this year than it was for me last year. Daily page views on my blog have more than tripled in that amount of time, and at least 10 people came up to me to introduce themselves and tell me that they read the blog – a truly wonderful feeling for me. There was even one person who was going down the big escalators as I was going up who pointed at me, got off, and then came back up to talk to me.

The only way to get hard copies of the lab books for the drop-in labs was to wait in line on Thursday afternoon. I missed most of a session to do this for a couple that I really wanted to see. It seems like IBM could provide soft copies of them on the lab machines that one could just email to oneself or upload on dropbox or something.

I knew the big scale and most of the routine, so it was much more fun – I didn’t have to resort to my technique of finding Ian and standing next to him at all – though I met some interesting people that way last year.

Early in the week I was disappointed with the technical content (though there were still some good sessions). I also felt oddly like in some time slots there was nothing too interesting, while in others there were just so many incredible things I had trouble picking which one to go to. I had never before had a session at any conference with 5 things I wanted to see in the same time slot. Until this conference, I had also never skipped a session just to talk with people. I know that scheduling these things must be a nightmare because so many people have so many different opinions on what is best – you’re never going to make everyone happy. Wednesday and Thursday were the best in technical content in my opinion – though there was at least one excellent session each day. I would love to see more of Melanie Stopfer while keeping up the number of sessions from Matt Huras, Michael Kwok, and Dale McInnis. I would love to see a little less on BLU – I know they’re pushing it, but there are still workloads out there that cannot benefit from it. I would also love to get my own sessions approved, but that’s a whole other ball of wax, I’m sure – I’ll learn how to get there one of these years.


Over time, you develop friends at conferences and it’s so much fun to just hang out with them. I ate meals with so many interesting people, and realized when submitting my expense report that I somehow only managed to pay for two or three meals the whole week.

I escalated to a new level this conference, making some interesting connections with IBM executives. I still enjoy talking to technical folks the most, but you get good advice and ideas in all kinds of places.

Conference Guide

The hard-copy conference guide is nearly useless without speaker names. I understand IBM wants to be able to change speakers at a moment’s notice, but the speaker makes the session, and there are some speakers I would go listen to no matter what the topic because I know I would learn from them. I only used the guide when the mobile app wouldn’t work.

Ah, the mobile app. The favorite target of complaints all week. My biggest problem with it was that it did not keep a local copy of my schedule, so if the wifi went down (which it did, several times) and/or cell data service wasn’t fully working, I didn’t know what I had planned. Other suggestions would include:

  • A way to get sessions I’ve signed up for on my own calendar – doesn’t seem like it would be that hard – a calendar I could subscribe to online
  • Not going back to the home screen when my phone times out and goes to sleep or when I switch to another app – I’d like to go right back where I was – why is it running in the background otherwise?
  • When showing me sessions I have signed up for, going to the current day instead of making me scroll through everything since Sunday
  • An easy way to look at only Labs
  • Ability to overlap sessions with the end of labs – I don’t always stay for the entire lab session
  • Ability to filter what’s happening “NOW” by track
  • Keynotes and Meals with locations
  • Ability to add custom appointments to the schedule

Sessions Online

You can see replays of the general sessions and the keynote sessions online at:

Downloading Presentations

If you attended the conference, you can download the presentations. Go to If prompted, sign in with your Insight Conference Connect user id and password. To find a presentation, you must have the number it goes by in the program. I found that half or less of the presentations I wanted to download were available. I’d love a download by track option too. Here’s a thought – integrate with the schedule tool and let me download everything on my schedule!!

Lead Db2 Database Engineer and Service Delivery Manager , XTIVIA
Ember is always curious and thrives on change. Working in IT provides a lot of that change, but after 17 years developing a top-level expertise on Db2 for mid-range servers and more than 7 years blogging about it, Ember is hungry for new challenges and looks to expand her skill set to the Data Engineering role for Data Science. With in-depth SQL and RDBMS knowledge, Ember shares both posts about her core skill set and her journey into Data Science. Ember lives in Denver and work from home for XTIVIA, leading a team of Db2 DBAs.

One comment

  1. Hello Ember
    I think IBM is not open ,actually there are lots of DB2 DBAs want to know the internals ,but even PPT are not shared 🙁
    IBM should learn more from Oracle , encourage more and more people to learn it ,use it .
    BTW : I really like your blogs !

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