How to Achieve Real-Time Data Protection and Availabilty....For Real

There is a class of business and mission critical applications where downtime or data loss have substantial negative impact on revenue, customer service, reputation, cost, etc. Because the Oracle Database is used extensively to provide reliable performance and availability for this class of application, it also provides an integrated set of capabilities for real-time data protection and availability.


Active Data Guard, depicted in the figure below, is the cornerstone for accomplishing these objectives because it provides the absolute best real-time data protection and availability for the Oracle Database. This is a bold statement, but it is supported by the facts. It isn’t so much that alternative solutions are bad, it’s just that their architectures prevent them from achieving the same levels of data protection, availability, simplicity, and asset utilization provided by Active Data Guard. Let’s explore further.



Active Data Guard - Overview

Backups are the most popular method used to protect data and are an essential best practice for every database. Not surprisingly, Oracle Recovery Manager (RMAN) is one of the most commonly used features of the Oracle Database. But comparing Active Data Guard to backups is like comparing apples to motorcycles. Active Data Guard uses a hot (open read-only), synchronized copy of the production database to provide real-time data protection and HA. In contrast, a restore from backup takes time and often has many moving parts - people, processes, software and systems – that can create a level of uncertainty during an outage that critical applications can’t afford. This is why backups play a secondary role for your most critical databases by complementing real-time solutions that can provide both data protection and availability.


Before Data Guard, enterprises used storage remote-mirroring for real-time data protection and availability. Remote-mirroring is a sophisticated storage technology promoted as a generic infrastructure solution that makes a simple promise – whatever is written to a primary volume will also be written to the mirrored volume at a remote site. Keeping this promise is also what causes data loss and downtime when the data written to primary volumes is corrupt – the same corruption is faithfully mirrored to the remote volume making both copies unusable. This happens because remote-mirroring is a generic process. It has no  intrinsic knowledge of Oracle data structures to enable advanced protection, nor can it perform independent Oracle validation BEFORE changes are applied to the remote copy. There is also nothing to prevent human error (e.g. a storage admin accidentally deleting critical files) from also impacting the remote mirrored copy.


Remote-mirroring tricks users by creating a false impression that there are two separate copies of the Oracle Database. In truth; while remote-mirroring maintains two copies of the data on different volumes, both are part of a single closely coupled system. Not only will remote-mirroring propagate corruptions and administrative errors, but the changes applied to the mirrored volume are a result of the same Oracle code path that applied the change to the source volume. There is no isolation, either from a storage mirroring perspective or from an Oracle software perspective.  Bottom line, storage remote-mirroring lacks both the smarts and isolation level necessary to provide true data protection.


Active Data Guard offers much more than storage remote-mirroring when your objective is protecting your enterprise from downtime and data loss. Like remote-mirroring, an Active Data Guard replica is an exact block for block copy of the primary. Unlike remote-mirroring, an Active Data Guard replica is NOT a tightly coupled copy of the source volumes - it is a completely independent Oracle Database. Active Data Guard’s inherent knowledge of Oracle data block and redo structures enables a separate Oracle Database using a different Oracle code path than the primary to use the full complement of Oracle data validation methods before changes are applied to the synchronized copy. These include: physical check sum, logical intra-block checking, lost write validation, and automatic block repair. The figure below illustrates the stark difference between the knowledge that remote-mirroring can discern from an Oracle data block and what Active Data Guard can discern.



Oracle Block Structure


An Active Data Guard standby also provides a range of additional services enabled by the fact that it is a running Oracle Database - not just a mirrored copy of data files. An Active Data Guard standby database can be open read-only while it is synchronizing with the primary. This enables read-only workloads to be offloaded from the primary system and run on the active standby - boosting performance by utilizing all assets. An Active Data Guard standby can also be used to implement many types of system and database maintenance in rolling fashion. Maintenance and upgrades are first implemented on the standby while production runs unaffected at the primary. After the primary and standby are synchronized and all changes have been validated, the production workload is quickly switched to the standby. The only downtime is the time required for user connections to transfer from one system to the next. These capabilities further expand the expectations of availability offered by a data protection solution beyond what is possible to do using storage remote-mirroring.


So don’t be fooled by appearances.  Storage remote-mirroring and Active Data Guard replication may look similar on the surface - but the devil is in the details. Only Active Data Guard has the smarts, the isolation, and the simplicity, to provide the best data protection and availability for the Oracle Database.


Stay tuned for future blog posts that dive into the many differences between storage remote-mirroring and Active Data Guard along the dimensions of data protection, data availability, cost, asset utilization and return on investment.


For additional information on Active Data Guard, see:




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Musings on Oracle's Maximum Availability Architecture (MAA), by members of Oracle Development team. Note that we may not have the bandwidth to answer generic questions on MAA.

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