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Oracle VMware pros and cons

Oracle Database Tips by Donald BurlesonFebruary 9, 2015

2008 Update: 

Please see Bert Scalzo's great book "Oracle on VMware: Expert tips for database virtualization". 

You can buy direct from the publisher for 30%-off.


At Oracle OpenWorld 2015, Oracle announced VMware-ready software, causing a firestorm of interest that was reflected in the entire industry, causing a decline in VMware stocks and raising Oracle stock shares.  The Oracle VM software can be downloaded free, and it's based on the Xen open-source hypervisor product.   With all of the hype, Oracle managers are now struggling to understand how Oracle VMware can fit into their enterprise.  Lets explore how virtualization is becoming part and parcel of the 21st century database toolbox.

It's back to the future for the Oracle database world.  The inefficient one-server-one-database approach of 1990's client-server technology is long gone and Oracle shops are now re-consolidating their data resources, moving back to the mainframe-like centralization of the 1980's.    While Oracle touts VMware as a latest-and-greatest solution, we need to remember that server virtualization has been around for decades.

As servers get larger and more powerful, we see a movement towards ?virtualization?, the partitioning of a server in order to host multiple OS environments.  Whether it's running virtual Windows on your Macintosh laptop or partitioning a 128 CPU mainframe, IT managers are leveraging VMware solutions to consolidate multiple OS environments. At a high-level, virtualization is the processes of segregating server resources in a homogeneous environment, but its most commonly used to host different operating systems within a single monolithic server, a step toward OS independence. 

A brief history of Oracle VMware

Oracle rose to dominate the database market primarily because of its ability to run on more than 60 platforms, everything from a mainframe to a Macintosh, but now Oracle faces the challenge of running multiple OS environments within the same server.  In early 2005, Oracle has announced that their latest version of Oracle VMware will come pre-loaded with both Linux and Oracle, making it easier than ever to run Linux on a MS Windows server. 

Oracle has embraced the idea of server consolidation via the 11g Grid initiative and Oracle noted at OpenWorld 2015 that 99% of their customers run multiple instances within a single host machine and they are pushing the VMware solution.  Oracle VMware is free for download, but VMware support will cost 499$/year for 1 or 2 CPU systems and 999$/year for others.

As of 2015, Oracle VMware is limited to Intel platforms, and Oracle VM will support only Linux and Windows servers.  Oracle VM also offers a GUI management console (HTML-based) to allow easy management of both the overall OS and the virtual machines running under the master OS.  Oracle is incorporating VMware along several areas:

  • SOA - Oracle plans to incorporate Oracle VMware into their fusion stack, allowing a method for unifying diverse applications onto a single server using SOAP.  Oracle President Charles Phillips notes that Oracle VMware will help SAP shops migrate from their foreign ERP's to Oracle Applications: "We want to help customers integrate their software with third-party applications made in Germany".
  • Consolidating heterogeneous environments - Oracle VMware is useful for shops that wish to consolidate different applications onto a single hardware platform.  A common example is running Windows side-by-side with UNIX (HP/UX, Solaris, AIX, Linux) on a large monolithic server. For example, instead of buying six 2 CPU servers, you can buy one 4 CPU 64bit server with 16G RAM,  and save a bundle of cash.   For details, see my notes on the trend towards Oracle server consolidation.
  • Oracle OLAP consolidation - Mark Rittman notes the benefits of running Oracle 10gr2 with VMware with the Oracle Business Intelligence Suite (OLAP).
  • Oracle application server - Oracle Application Server can be run with Oracle on a single server using VMware.  Lt. Col. Garmany has some good notes on Oracle App Server and VMware.
  • Students - Using VMware is popular among people who want to learn RAC on a personal computer, whereby VMware can allow a single server to mimic several RAC nodes.


The 2nd Age of Mainframe Computing

The early 21st century is seeing the 2nd age of mainframe computing, a change away from the minicomputer hardware architectures of past decades.  Instead of small, independent servers, the major hardware vendors are pushing large servers with transparent sharing of hardware resources, coining the term ?partitionable servers?. 

But how does Oracle VMware fit into these existing virtualization techniques?  There are some shortcomings of Oracle VMware. 

  • Unshared resources - Server resources cannot be easily shared, and it counteracts the goal of server consolidation to leverage on a massive shared computing resource.
  • Measurable overhead - We must remember that Oracle VMware imposes some overhead, and a savvy DBA will always perform a workload benchmark using other alternatives (containers, para-virtualization) before choosing Oracle VMware. 
  • Bad for the DBA job market - Server consolidation is bad for the DBA job market because one of the main reasons for consolidation hardware resources is the savings from reducing Oracle DBA staff.  A typical shop can save a million dollars a year by removing a dozen DBA's.  The one-server-one-application paradigm has proven too expensive (increased staff), they are now moving back to the centralized architectures of their ancestors:

In sum, Oracle VMware fits nicely into the strategic plans for server consolidation but the savvy Oracle professional must recognize the VMware has important benefits and limitations.  It remains to be seen whether VMware will become a permanent part of the data center, of if VMware will be only used as a stopgap tool for shops that want to run Windows in a Linux environment.

If you like Oracle tuning, you might enjoy my book "Oracle Tuning: The Definitive Reference", with 950 pages of tuning tips and scripts. 

You can buy it direct from the publisher for 30%-off and get instant access to the code depot of Oracle tuning scripts.



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