Six alternatives to replace licensed Oracle database options

More and more I hear companies looking into replacing expensive licensed database options with more cost-effective alternatives, for various reasons: simple cost reduction, or avoiding lock-in, or because of other strategic considerations. In order to kickstart the creative thinking, here are a few hardware and software based methods to achieve cost reduction in database options (on top of Oracle Enterprise Edition). I am assuming the base product stays the same (Oracle Enterprise Edition) as replacing EE with alternatives can be very cost effective – but requires serious changes in architecture and management so I’ll leave that for another time.

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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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Fun with Linux UDEV and ASM: Using UDEV to create ASM disk volumes

floppy-disksBecause of the many discussions and confusion around the topic of partitioning, disk alignment and it’s brother issue, ASM disk management, hereby an explanation on how to use UDEV, and as an extra, I present a tool that manages some of this stuff for you.

The questions could be summarized as follows:

  • When do we have issues with disk alignment and why?
  • What methods are available to set alignment correctly and to verify?
  • Should we use ASMlib or are there alternatives? If so, which ones and how to manage those?

I’ve written 2 blogposts on the matter of alignment so I am not going to repeat myself on the details. The only thing you need to remember is that classic “MS-DOS” disk partitioning, by default, starts the first partition on the disk at the wrong offset (wrong in terms of optimal performance). The old partitioning scheme was invented when physical spinning rust was formatted with 63 sectors of 512 bytes per disk track each. Because you need some header information for boot block and partition table, the smart guys back then thought it was a good idea to start the first block of the first data partition on track 1 (instead of track 0). These days we have completely different physical disk geometries (and sometimes even different sector sizes, another interesting topic) but we still have the legacy of the old days.

If you’re not using an Intel X86_64 based operating system then chances are you have no alignment issues at all (the only exception I know is Solaris if you use “fdisk”, similar problem). If you use newer partition methods (GPT) then the issue is gone (but many BIOSes, boot methods and other tools cannot handle GPT). As MSDOS partitioning is limited to 2 TiB (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_boot_record) it will probably be a thing of the past in a few years but for now we have to deal with it.

Wrong alignment causes some reads and writes to be broken in 2 pieces causing extra IOPS. I don’t have hard numbers but a long time ago I was told it could be an overhead of up to 20%. So we need to get rid of it.

ASM storage configuration

ASM does not use OS file systems or volume managers but has its own way of managing volumes and files. It “eats” block devices and these block devices need to be read/write for the user/group that runs the ASM instance, as well as the user/group that runs Oracle database processes (a public secret is that ASM is out-of-band and databases write directly to ASM data chunks). ASM does not care what the name or device numbers are of a block device, neither does it care whether it is a full disk, a partition, or some other type of device as long as it behaves as a block device under Linux (and probably other UNIX flavors). It does not need partition tables at all but writes its own disk signatures to the volumes it gets.

[ Warning: Lengthy technical content, Rated T, parental advisory required ]

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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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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

VMware is really expensive

costcalcA while ago somebody forwarded me a research paper from an “independent” research firm in which the cost of VMware and Oracle VM were compared. Interesting!

Now you might wonder why, as someone working for EMC, I would care about such comparisons. Why would I be bothered by VMware in the first place?

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Oracle Exadata X3 Database In-Memory Machine: Timely Thoughtful Thoughts For The Thinking Technologist – Part I

Awesome post by Kevin! Recommended read if you are interested in Oracle Exadata.

Kevin Closson's Blog: Platforms, Databases and Storage

Oracle Exadata X3 Database In-Memory Machine – An Introduction
On October 1, 2012 Oracle issued a press release announcing the Oracle Exadata X3 Database In-Memory Machine. Well-chosen words, Oracle marketing, surgical indeed.

Words matter.
Games Are Games–Including Word Games
Oracle didn’t issue a press release about Exadata “In-Memory Database.” No, not “In-Memory Database” but “Database In-Memory” and the distinction is quite important. I gave some thought to that press release and then searched Google for what is known about Oracle and “in-memory” database technology. Here is what Google offered me:

Note: a right-click on the following photos will enlarge them.

 

With the exception of the paid search result about voltdb, all of the links Google offered takes one to information about Oracle’s Times Ten In-Memory Database which is a true “in-memory” database. But this isn’t a blog post about semantics. No, not at all. Please read on.

Seemingly Silly…

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Eliminate Hot Backup with EMC consistency technology

For many years, EMC customers have been using storage replication technology to create copies of entire databases. Using storage cloning has many advantages over other mechanisms (file copy, tape restore, and the like). Most significant is that EMC storage can create near-instant copies of large applications without significant performance overhead. The reason is that the storage system is using its huge internal bandwidth and a couple of smart tricks to create the copy, therefore bypassing the host I/O layer.

Cloning

Cloning

In other words, a server running a database does not have to move a single bit of data for creating a copy of a multi-terabyte database.

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