Wednesday Oct 30, 2013

Back Up to Tape the Way You Shop For Groceries

Imagine if this was how you shopped for groceries:

  1. From the end of the aisle sprint to the point where you reach the ketchup.
  2. Pull a bottle from the shelf and yell at the top of your lungs, “Got it!”
  3. Sprint back to the end of the aisle.
  4. Start again and sprint down the same aisle to the mustard, pull a bottle from the shelf and again yell for the whole store to hear, “Got it!”
  5. Sprint back to the end of the aisle.
  6. Repeat this procedure for every item you need in the aisle.
  7. Proceed to the next aisle and follow the same steps for the list of items you need from that aisle.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Not only is it horribly inefficient, it’s exhausting and can lead to wear out failures on your grocery cart, or worse, yourself. This is essentially how NetApp and some other applications write NDMP backups to tape. In the analogy, the ketchup and mustard are the files to be written, yelling “Got it!” is the equivalent of a sync mark at the end of a file, and the sprint back to the end of an aisle is the process most commonly called a “backhitch” where the drive has to back up on a tape to start writing again.

Writing to tape in this way results in very slow tape drive performance and imposes unnecessary wear on the tape drive and the media, especially when writing small files. The good news is not all tape drives behave this way when writing small files. Unlike midrange LTO drives, Oracle’s StorageTek T10000D tape drive is designed to handle this scenario efficiently.

The difference between the two drive types is that the T10000D drive gives you the ability to write files in a NetApp NDMP backup environment the way you would normally shop for groceries. With grocery shopping, you essentially stream through aisles picking up items as you go, and then after checking out, yell, “Got it!”, though you might do that last step silently. With the T10000D, it has a feature called the Tape Application Accelerator, which prevents the drive from having to stop after each file is written to notify NetApp or another application that the write was successful.

When enabled in the T10000D tape drive, Tape Application Accelerator causes the tape drive to respond to tape mark and file sync commands differently than when disabled:

  • A tape mark received by the tape drive is treated as a buffered tape mark.
  • A file sync received by the tape drive is treated as a no op command.

Since buffered tape marks and no op commands do not cause the tape drive to empty the contents of its buffer to tape and backhitch, the data is written to tape in significantly less time. Oracle has emulated NetApp environments with a number of different file sizes and found the following when comparing the T10000D with the Tape Application Accelerator enabled versus LTO6 tape drives.

Notice how the T10000D is not only monumentally faster, but also remarkably consistent? In addition, the writing of the 50 GB of files is done without a single backhitch. The LTO6 drive, meanwhile, will perform as many as 3,800 backhitches! At the end of writing the entire set of files, the T10000D tape drive reports back to the application, in this case NetApp, that the write was successful via a tape mark.

So if the Tape Application Accelerator dramatically improves performance and reliability, why wouldn’t you always have it enabled? The reason is because tape drive buffers are meant to be just temporary data repositories so in the event of a power loss, there could be data loss in certain environments for the files that resided in the buffer. Fortunately, we do have best practices depending on your environment to avoid this from happening. I highly recommend reading Maximizing Tape Performance with StorageTek T10000 Tape Drives (pdf) to decide which best practice is right for you. The white paper also digs deeper into the benefits of the Tape Application Accelerator. The white paper is free, and after downloading it you can decide for yourself whether you want to yell “Got it!” out loud or just silently to yourself.

Customer Advisory Panel

One final link: Oracle has started up a Customer Advisory Panel program to collect feedback from customers on their current experiences with Oracle products, as well as desires for future product development. If you would like to participate in the program, go to this link at oracle.com.

photo taken on Idaho's Sacajewea Historic Biway by Rick Ramsey

- Brian Zents

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Thursday Oct 10, 2013

Who Is Right - the Hardware or the Software?

Michael Palmeter and Renato Ribeiro enjoy a good duel. Michael represents Oracle Solaris. Renato represents SPARC servers. Watch and listen as they argue their case on two questions of interest to sysadmins. Taped at Oracle OpenWorld 2013.

What Determines Performance - The Hardware or the Software?

Michael Palmeter vs Renato Ribeiro

Is the hardware or the software more important to the performance of a system? Oracle Solaris product director Michael Palmeter goes mic-to-mic with Renato Ribeiro, Oracle SPARC Director. Taped at Oracle OpenWorld 2013.

What Kind of Scalability is Better - Horizontal or Vertical?

Renato Ribeiro vs Michael Palmeter

Is Oracle's approach to large vertically scaled servers at odds with today's trend of combining lots and lots of small, low-cost servers systems with networking to build a cloud, or is it a better approach? Michael Palmeter, Director of Solaris Product Management, and Renato Ribeiro, Director Product Management for SPARC Servers, discuss.

photo of 2005 Fat Boy taken at Little Big Horn National Monument by Rick Ramsey

- Rick

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Saturday Oct 05, 2013

Elasticity: The Biggest Challenge Facing Today's Data Center

Biggest Challenge Facing Data Centers Today

Interview with Brian Bream, Collier IT

Provisioning used to be a hardware activity. It involved heavy lifting. Today, thanks to Oracle's engineered systems, a data center can pre-configure itself to make provisioning a software activity. According to Brian Bream, CTO of Collier IT, instead of pulling a server off the shelf, installing an OS, and applications, then patching and configuring, it's a matter of bringing up the management tool, selecting the image, and hitting Bang! In Brian's experience, elasticity is the biggest challenge facing data centers today, and Oracle engineered systems are a great way to deal with it.

In addition to being Collier IT's Chief Technology Officer, Brian was named instructor of the year not once, but twice, by Oracle University. Get his opinion about the impact of training on the careers of sysadmins.

Related Resources

- Rick

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Thursday Oct 03, 2013

How Does Oracle Make Storage So Freaky Fast?

The sound quality of these videos is not very good because I taped them while people around me were watching the America's Cup, but the content is worth your time. Jason Schaffer, from Oracle Storage Engineering, explains ...

How the ZS3 Storage System is Engineered

by Jason Schaffer (3 minutes)

The ZS3 is the fastest storage system "on the planet." Jason Schaffer explains what makes it so fast, how it was engineered, and what you can do with it.

How the ZS3 Storage Appliance Tunes Itself

by Jason Schaffer (2 minutes)

Jason Schaffer, from Oracle Storage Engineering, explains how the ZS3 Storage System uses the Oracle Intelligent Storage Protocol (OISP) to automatically tune its I/O patterns to make Oracle Database 12c run faster.

How Oracle Makes the ZS3 Storage System Go Fast

by Jason Schaffer (4 minutes)

Jason Schaffer explains how the ZS3 Storage Appliance uses DRAM to get its crazy fast performance. Taped at Oracle OpenWorld 2013.

More Resources About the ZS3 Storage Appliance

Monday Sep 16, 2013

Cloud Building with Oracle Solaris 11

Three resources to help you build clouds with Oracle Solaris 11

Training Class - How to Build a Private Cloud with Oracle Solaris 11

by Oracle University

This training class combines multiple enterprise level technologies to demonstrate a full cloud infrastructure deployment using SPARC technology. Learn To:

  • Plan for and deploy a private Infrastructure as a Service cloud
  • Combine various Oracle technologies into a robust cloud infrastructure
  • Practice cloud component creation and configuration tasks by performing a series of guided hands-on labs
  • Perform the critical steps associated with the configuration of cloud and related facilities.

Tech Article - How to Build a Web-Based Storage Solution Using Oracle Solaris 11.1

by Suk Kim

Have you ever wanted to build a cloud just to see if you can? Turns out it's not that difficult. Install Oracle Solaris 11.1 on your laptop via VirtualBox, set up a little ZFS storage, a little access control, and configure AjaXplorer so you and your friends can manage your files. Don't neglect to drop phrases like "Download that from the cloud I just built" into casual conversation.

Tech Article - How to Put Oracle Solaris Zones on Shared Storage for Easy Cloning

We liked this blog so much when Jeff Victor first posted it, that we turned it into a bonafide OTN tech article. You might recognize it. It's about ZOSS: zones on shared storage. Why? When you configure a zone on shared storage, you can quickly clone it on any server that uses that storage. Jeff explains how.

Bonus! - Oracle VM Templates with Oracle Solaris 11

picture of cloud taken in Colorado, copyright Rick Ramsey

- Rick

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Friday Sep 13, 2013

About LTFS - Library Edition

Oracle just launched the T10000D tape drive with its incredible 8.5 TB of native capacity and LTFS-Library Edition (LTFS-LE), which expands the LTFS concept to an entire library. The Oracle T10000D has some neat features that I would like to address in the future, but today I’d like to talk about LTFS-LE since it really is a new concept.

About LFTS-LE

LTFS is an open source specification for writing data to tape on single tape drives. It is supported by Oracle and other tape vendors. The version you can download from Oracle is called StorageTek LTFS, Open Edition (LTFS-OE).

When an LTFS-compatible T10000 or LTO tape is formatted for LTFS, it is split into two partitions. The first partition holds the metadata that tells the user which files are on the tape and where they are located. The second partition holds the files themselves.

Benefits of Using LTFS-LE

There are a few nice benefits for those who utilize LTFS. Most important is the peace of mind that you will always be able to recover your data regardless of your backup application or any other proprietary software because it’s based on an open source specification. It also improves the portability of tape because two parties don’t both need the same application to read a tape. In fact, LTFS has seen tremendous adoption in industries that require the ability to transport large amounts of data.

The limitation with the open source version of LTFS is that it’s limited to just a single drive. Users with even the smallest archives would like to have their entire environment to be LTFS-based. That’s the impetus for StorageTek LTFS, Library Edition (LTFS-LE), but it also serves as a backup application eliminator because of how it’s architected. With LTFS-OE, after you download the driver, a tape looks like a giant thumb drive. LTFS-LE makes the tape library look like a shared drive with each tape appearing as a sub-folder. It’s like having a bucket full of thumb drives that are all accessible simultaneously!

Just as before, you don’t need any additional applications to access files. And end users are almost completely abstracted from the nuances of managing tape. All they need is a Samba or CIFS connection and they have access to the tape library. LTFS-LE is agnostic to corporate security architectures so a system administrator could make some folders (tapes) available to some users while restricting others based on corporate security guidelines.

Security and Performance Considerations

However, security is arguably one of the more straightforward considerations when deciding how to integrate an LTFS-LE implementation into your environment. An additional consideration is to ensure that LTFS-LE can meet your performance expectations. Tape drives are remarkably faster than they are given credit for (the Oracle T10000D can write at 252 MB/sec.), but sometimes networks aren’t designed to handle that much traffic so performance requirements need to be considered accordingly. In addition, it may take some time before a read operation actually starts as the library needs time to mount a tape. As a result, system administrators need to be cognizant of how end user applications will accept response times from any tape storage-based solution.

A final performance consideration is to be aware of how many tape drives are in your library relative to how many users may be accessing files directly from tape. If you have a disproportionately large number of users you may want to consider a more traditional enterprise-level archiving solution such as StorageTek Archive Manager (SAM), which writes files based on the Tape Archive Record (TAR) open source standard.

Ultimately, LTFS-LE provides exciting new opportunities for system administrators looking to preserve files with a format that isn’t dependent on proprietary solutions. It also makes it easy for users who need access to large amounts of storage without a lot of management difficulties. Support for LTFS continues to grow. Oracle is actually one of the co-chairs of the SNIA committee that’s working towards standardizing LTFS. And this is just the start for LTFS-LE as well, as Oracle will continue expanding its capabilities in the near future.

picture of 2008 Harley Davidson FXSTC taken by Rick Ramsey
- Brian Zents

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Thursday Sep 12, 2013

Should You Consolidate Your Servers Onto Oracle SuperCluster?

"Are you planning to consolidate a server running a business-critical application that you want to update with future releases over upcoming years, or are you trying to get rid of an old server running a legacy application that will not be updated anymore?"

This is just one of the questions Thierry asks in his article, which is a great resource for sysadmins, systems architects, and IT managers who are trying to decide whether to consolidate individual servers onto an Oracle SuperCluster. Your answer will determine whether you should put your application in native or non-native Oracle Solaris zone.

Other questions Thierry and friends ask:

  • Is my server eligible for physical-to-virtual (P2V) migration?
  • Are you planning a long-term or short-term migration?
  • How critical are performance and manageability?

Once he has helped you determine your general direction, he discusses these architectural considerations:

  • SuperCluster domains
  • Network setup
  • VLAN setup
  • Licensing considerations

Finally, he provides a thorough step-by-step instructions for the migration itself, which consists of:

  • Performing a sanity check on the source server
  • Creating a FLAR image of the source system
  • Creating a ZFS pool for the zone
  • Creating and booting the zone
  • Performance tuning

And just in case you're still not sure how it's done, he concludes with an example that shows you how to consolidate an Oracle Solaris 8 Server Running Oracle Database 10g. It's all here, give it a good read:

Technical Article: If Virtualization Is Free, It Can't Be Good, Right?

Article by Thierry Manfé, with contributions from Orgad Kimchi, Maria Frendberg, and Mike Gerdts

Best practices and hands-on instructions for using Oracle Solaris Zones to consolidate existing physical servers and their applications onto Oracle SuperCluster using the P2V migration process, including a step-by-step example of how to consolidate an Oracle Solaris 8 server running Oracle Database 10g.

Video Interview: Design and Uses of the Oracle SuperCluster

Interview with Alan Packer

Allan Packer, Lead Engineer of the Oracle SuperCluster architecture team, as explains how the design of this engineered system supports consolidation, multi-tenancy, and other objectives popular with customers.

By the way, that's a picture of an 01 Ducati 748 that I took in the Fall of 2012.

- Rick

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Tuesday Jul 30, 2013

Hands-On Labs for Oracle VM

photo copyright 2013 by Rick Ramsey

Our last virtual sysadmin day was held on July 15. If you missed it, you can still watch the video recordings of the lab sessions on the OTN Garage (aka "Oracle BigAdmin") channel on YouTube.

For instance, these are the videos for the Oracle VM track.

Technology Overview

This session explores the Oracle VM architecture and key features, and introduces the 3 hands-on labs that will follow.

Video - Lab Prep - Downloading and Installing VirtualBox

How to download and install VirtualBox in preparation for the labs.

Video - Lab 1 - Deploying Infrastructure as a Service

Planning and deployment of an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) environment with Oracle VM as the foundation. Storage capacity planning, LUN creation, network bandwidth planning, and best practices for designing and streamlining the environment so that it's easy to manage.

Video - Lab 2 - Deploying Applications Faster Using Templates

How to deploy Oracle applications in minutes with Oracle VM Templates:

  • Find out what Oracle VM Templates are and how they work
  • Deploy an actual Oracle VM Template for an Oracle Application
  • Plan your deployment to streamline on going updates and upgrades.

Video - Lab 3 - Deploying an x86 Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure

This hands-on lab will demonstrate what Oracle's enterprise cloud infrastructure for x86 can do, and how it works with Oracle VM 3.x:

  • How to create VMs
  • How to migrate VMs
  • How to deploy Oracle applications quickly and easily with Oracle VM Templates
  • How to use the Storage Connect plug-in for the Sun ZFS Storage Appliance

Psst!

You can see more unique cars from the Golden Age of American Automobile at the Gateway Automobile Museum.

- Rick

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Monday Jul 29, 2013

How to Bend Bare Metal to Your Will

photo copyright 2013 by Rick Ramsey

The fins on this 1957 DeSoto were shaped during a time when Americans weren't afraid of offending anyone with their opinions, right or wrong. We have, perhaps, grown a little more introspective, a little more considerate, but our cars have paid the price. They all look alike. Their edges have been worn away by focus groups. They have no personality. They cringe at the sight of their own shadows.

I weep for my adopted country.

Well, if you like classic American cars as much as I do, you may on occasion feel the need to bend bare metal to your will. Here's your chance.

Tech Article: How to Get Best Performance From the ZFS Storage Appliance

Disk storage. Clustering. CPU and L1/L2 caching size. Networking. And file systems. Just some of the components of Oracle ZFS Storage Appliance that you can shape for optimum performance. Anderson Souza shows you how. Go ahead. Give your appliance a pair of tail fins. (Link is in the title.)

Psst:
You can see more unique cars from the Golden Age of American Automobile at the Gateway Automobile Museum. If you can't get to the border between Utah and Colorado to appreciate them in person, like I was fortunate enough to do, you can enjoy them through your browser at http://www.gatewayautomuseum.com/cars-and-galleries/.

- Rick

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Monday Jul 22, 2013

Learning a Little About Hadoop

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According to Wall Street & Technology, skills for managing BigData systems are in short supply. Jokes about the NSA bogarting sysadmins aside, you might want to know something about the technology that enables BigData, even if you don't plan to launch a career in that field. The more I learn about it, the more I think it's going to be a component of every data center in a few years. Including the local bagel shop.

"Would you like cream cheese on your Bagel, Mr. Smith, like you had at 10:00 am on Dec 12, or would you prefer Orange Marmelade like your friend Mauricio just ordered at our Cleveland store?"

Hadoop Tutorials

Fari Fayandeh, a tech manager at a data warehousing company in Virginia, put together a list of books and tutorials to get you started. He was kind enough to post it on the Oracle Solaris group on LinkedIn. After ordering an Iced Caramel Machiatto at Starbucks.

Link to Hadoop Tutorials

- Rick

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Tuesday Apr 09, 2013

What Sysadmins and Netadmins Spend Their Time Doing

source

This survey covers a wealth of topics, including how the jobs of sysadmins and netadmins are changing.

A large percentage of both sysadmins and netadmins agree that their jobs are getting more complex and they are spending more time on the job performing more duties with fewer resources.

The survey includes a breakdown of what sysadmins and netadmins spend their time doing on the job, and the number of hours they typically spend on each task. But it also includes a wealth of other data about sysadmins and netadmins. Did you know that ...

75% of sysadmins have at least some influence in IT decisions, and 20% have strong influence, whereas 100% of network admins have from strong to complete decision making authority.

Interestingly enough, the amount of influence they have on IT decisions corresponds to their job satisfaction:

Network Admins find their job more enjoyable, are more satisfied, and feel more appreciated. Sysadmins are much more frustrated with many aspects of their jobs, and are more likely to see themselves in a different career in the future.

The percentage of male to female sysadmins was about the same, but more network admins were men. As you might expect, the most popular TV show among both sysadmins and netadmins was ...

The Big Bang Theory

Find the Survey Results Here

The survey focused on Australia's sysadmins and netadmins. If you know of similar surveys in other countries, let me know!

Slideshare: Survey Results

- Rick

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Friday Apr 05, 2013

Migrating to Oracle Linux: How to Identify Applications To Move

source

One of the first things you need to make when migrating from SUSE Linux to Oracle Linux is an inventory of your applications. A package management tool such as Yet Another Setup Tool (YAST) is a big help here. So is the rpm command. Here are some ways to use it.

To List All The Installed Packages

Use the -qa option.

# rpm –qa
filesystem-11.1.3.5.3
sles-release-DVD-11.2.1.234
...

To Save the Output in a File

You can move that file to any location and, anytime later,search through the package list saved there to look for a package of interest:

# rpm –qa > rpmlist.txt

To Sort the Packages

To see the installed packages sorted by install time, use --last. The packages installed most recently will appear at the top of the list, followed by the standard packages installed during the original installation:

# rpm –qa --last
VirtualBox-4.2-4.2.6_82870_sles11-0-1
...

To Find Out If A Particular Component Is Installed

To find out whether a particular component is installed and what version it is, use the name option. For example:

# rpm –qa python
python-2.6.0-8.12.2

To Find Out What Dependencies a Package Has

Use the -qR option:

# rpm –qR python-2.6.0-8.12.2
python-base = 2.6.0
rpmlib(VersionedDependencies) <= 3.0.3-1
...

The Linux Migration Guide

You can find out more about migration steps with either rpm or YaST, including the benefits of migrating to Oracle Linux, by downloading the white paper from here:

Download the Oracle Linux Migration Guide

- Rick

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Thursday Apr 04, 2013

The Screaming Men of Finland and Oracle SPARC Chips

source

In response to the release of Oracle's SPARC T5 and M5 chips, which are dramatically faster than those of IBM, IBM responded by saying that speed was not as important as other qualities. Forbes begged to differ:

Forbes Article: For Big Data Customers, Top Performance Means High Speed And Low Cost

Assuming you agree, you'll be interested in some dyno runs of not only our SPARC chips, but also our applications running on them. Did I say dyno runs? I'm sorry, I meant benchmarks.

World's Fastest Database Server

Oracle’s new SPARC mid-range server running Oracle Solaris is the fastest single server for Oracle Database:

  • Oracle’s SPARC T5-8 is the fastest single server for Oracle Database
  • Oracle's SPARC T5-8 server has a 7x price advantage over a similar IBM Power 780 configuration for database on a server-to-server basis.
See Benchmarks Results Here
Why Oracle Database runs best on Solaris

World's Fastest Server for Java

As you might expect, Java runs fastest on Oracle servers.

SPECjEnterprise2010 Benchmark World Record Performance
SPECjbb2013 Benchmark World Record Result
Why Solaris is the best platform for Enterprise Java

Optimizations to Oracle Solaris Studio COmpilers

The latest release of Oracle Solaris Studio includes optimizations for the new SPARC chips in its compilers. Larry Wake has more:

Blog: Oracle Solaris and SPARC Performance - Part I

I'll Optimize Yours If You Optimize Mine

Since the Solaris and SPARC engineers get along so well, they have each optimized their technologies for each other:

SPARC Optimizations for Oracle Solaris
Oracle Solaris Optimizations for SPARC

Happy Burnouts.

- Rick

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Wednesday Apr 03, 2013

Miss MoneyPenny and the Oracle Solaris 11 Provisioning Assistant

source

In the following video, Bart Smaalders, from the Oracle Solaris core engineering team, explains why they decided not to provide a direct upgrade path from Oracle Solaris 10 to Oracle Solaris 11, and the best way for a data center to perform an indirect upgrade.

VIDEO INTERVIEW: Why Engineering Did Not Provide a Direct Upgrade Path to Oracle Solaris 11

Miss MoneyPenny to the Rescue

If you saw Skyfall, you probably noticed two things. First, that the latest Miss Moneypenny is a lot more interesting than past Miss Moneypennies. Second, that she's always there when 007 needs her.

Just like Oracle Solaris 10.

Oracle Solaris 10 has just released a nifty tool called Oracle Solaris 11 Provisioning Assistant. It lets you run the automated installer from Oracle Solaris 11 on a Solaris 10 system. That means you can set up an IPS (Image Packaging System) repository on your Solaris 10 system, and use it to provision one or more Solaris 11 systems.

In fact, if you have already set up a JumpStart server on your Solaris 10 system, you can use it to provision the Solaris 11 systems. Kristina Tripp and Isaac Rozenfeld have written an article that explains how:

TECH ARTICLE: How to Use an Existing Oracle Solaris 10 JumpStart Server to Provision Oracle Solaris 11 11/11

Note:
The Provisioning Assistant only provisions Solaris 11 11/11 systems. It does not provision Solaris 11.1, and there are no plans to extend its functionality to provision future releases of Oracle Solaris 11. Once you have set up your Solaris 11 system, use its automated installer to provision systems with the Solaris 11.1 or future releases. For more info, see the Upgrading to Oracle Solaris 11.1 documentation.

- Rick

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Monday Apr 01, 2013

Oracle To Acquire Ducati

source

"To handle all that speed and power, today's high-performance motorcycles need traction control, active suspension, ABS, and a multitude of electronic systems that gather an enormous amount of data. Oracle Database is uniquely positioned to process that data at the speeds today's riders require to remain competitive. And, with the Oracle Cloud, that data and those services are available from even the most remote racing circuits on the planet."

Several well placed sources inside both companies confirmed high-level discussions and high speed laps around the streets of Bologna between Oracle and Ducati executives over the last few weeks.

"Oracle is obsessed with speed. Just look at what they did with the SPARC systems last week. And Ducati? Need we say more?"

Industry pundits agree that there is a natural symbiosis between the two corporate cultures. But that's not the only reason for an acquisition of Ducati by Oracle.

"The high tech industry is highly competitive and Oracle is always looking for ways to reduce costs. By joining forces with Ducati, the combined companies can realize a significant discount on red paint."

"Imagine the parties!" a member of the Oracle Technology Network said in response to the speculation. "Oracle Open World! World Ducati Week. Both in San Francisco. It blows my mind."

"We will not turn San Francisco into another MotoGP circuit," the mayor of San Francisco assured concerned citizens while behind him executives of both companies discussed the merits of different routes around, over, and through Nob Hill.

"Lombard Street on a Desmosedici? I'm coming back!"
- Valentino Rossi

As you can imagine, at the OTN Garage, we're thrilled by the possibilities, and we'll be following this story closely.

"Oracle does not comment on potential acquisitions. This is probably some dumb April Fools prank."
- Oracle spokesperson

- Rick

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Thursday Mar 28, 2013

Is Tape Storage Still Harder to Manage Than Disk Storage?

source

-guest post by Brian Zents-

Historically, there has been a perception that tape is more difficult to manage than disk, but why is that? Fundamentally there are differences between disk and tape. Tape is a removable storage medium and disk is always powered on and spinning. With a removable storage one piece of tape media has the opportunity to interact with many tape drives, so when there is an error, customers historically wondered whether the drive or the media was at fault. With a disk system there is no removable media, if there is an error you know exactly which disk platter was at risk and you know what corrective action to take.

However, times have changed. With the release of Oracle’s StorageTek Tape Analytics (STA) you are no longer left wondering if the drive or the media is at risk, because this system does the analysis for you, leaving you with proactive recommendations and resulting corrective actions … just like disk.

For those unfamiliar with STA, it’s an intelligent monitoring application for Oracle tape libraries. Part of the purpose of STA is to allow users to make informed decisions about future tape storage investments based on current realities, but it also is used to monitor the health of your tape library environment. Its functionality can be utilized regardless of the drive and media types within the library, or whether the libraries are in an open system or mainframe environment.

STA utilizes a browser-based user interface that can display a variety of screens. To start understanding errors and whether there is a correlation between drive and media errors, you would click on the Drives screen to understand the health of drives in a library. Screens in STA display both tables and graphs that can be sorted or filtered.

In this screen ...

... it is clear that one specific drive has many more errors relative to the system average.

Next, you would click on the Media screen:

The Media screen helps you quickly identify problematic media. But how do you know if there’s a relationship between the two different types of errors? STA tracks library exchanges, which is convenient because each exchange involves just one drive and one piece of media. So, as shown below, you can easily filter the screen results to just focus in on exchanges involving the problematic drive.

You can sort the corresponding table based on whether the exchange was successful or not. You can then review the errors to see if there is a relationship between the problematic media and drive. You may also want to review the drive’s exchanges to see if media that’s having issues has any similarities to other media that’s having problems. For example, a purchased pack of media could all be having similar problems.

What if there doesn’t appear to be a relationship between media and drive errors? Part of the ingenuity of STA is that just about everything is linked, so root causes are easy to find. First, you can look at an individual drive to see its recent behavior, as show on this screen:

From the table you can see that this particular drive was healthy until recently. The drive indicated it needed a cleaning, and somebody performed that cleaning. However, just a few exchanges later, it started reporting errors. In this case, it’s clear that the drive has an issue that goes beyond the relationship with a specific piece of media and should be taken offline. On the other hand, if the issue appears to be related to the media itself, you should identify a method to transfer the data off of the media, and replace the media.

- Brian Zents

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Wednesday Mar 27, 2013

Why Become a Solaris Sysadmin?

On the one hand Oracle is telling you that Solaris is the key component of the Oracle stack, that we've been investing heavily in it, and that it provides the best platform for managing the stack. Watch these videos:

On the other hand, we are telling your boss to buy our engineered systems because they'll not only reduce the complexity of managing the data center, but they'll need fewer sysadmins to run them.

So, which is it?

Video Interview: Why Become a Solaris Sysadmin?

I asked Larry Wake, Solaris old-timer. Tell me what you think of his answer.

Video Interview: Why Become A Solaris Sysadmin?.

A year or two ago, Justin asked Marshall Choy a similar question. Watch that video here:

Video Interview: Impact of Engineered Systems on the Sysadmin

- Rick

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Thursday Mar 21, 2013

How to Protect Your Oracle Solaris Zone Cluster

source

We just published an article by Subarna Ganguly that describes how to build a secure zone cluster. In other words, a zone cluster with trusted extensions. If you want to go straight to the article, scroll down to the bottom of this blog. If you're new to zones, clustering, or trusted extensions, I'll try to explain what's interesting about this article.

Vanilla Solaris

In the beginning there was root and user. Root could do anything anywhere, user could do very little. We improved that with the notion of roles. Access rights (permissions) were assigned to roles instead of users. And individual users were assigned to one or more roles. Access Control Lists (ACL) improved this even more.

Oracle Solaris has about 80 different roles. You can see the privileges each one has by looking at the /etc/user_attr.d directory

Trusted Extensions

Trusted extensions add "sensitivity" labels. These labels are similar to a security clearance in the military: confidential, secret, top secret, etc. With trusted extensions, you first label users, data, processes, peripherals, and pretty much everything that a user or process can access. Then you give uses and processes their own label. A user or process can only access something that has a label with the same or greater access.

"Trusted extensions ... is not something that can be just 'turned on' like a firewall. Trusted extensions fits into a framework where there's a formal security policy, possibly an LDAP server where users and their clearances are defined, as well as network access points that are labeled."
- Book: Oracle Solaris 11 System Administration, Chapter 18

Solaris Zones

Zones are virtual instances of the Solaris environment launched and controlled from the base OS environment, known as the non-global zone.

"Oracle Solaris Zones let you isolate one application from others on the same OS, allowing users to log in and do what they want from inside one zone without affecting anything outside that zone. In addition, Oracle Solaris Zones are secure from external attacks and internal malicious programs. Each Oracle Solaris Zone contains a complete resource-controlled environment that allows you to allocate resources such as CPU, memory, networking, and storage."
- OTN Article: How to Get Started Creating Zones in Oracle Solaris 11

Solaris Cluster

Oracle Solaris Cluster lets you deploy the Oracle Solaris operating system across different servers. If the server in your Barbados data center gets washed away by a hurricane that hates you and dropped off in West Africa, the other servers pick up the load, and the operating system continues to operate without interruption.

"Oracle Solaris Cluster delivers the high availability and disaster recovery capabilities of Oracle Solaris 11 and extends, with version 4.1, its built-in support for the Oracle software and hardware stack, to protect business critical application deployments in virtualized and traditional environments."
- White Paper: Oracle Solaris and Oracle Solaris Cluster

Zone Clusters

A zone cluster is a cluster created from Solaris zones that are physically located on different servers. That's similar to a regular cluster, but it uses zones instead of entire OS instances.

"Such large amounts of idle processing capacity present an almost irresistible opportunity for better system utilization. Organizations seek ways to reclaim this unused capacity, and thus are moving to host multiple applications on a single cluster. However, concerns about interactions between applications, especially in the areas of security and resource management, make people wary. Virtualization technologies address these security concerns and provide safe ways to host multiple applications in different clusters on a single hardware configuration.
- White Paper: How to Deploy Virtual Clusters and Why

Trusted Zone Clusters and Saburna's How To Article

Oracle Solaris Trusted Zone clusters became available in Oracle Solaris Cluster 4.1. They are zone clusters with the security capabilities (mandatory access control or MAC) provided by Trusted Extensions. The zones in the cluster are labeled in the same way that other objects are labeled, so that only other objects with the same (or higher) sensitivity label can access them. Saburna Ganguli walks you through the steps required to set one up:

OTN Article: How to Build a Trusted Zone Cluster with Oracle Solaris Cluster 4.1

More Cluster Resources

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- Rick

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Monday Mar 04, 2013

What It Takes to Deploy and Manage a Private Cloud

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That's what your private cloud will look like if you do it wrong. And there are so many things that can go wrong.

Oracle offers several ways to set up your own private cloud. Richard Friedman describes what's involved in not only deploying it with Oracle VM, but managing it.

Article: What It Takes to Deploy and Manage a Private Cloud

Here are three excerpts:

"A few days ago I had dinner with my friend Dave. He’s a systems administrator for his company’s private cloud. Until recently, his company had relied on a mashup of customized applications, scripts, and handwritten procedures for doing everything from allocating storage to users to provisioning virtualized servers, updating and patching operating systems, and deploying applications over the network. He had been complaining for months about the difficulties of trying to satisfy requests from users and clients quickly and how these custom environments were becoming more and more unreliable and difficult to maintain...

"Organizations typically follow a layered approach to implementing a cloud. The proper layering is important not only from an architecture perspective, but also from an organizational perspective. As Dave mentioned, he has specialized storage administrators for managing storage; sysadmins for managing servers and the operating system infrastructure; and database, middleware, and application administrators for higher layers of the stack. "The cloud is like an orchestra," he said; all these performers play in unison, while being still accountable for their respective components...

"Dave also pointed out that to make his new private cloud fully operational, he needed self-service, elasticity, and chargeback capabilities, and the ability to integrate with third-party components, such as a help desk implementation. Moreover, to offer platform as a service (PaaS) capabilities, the infrastructure management has to be done within the context of platform components, such as the database and middleware. This is where Oracle Enterprise Manager fits in. It can work seamlessly with Oracle VM Manager to provide a fully automated, self-service, capacity-on-demand environment."

Don't do it wrong. Read Richard's article.

- Rick

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Tuesday Feb 26, 2013

Performance Tuning an Exalogic System

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I tend to get annoyed at my engineering pals for designing performance into automobiles such as the Chevy Corvette, instead of letting the driver feel the satisfaction of increasing performance by improving his or her technique. Many sysadmins feel the same about their craft. But as the story of Paul Bunyan demonstrates, we must adapt or die.

In a previous post I discussed how Exalogic changes the way you handle provisioning. In this post, I'll focus on the way Exalogic changes the way you handle performance tuning. First, the optimizations that are already done for you, then the optimizations you can still perform yourself.

Performance Optimizations Designed Into Exalogic

Because Oracle engineering knows the exact details of the environment in which each component is operating, Oracle has configured Exalogic components to use the internal network, memory, and storage for optimum performance, availability and security. It employs two types of optimizations:

Generic Optimizations (Exabus)

These optimizations will benefit any software running on the Exalogic machine, whether Oracle or 3rd party, in physical or virtual environments. The collection of Exalogic–specific optimizations are referred to as Exabus. The purpose of Exabus is primarily to integrate Infiniband networking seamlessly into all the hardware, software, and firmware distributed throughout the system. Examples include:

  • Changes to the firmware and drivers in the network switches that increase performance by skipping protocol stack conversions
  • Use of Exalogic solid state disk caching to increase the speed and capacity of local (shared) data read and write operations, such as JMS queues and run time metadata.
  • Built in high availability at network and storage levels
  • Native Infiniband integration with any other engineered systems, such as additional Exalogic machines, ZFS storage appliances, or Exadata Database machines.
  • The ability to define Infiniband partitions, which ensure application isolation and security.

Optimizations to Run-Time Components

Oracle has engineered optimizations for Exalogic directly into Oracle WebLogic Server (WLS), Coherence, and Tuxedo. They benefit any application running on those software components, but they can only be activated on the Exalogic platform. They address performance limitations that only become apparent when the software is running on Exalogic's high-density computing nodes and very fast Infiniband switches. Examples include:

  • WebLogic Server session replication uses the SDP layer of IB networking to maximize performance of large scale data operations. This avoids some of the typical TCP/IP network processing overhead.
  • Cluster communication has been redesigned in Coherence to further minimize network latency when processing data sets across caches. Its elastic data feature increases performance by minimizing network and memory use in both RAM and garbage collection processing.
  • Tuxedo has been similarly enhanced to make increasing use of SDP and RDMA protocols in order to optimize the performance of inter–process communications within and between compute nodes.

Tuning You Can Perform on Exalogic

Benchmarks and other tests show that applications that run well on Oracle middleware will run better on Exalogic. The degree to which they run better will be affected by how well optimised they are to take advantage of the Exalogic system, as well how well the Exalogic components are set up to balance resources.

However, if your workloads or configurations change, you may need to tune your Exalogic. Here are some general notes, extracted from the Exalogic: Administration Tasks and Tools white paper.

Tuning the Middleware

At the middleware and application level most of the standard options and techniques are available to you. WebLogic Server, JRockit, Coherence and iAS, etc. operate as they do on traditional platforms.

As for the rest of the Exalogic platform, Oracle's recommendation is: leave it alone.

Tuning The Platform

Exalogic manages itself, so you don't need adjust it unless you are sure that something needs changing. This is a major change in approach, since you are used to spending considerable time tweaking your systems to accommodate the needs of different groups. Knowing exactly when and how much (or how little) to tune an Exalogic system is a big topic, but here are some general guidelines.

  • Because Exalogic has such a high density of compute resources across such a fast network, small configuration changes can have a large impact.
  • Try out your changes in a test environment, first. Make sure its resources, configurations, and workload match those of your production system as closely as possible. Oracle Application Replay is a good tool for assessing the impact of configuration and infrastructure changes on the performance of your applications. Give it a try.
  • Focus on reducing response times for users and applications. If response time is not a problem, you probably don't have an issue to resolve, regardless of internal alerts and indicators you may be noticing.
  • Capture the right performance baselines ahead of time so you can compare the results of your tuning to them.

Tuning the Infrastructure

Storage, Infiniband, and OS are set up during initial configuration, so further tuning is not usually needed. If you need to review the kernel settings, network bonding, and MTU values, or perhaps the NFS settings, use Enterprise Manager. Finding the optimum changes tends to be an iterative process that varies with application workload.

Tuning the Middleware Runtime Environment

Ensure that Exalogic optimizations for WLS Suite are switched on (see MOS note 1373571.1), since they affect replication channels, packet sizes, and the use of the SDP protocol in the Infiniband networks.

Oracle Traffic Director is currently a unique feature of Exalogic, so is not available on other platforms. You can alter traffic routing rules for each application at any time. As workloads change and grow this is likely to be a key tuning task.

Tuning the Applications

At present you can tune business applications just as you would on traditional platforms. One possible side effect of running your business applications on Exalogic is that its enhanced performance may unmask poorly tuned applications or poorly written customizations.

For More Information

For more information, read the Exalogic: Administration Tasks and Tools white paper.

- Rick

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Friday Feb 22, 2013

How to Configure the Linux Kernel's Out of Memory Killer

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Operating systems sometimes behave like airlines. Since the airlines know that a certain percentage of the passengers won't show up for their flight, they overbook the flights. As anyone who has been to an airport in the last 10 years knows, they usually get it wrong and have to bribe some of us to get on the next flight. If the next flight is the next morning, we get to stay in a nice hotel and have a great meal, courtesy of the airline.

That's going to be my lodging strategy if I'm ever homeless.

Linux kernel does something similar. It allocates memory to its processes ahead of time. Since it knows that most of the processes won't use all the memory allocated to them, it over-commits. In other words, it allocates a sum total of memory that is more than it actually has. Once in a while too many processes claim the memory that the kernel promised them at the same time. When that happens, the Linux kernel resorts to an option that the airlines wish they had: it kills off processes one at a time. In fact, it actually has a name for this function: the out-of-memory killer.

Robert Chase explains.

How to Configure the Out of Memory Killer

Robert Chase describes how to examine your syslog and how to use the vmstat command for clues about which processes were killed, and why. He then shows you how to configure the OOM killer to behave the way you prefer. For instance, you can make certain processes less likely to be killed than others. Or more. Or you can instruct the kernel to reboot instead of killing processes.

More Oracle Linux Resources

- Rick

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Thursday Feb 21, 2013

Can You Figure Out Which Teenager Took the Cash?

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Dads like me are familiar with a phenomenon known as Silent Dollar Disappearance. This tends to occur when there is a confluence of money in your wallet and teenage children in your home. You never actually see it happen, but if you are paying attention, you might detect that it has happened. As when, for instance, you try to pay for beer and brats at the grocer. It becomes difficult to know for sure whether it was the teenagers. What if you already spent the money on something else? That's what my teenage daughters always said. Or perhaps you had a wallet malfunction, and it flew out. So difficult to pin-point the actual cause.

Linux, like any OS, is vulnerable to a similar phenomenon. It's called silent data corruption. It can be caused by faulty components, such as memory modules or storage systems. It can also be caused by -God forbid- administrative error. As with Silent Dollar Disappearance, it's difficult to detect when data corruption is actually happening. Or what the exact cause was. But, as with Dads and teenagers, you eventually figure out that it has happened.

It may be impossible to identify the culprit after the data has been corrupted, but it's not impossible to stop the culprit ahead of time. Oracle partnered with EMC and Emulex to do just that. And they were kind enough to explain how the did it and how you can benefit. In this article:

Preventing Silent Data Corruption in Oracle Linux

An excerpt ...

"Data integrity protection is not new. ECC and CRC are available on most, if not all, servers, storage arrays, and Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBAs). But these checks protect the data only temporarily within a single component. They do not ensure that the data you intended to write does not become corrupt as it travels down the data path from the application running in the server to the HBA, the switch, the storage array, and then the physical disk drive. When data corruption occurs, most applications are unaware that the data that was stored on the disk is not the data that was intended to be stored.

"Over the last several years, EMC, Emulex, and Oracle have worked together to drive and implement the Protection Information additions to the T10 SBC standard, which enables the validation of data as it moves through the data path to ensure that silent data corruption does not occur."

Interesting stuff. Give it a read.

- Rick

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Tuesday Feb 19, 2013

Provisioning Oracle Exalogic: What's Involved

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In this interview from 2012, Marshall Choy explains to dear old Justin how Oracle's engineered systems and optimized solutions will impact the job of a sysadmin.

I was just reading a recently published Oracle White Paper that goes into a little more detail...

"While the core middleware or applications administration role is largely the same as for non-Exalogic environments, significantly less work is required to manage storage, OS, and networks. In addition, some administration tasks are simplified."

That sounded interesting, so I kept reading. Here is an excerpt of what it says about provisioning.

Provisioning New Environments

Provisioning is done so frequently in some organizations that it's almost a continuous effort. Exalogic was designed as a multi-tenant environment in which many applications and user communities can operate in secure isolation, but all running on a shared compute infrastructure. As a result, provisioning environments for development, testing or other projects is simply a case of re-configuring these existing shared resources. And it takes hours rather than weeks.

The typical steps involved are:

  1. Storage – using the ZFS BUI
    1. Create NFS v4 shares
    2. Define Access Control List
  2. Compute nodes – via standard OS commands
    1. Decide which nodes are to be used for this project. In the current Exalogic X3-2 machines each node has 16 processing cores and 256 GB RAM. For each node:
      1. Create the root OS user, if it does not already exist.
      2. Add a mount point entry for the shared storage to the /etc/fstab file and issue the mount command to enable access to it from the compute node.
  3. Network – using the Exalogic IB subnet manager
    1. Identify IP addresses for the compute nodes to be used. Add any new virtual IP addresses to be used to ensure middleware high availability.
    2. Define new virtual network interfaces (VNICs) to enable connections to Exalogic from the rest of the data Center.
    3. Associate the pre-set external facing IP addresses to the VNICs.
    4. Define Exalogic Infiniband partitions to create secure groups of compute nodes / processors.

No physical cabling is required as network configuration is defined at the software level. In the event of a major failure, however, you may need to re-image the OS on some or even all compute nodes as a faster alternative to restoring from backup.

This whole process should take no more than an hour, after which a new, fully functioning compute platform is available for the project. It does not require any other data Center resources.

Further details are available in the Exalogic Enterprise Deployment Guide

I'll keep reading it and sharing some nuggets here. See the entire paper.

- Rick

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Monday Feb 18, 2013

Three Oracle VM Hands-On Labs On OTN

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We put the hands-on labs from the virtualization track of the OTN Virtual Sysadmin Days on OTN.

Lab 1 - Deploying an IaaS Environment with Oracle VM

Planning and deployment of an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) environment with Oracle VM as the foundation. Storage capacity planning, LUN creation, network bandwidth planning, and best practices for designing and streamlining the environment so that it's easy to manage.

Lab 2 - How to Virtualize and Deploy Oracle Applications in Minutes with Oracle VM

How to deploy Oracle applications in minutes with Oracle VM Templates. Find out what Oracle VM Templates are and how they work. Deploy an actual Oracle VM Template for an Oracle application. Plan your deployment to streamline ongoing updates and upgrades.

Lab 3 - Deploying a Cloud Infrastructure with Oracle VM 3.x and the Sun ZFS Storage Appliance

This hands-on lab will demonstrate what Oracle’s enterprise cloud infrastructure for x86 can do, and how it works with Oracle VM 3.x. How to create VMs. How to migrate VMs. How to deploy Oracle applications quickly and easily with Oracle VM Templates. How to use the Storage Connect plug-in for the Sun ZFS Storage Appliance.

By the way, the picture of that ranch in Colorado was taken by my good friend
Mike Schmitz. See more of his photography here. Follow it on Facebook here.

- Rick

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(psst! and don't forget to follow the Great Peruvian Novel!)

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Contributors:
Rick Ramsey
Kemer Thomson
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