The lesson of the Palace of Culture and Science

July 27, 2009
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If you have ever doubted that architecture (of the bricks-and-mortar variety) can make a political, as well as an aesthetic statement, then you should come to Warsaw and stand in the long shadow of the Palace of Culture and Science. Built between 1952 and 1955 – ostensibly as a gift from the people of the Soviet Union to the people of Poland – many Poles bitterly resented what they saw instead as a potent symbol of Soviet domination that for good measure destroyed the balance of their only recently restored city.

 

And it’s easy to see why. At 237m tall, it is still today the eighth tallest building in the EU. 3,500 men laboured to complete it – and 16 were killed in the process. Constructed to an imposing Soviet template, the building continues to dominate the Warsaw skyline, despite the fact that the city has subsequently acquired other skyscrapers of comparable height. Many of the locals refer to it dismissively and an old joke holds that the best views of Warsaw are available from it, because it is the only place in the city from where the Palace itself cannot be seen.

 

Personally, I rather like it, but then I have never had to live with oppression. Unless you count my

If you have ever doubted that architecture (of the bricks-and-mortar variety) can make a political, as well as an aesthetic statement, then you should come to Warsaw and stand in the long shadow of the Palace of Culture and Science. Built between 1952 and 1955 – ostensibly as a gift from the people of the Soviet Union to the people of Poland – many Poles bitterly resented what they saw instead as a potent symbol of Soviet domination that for good measure destroyed the balance of their only recently restored city.

 

And it’s easy to see why. At 237m tall, it is still today the eighth tallest building in the EU. 3,500 men laboured to complete it – and 16 were killed in the process. Constructed to an imposing Soviet template, the building continues to dominate the Warsaw skyline, despite the fact that the city has subsequently acquired other skyscrapers of comparable height. Many of the locals refer to it dismissively and an old joke holds that the best views of Warsaw are available from it, because it is the only place in the city from where the Palace itself cannot be seen.

 

Personally, I rather like it, but then I have never had to live with oppression. Unless you count my wife confiscating my credit card when we first got married.

 

Happily, times have moved on for all of us. The Poles proved themselves to be remarkably resilient in the face of both Nazism and Communism and can legitimately claim to have played a major part in the ending of the Cold War. And that resilience obviously runs deep, as Warsaw is Europe’s boom capital at the moment. Whilst the entire continent – in good company, it should be said – has gone into recession, Poland is still managing to create some growth. The Polish economy has slowed, but it hasn’t yet contracted like pretty much all the rest. The country’s domestic market seems to be more – that word again! – resilient to the international shocks that have so affected most of the rest of the world. As our recent Q1 results demonstrate, Teradata has been better able to weather the storm than many of our peers and so it is fitting that we start our tour d’ horizon here in Warsaw.

 

Software architectures, too, are often political, with different groups and factions from within the same organization often taking a very different view of the best approach to addressing the same business requirements.

 

One source of tension in businesses and IT departments in recent years, for example, has been the evolution of the role of the traditional data warehouse. Many organizations have now accepted the proposition that a well-designed data warehouse, deployed on appropriate technology, can support near real-time “operational reporting” alongside traditional reporting, OLAP and data-mining workloads and that the cost savings and business value that arise from adopting this “active data warehouse” model are real. In other organizations, die-hards refuse even to contemplate this “dual use” of the data warehouse. The die-hards bought in to the original data warehouse vision of a “non-volatile” database fifteen years ago or more and refuse to acknowledge that best practice (and the best technology) have moved on; instead they ring their data warehouses with redundant operational data stores. Which is a pity, because these architectures are more expensive to develop and maintain and because the operational data stores typically lack the detailed historical data that are required to identify the significant events in our businesses from the “noise” of day-to-day activity.

 

So we are especially pleased to be able to report that our new developer exchange site has been live for a month-or-so now and is already attracting a healthy following. Let me take this opportunity to articulate in a little more detail what we are trying to achieve with Developer Exchange and why I hope it can help with some of these political challenges.

 

Highly specific challenges
Let’s say a web-programmer in a customer or a partner organization wants to connect a web portal to a Teradata Warehouse in support of a pervasive BI project to push information to hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of “front-line” end-users. Our hero may well be from the O-O application development side of the IT shop, with little relational database experience and no useful Teradata experience. It goes without saying that he hasn’t done this before and will need to invest a great deal of time to get to know how to hook the web applications, with which he is familiar, up to Teradata, with which he is not. He may well have to find solutions for problems that are so specific that nobody in his organization – including the Teradata DBA across the hall, who may not know the Java or .NET technologies that our hero is working with – or even in his usual online forums can help him. He will need detailed advice from people who work with the same tools and technology – but where to turn?

 

 

DevX_Scrn_Shot

 

 

Developer Exchange is intended to provide the sort of resources that our erstwhile hero will need. The site offers instructional blog posts and programme code samples. Any registered user can comment on these posts or ask for help in the forums (keen-eyed readers will note that these aren’t available quite yet, but they are coming very soon). In this way, our hero may then get direct access to the Teradata engineer who actually developed the function, tool or interface in question. So think of Developer Exchange as your hotline to our development engineers and professional services consultants.

 

Collaborative support
It gets better, however. Our idea in unleashing Developer Exchange on the Teradata World is also to network you and your fellow practitioners in end-user organizations, as a means of improving your productivity and the quality of the code that you develop and maintain every day. Third-party partners, academics: all are welcome. We promise faithfully that this will be a genuine forum for the exchange of information, not a sales and marketing tool. That means that discussion, dissent and constructive criticism are welcome; and “light touch” moderation intended only to make sure that everyone plays nicely with one another, not to stifle debate. And absolutely no marketing materials, no selling, no advertising – and definitely no spamming of registered users with marketing email.

 

Our ultimate goal is no less than the creation of a digital community of technical experts solving problems and sharing ideas and code, so that everyone in the Teradata ecosystem is enabled to build more effective Teradata solutions, more easily. This kind of sharing – “reuse”, in the jargon – of architectural patterns, design, and ultimately code is an incredibly powerful idea. If you doubt this, then note that the joke about the Palace of Culture and Science actually originates from 19th century Paris; substitute “Eiffel Tower” for “Palace of Culture and Science” and you have the original version, coined by Guy de Maupassant, possibly in the restaurant at the base of the tower where he used to take lunch in order to avoid looking at it.

 

So why not get involved? By sharing hard-won, cutting-edge learning and by demonstrating what can be achieved we should be able to convert the die-hards. Hopefully, the solutions that we build together will be as durable and majestic as the Palace of Culture and Science, and rather less divisive.

Martin Willcox