Introducing Outrun for Oracle

Overview

outrun-logo-transparentIf you want to get your hands dirty with Oracle database, the first thing you have to do is build a system that actually runs Oracle database. Unless you have done that several times before, chances are that this will take considerable time spent on trial-and-error, several reinstalls, fixing install problems and dependencies and so on. The time it takes for someone who is reasonably experienced on Linux, but has no prior Oracle knowledge, would probably range from a full working day (8 hours, best case) to many days. I also have witnessed people actually giving up.

Even for experienced users, doing the whole process manually over and over again is very time consuming, and deploying five or more systems by hand is a guarantee that each one of them is slightly different – and thus a candidate for subtle problems that happen on one but not the others. Virtualization and consolidation is all about consistency and making many components as if they were only one.

There are literally dozens of web pages (such as blog posts) that contain detailed instructions on how to set up Oracle on a certain platform. Some examples:

The Gruff DBA – Oracle 12cR1 12.1.0.1 2-node RAC on CentOS 6.4 on VMware Workstation 9 – Introduction
Pythian – How to Install Oracle 12c RAC: A Step-by-Step Guide
Martin Bach – Installing Oracle 12.1.0.2 RAC on Oracle Linux 7-part 1

Even if you follow the guidelines in such articles, you are likely to run into problems due to running a different OS, different Oracle version, network problems, and so on. Not to mention that in many cases the “best practices” provided by various vendors are often not honoured because they tend to be overlooked due to information overload…

Some people have hinted to use automated deployment tools such as Ansible (i.e. Frits Hoogland – Using Ansible for executing Oracle DBA tasks) but there are (as far as I know) no complete out-of-the-box solutions.

EMC has published several white papers and reference architectures with instructions on how to set up Oracle to run best on EMC. Still, some of the papers are not a step-by-step manual so you have to extract configuration details manually from various (sometimes conflicting) sources and convert them in configuration file entries, commands, etc.

So I decided a while ago to go for a different approach, and build a virtual appliance that does all of these things for you while still offering (limited) flexibility in different platform and versions, and preferences for configuration.

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Featherweight Linux VNC services

This article describes how to set up a very lightweight VNC service under CentOS/Red Hat.

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Intro

In Red Hat Enterprise Linux (and derivates, I use CentOS) you can run a VNC service to allow graphical connections to a linux system. I was looking for a very lightweight VNC service (no fancy desktop with all the bells and whistles, just something that lets me do some stuff that requires an X session and run an Xterm – such as installing Oracle or running Swingbench, without using another host with an X client). In other words, a typical service for virtual machines that run as servers (such as database servers, web servers, etc).

CentOS standard method

I tried the standard documented way to do this in CentOS: CentOS Virtual Network Computing using the standard tigervnc-server method, but found a few issues with the way they set it up:

  • For every user requiring VNC services, you need to customize the configuration
  • If one user deletes or corrupts his VNC password file, the whole service stops working (fix via normal SSH login but requires skilled user)
  • If a user messes up his xstartup file he is locked out (fix via normal SSH login but requires skilled user)
  • Users need 2 passwords: for their (own) VNC service, and the usual one for Linux
  • Their X window and VNC processes are always running and thus eating resources even if not used
  • If their X session hangs (i.e. window manager killed, or simple logout) it’s hard or even impossible to clean up and restart (see section 4 in the mentioned article: Recovery from a logout) without resetting the whole VNC service
  • Every user requires a separate, unique TCP port

All by all, nice and easy for a small test server with a few users, but no good for larger environments. The good thing is that the desktops are persistent, i.e. you may disconnect and reconnect later and the VNC session will be as you left it. And you can install lighter desktop environments (twm or openmotif) instead of the huge and heavy Gnome desktop.

But I was looking for something better.

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