Putting an end to the password jungle

manypwdsWith my blog audience all being experts in the IT industry (I presume), I think we are all too familiar with the problems of classic password security mechanisms.

Humans are just not good at remembering long meaningless strings of tokens, especially if they need to be changed every so many months and having to keep track of many of those at the same time.
Some security experts blame humans. They say you should create strong passwords, not use a single password for different purposes, not write them down on paper – or worse – in an unencrypted form somewhere on your computer.

I disagree. I think the fundamental problem is within information technology itself. We invented computers to make life easier for ourselves – well, actually, that’s not true, ironically we invented them primarily to break military encryption codes. But the widespread adoption of computing happened because of the promise of making our lives easier.

I myself use a password manager (KeePass) to make my life a bit easier. There are many password manager tools available, and they solve part of the problem: keeping track of what password was used for what purpose. I now only need to remember one (hopefully, strong enough) password to access the password database and from there I just use the tool to log me in to websites, corporate networks and other services (let’s refer to all of those as “cloud servers”).

The many problems with passwords

The fundamental problem remains – even when using a password manager: passwords are no good for protecting our sensitive data or identity.

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Debunking Oracle certification myths

Another frequently asked question I get asked a lot:
not_insane

Is Oracle certified on Vmware?

There are plenty articles discussing this very topic, here’s a few examples:

oracle blog – is Oracle certified on VMware
vmware understanding oracle certification support licensing environments
virtualization.info – oracle linux fully supported vmware esxi and hyper-v
longwhiteclouds – fight the fud oracle licensing and support on vmware vsphere/
oraclestorageguy – what the oracle vmware support statement really means and why
everything oracle @ emc – vmwares official support statement regarding oracle certification and licensing

…and yet it still seems to bother many people I talk to when showing the clear and present benefits of going all-virtual.

It seems there is a lot of confusion between the meaning of “certified”, “supported”, and even the term “validated” comes up every now and then. To make things worse, the context in which those words are used makes a big difference.
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The public transport company needs new buses

Future-British-Bus-1A public transport company in a city called Galactic City, needs to replace its aging city buses with new ones. It asks three bus vendors what they have to offer and if they can do a live test to see if their claims about performance and efficiency holds up.

The transport company uses the city buses to move people between different locations in the city. The average trip distance is about 2 km. The vendors all prepare their buses for the test. The buses are the latest and greatest, with the most efficient and powerful engines and state of the art technology.

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Getting the most out of your server resources

hearseespeak

As an advocate on database virtualization, I often challenge customers to consider if they are using their resources in an optimal way.

And so I usually claim, often in front of a skeptical audience, that physically deployed servers hardly ever reach an average utilization of more than 20 per cent (thereby wasting over 80% of the expensive database licenses, maintenance and options).

Magic is really only the utilization of the entire spectrum of the senses. Humans have cut themselves off from their senses. Now they see only a tiny portion of the visible spectrum, hear only the loudest of sounds, their sense of smell is shockingly poor and they can only distinguish the sweetest and sourest of tastes.

– Michael Scott, The Alchemyst

About one in three times, someone in the audience objects and says that they achieve much better utilization than my stake-in-the-ground 20 percent number, and so use it as a reason (valid or not) for not having to virtualize their databases, for example, with VMware.

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Announcing my Openworld 2013 presentation material

oow2013flashLast Tuesday I had the privilege to present at Oracle Openworld 2013 together with Sam Marraccini (the guy with the big smile here in the pic) from EMC’s Flash products division. Sam introduced the various EMC Flash offerings we have, and I discussed some experiences and best practices from the field. We really got lots of interaction with the audience, and many questions (at one point I was looking at about 5 hands raised simultaneously) which caused me to run out of time finishing some of the best practices I planned to discuss at the end. But interaction is always better than just us talking so I got the feeling the session was successful – although I’d like to hear from people in the audience what their thoughts are (feel free to comment!)

When people started to make snapshots of the slides with their iPhones, we promised the audience to make the slides available ASAP. So here they are. They will probably also be available via Oracle’s OOW pages within time. Read more of this post

Starting an Oracle database on physical server using VMware VMDK volumes

By now, we all know Oracle is fully supported on VMware. Anyone telling you it’s not supported is either lying to you, or doesn’t know what he is talking about (I keep wondering what’s worse).

VMware support includes Oracle RAC (if it’s version 11.2.0.2.0 or above).  However, Oracle may request to reproduce problems on physically deployed systems in case they suspect the problem is related to the hypervisor. The support note says:

Oracle will only provide support for issues that either are known to occur on the native OS, or can be demonstrated not to be as a result of running on VMware.

In case that happens, I recommend to contact VMWare support first because they might be familiar with the issue or can escalate the problem quickly. VMware support will take full ownership of the problem. Still, I have met numerous customers who are afraid of having to reproduce issues quickly and reliably on physical in case the escalation policy does not help. We need to get out of the virtual world, into reality, without making any other changes.  How do we do that?

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Linux Disk Alignment Reloaded

railtrackmisalignMy all-time high post with the most pageviews is the one on Linux disk alignment: How to set disk alignment in Linux. In that post I showed an easy method on how to set and check disk alignment under linux.
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ZFS and Database fragmentation

Disk Fragmentation

Disk Fragmentation – O&O technologies.
Hope they don’t mind the free advertising

Yet another customer was asking me for advice on implementing the ZFS file system on EMC storage systems. Recently I did some hands-on testing with ZFS as Oracle database file store so that I could get an opinion on the matter.

One of the frequent discussions comes up is on the fragmentation issue. ZFS uses a copy-on-write allocation mechanism which basically means, every time you write to a block on disk (whether this is a newly allocated block, or, very important, overwriting a previously allocated one) ZFS will buffer the data and write it out on a completely new location on disk. In other words, it will never overwrite data in place. Now a lot of discussions can be found in the blogosphere and on forums debating whether this is really the case, how serious this is, what the impact is on performance and what ZFS has done to either prevent, or, alternatively, to mitigate the issue (i.e. by using caching, smart disk allocation algorithms, etc).

In this post I attempt to prove how database files on ZFS file systems get fragmented on disk quickly. I will not make any comments on how this affects performance (I’ll save that for a future post). I also deliberately ignore ZFS caching and other optimizing features – the only thing I want to show right now is how much fragmentation is caused on physical disk by using ZFS for Oracle data files. Note that this is a deep technical and lengthy article so you might want to skip all the details and jump right to the conclusion at the bottom :-)

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Big Ideas; Big Tech: Continuous Operations for Oracle RAC with EMC VPLEX

Here’s an EMC video on Youtube about Oracle RAC with EMC VPLEX. Very nice, check it out!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRtl6dU2P_E

vplex-2

vplex-1

Why clone databases for firefighting

clonesAs more and more customers are moving their mission-critical Oracle database workloads to virtualized infrastructure, I often get asked how to deal with Oracle’s requirement to reproduce issues on a physical environment (especially if they use VMware as virtualization platform – as mentioned in Oracle Support Note # 249212.1).

In some cases, database engineers are still reluctant to move to VMware for that specific reason. But the discussion is not new – I remember a few years ago I was speaking in Vienna to a group of customers and partners from Eastern Europe, and these were the days we still had VMware ESX 3.5 as state-of-the-art virtualization platform. Performance was a bit limited (4 virtual CPUs max, some I/O overhead and memory limitations) but for smaller workloads it was stable enough for mission critical databases. So I discussed the “reproduce on physical in case of problems” issue and I stated that I never heared of any customer who really had to do this because of some issues. Immediately someone in the audience raised his hand and said, “well, I had to do that once!” – Duh, so far for my story…

Let’s say that very often I learn as much from my audience as (hopefully) the other way around ;-)

Later I heard of a few more occasions where customers actually were asked by Oracle support to “reproduce on physical” because of suspected problems with the VMware hypervisor. In all of the cases I am aware of, the root cause turned out to be elsewhere (Operating System or configuration) but having to create a copy in case of issues is a scary thought for many database administrators – as it could take a long time and if you have strict SLAs then this might bite back at you.

So what is my take on this?

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