Thursday Jul 12, 2012

Smaller/faster: what's not to like?

200 MB DiskpacksOne might think that things like disk space and even computer speed had become irrelevant. After all, our cell phones have more computing power and storage than million dollar computers of fifteen years ago. (Stop me if I’ve told this story too many times: 25 years ago we sold a terabyte of disk using the big 200 MB disk platters. So, that was a total of over 4,000 disks. Since this is ancient history, the details are hazy, but I do remember that it involved a sizable facility for the storage alone and an even more sizeable commission for the sales rep. Those were the good ol’ days!)

The truth is, there is always an opportunity to take advantage of more resources. Indeed, we are in the era of big data and it would seem that our big limitation now is the speed of light. Rather than brute force, clever engineers continually come up with better ways of doing things. The RDBMS world has tended to think in terms of rows, but there is a new trend to organize it in columns instead. Wikipedia has a great summary of the pros and cons worth taking a look at, if this is new to you. In a nutshell, columnar databases can provide real performance advantages for data warehouses.

Oracle’s Hybrid Columnar Compression technology is nicely described in this paper. Long time storage specialist Art Licht has written a paper about a study he did, explaining How We Improved SAN and NAS Performance with Hybrid Columnar Compression with some remarkable results: 19x reduction in required storage space and an average 6x increase in database query performance.

Art provides specifics on how to do this using the Pillar Axiom Storage System and Sun ZFS Storage Appliance, with detailed test results. This is an article you don’t want to miss: a real hands-on description that quickly brings you up to speed with the technology and its application in the real world. Cache Accesses


Thursday Apr 07, 2011

Cloning for Dummies

Clone TrooperIf it seems like we have published a lot of articles around the Sun ZFS Storage Appliance, it is because we have. Busy Oracle engineer and frequent contributor Sridhar Ranganathan has handed us another jewel: Oracle Database Cloning Solution Using Oracle Recovery Manager and Sun ZFS Storage Appliance. What a great pair of topics!

Let's forget for a minute that I work for Oracle, the leading database company in the World: that is a relatively new phenomenon. The truth is I've always known that databases dominate the solutions that computer hardware enables. Indeed, I vividly remember the early 1980s, when the emerging personal computer market was propelled largely by two primitive database applications: for balancing checkbooks and saving recipes. When Apple announced their new soft-sectored floppy drive, we had to get onto a waiting list to buy 360 KB of random access disk for our puny databases. The CEO of General Dynamics, where I worked at the time, discovered this power and the company was transformed almost overnight from analog to digital.

There are many important things DBAs do to secure their hefty compensation (had I anticipated that trend, I would have started off as a DBA, rather than as an actuary. Wait! I'm afraid there wasn't even the acronym "DBA" way back then...) One of these activities is that of cloning databases, which is done for a variety of reasons, including development, testing, and training without disrupting the actual database itself. As Sridhar points out, the Sun ZFS Storage Appliance provides an ideal platform for performing database cloning. It comes with a user-friendly interface for ease of management, a full set of data services for business continuity and disaster recovery purposes, multi-protocol support to cater to any infrastructure, analytics for monitoring and resolution purposes, and a hybrid storage pool for faster response time for test, development, and QA activities. With unlimited snapshots and cloning possibilities, many concurrent database instances can be launched for various purposes without impacting the production database.

This paper gives you a good look at the power of the graphical front end, includes examples, recommendations, best practices, and sizing considerations. As I said, this is another jewel, not to be missed.

- Kemer

Thursday Mar 17, 2011

Virtual Hardware

Kemer's HandtruckI am only accidentally a "hardware person." I joined Sun in the late 80s because of my software background; hardware was essentially forced on me. I was excited because Sun was such a leader in UNIX development and applications. For those who have been around, do you remember those Catalyst Catalog "doorstops" we used to hand out to customers?

Software needs hardware to run on and over the years I developed an uneasy truce with it. Back then we spent a lot of time rolling around gigantic desk-side boxes and enormous monitors for demonstrations. The "missing hand truck" was such a common issue that I went across the street to Sears and got the biggest, baddest one I could find and put my name on it; it still does service in my garage. We used to carry around a specialty combo hex wrench and screw driver to install MultiBus boards. Now, that definitely dates me.

Here's an amusing anecdote: the San Diego sales office often acquired demo machines when the corporate suits were just too lazy to ship them back after a trade show. The guilty are now long gone, and I think the statute of limitations is up, anyway. If you think that is bad, I remember one field systems engineer who would wander around the corporate buildings slapping shipping labels addressed to his office on boxes of new equipment. Apparently, that ploy sometimes worked.

So, being a closet software person, I think the ideal solution to schlepping hardware around would be to have virtual hardware: an interactive, 3D model. Oh, wait: that exists! You will find on many of our OTN hardware pages a 3D Demo section. As one example, take a look at the SPARC Server page: we currently have five models there, including one for the large SPARC Enterprise M9000. These are much, much more than the 3D product views you see on consumer product pages. For example, in the M9000 model, click on Features and select the PCIe to see the extraction of a PCIe card and close look at the module. There are hours of entertainment and education in this virtual hardware: my kind of hardware!

- Kemer

Tuesday Mar 15, 2011

Long Title, Quick Start!

Linux RAC ClusterClustered applications are the keystone to highly available environments. Where you have clustering, you usually have databases – and where you have clustered databases, it is hard to avoid Oracle Real Application Clusters (Oracle RAC).

Clustered databases aren't generally known for ease of setup. The Sun BluePrints Program was orginally created over ten years ago to focus on this topic specifically and numerous books and white papers were a mainstay. We once tried to write a book on this topic in six months and this was so complicated that it couldn't be done. However, technology has progressed and it is now much easier to create powerful solutions without all the pain-and-suffering.

As witnessed by Sridhar Ranganathan's and Jeffrey Wright's latest opus: Oracle9i Real Application Clusters Database Quick Start Install Guide for Sun ZFS Storage Appliance Using Oracle Linux. When we say "Quick Start," we mean it: long title, quick start! In the fewest pages possible they take you through everything you need, from downloading and installing the software, to setting up the disk, and creating the database itself.

No reason to shy away from clustering any longer.

- Kemer

Monday Mar 14, 2011

Did I Repeat Myself? Did I Repeat Myself?

RepeatThere are many aspects to optimizing storage utilization. We usually think in terms of compression: packing the bits into the minimal space. However, have you ever considered how often we save the same data multiple times? Like that amusing picture that everyone in the office saves a personal copy of. It all adds up.

Deduplication – one of those geeky terms that is efficiently self-descriptive – solves the problem by removing duplicated data. Frequent contributor Jeff Wright gives us the lowdown in Sun ZFS Storage Appliance Deduplication Design and Implementation Guidelines. Approaches to deduplication vary in both when and how: the when can be synchronous or asynchronous, the how can be block or file level.

The data deduplication feature provided in the Sun ZFS Storage Appliance is available with Software Release 2010.Q1. This feature is implemented to provide synchronous block-level deduplication and is designed to be applicable to any data stored on the appliance. Jeff's article provides practical application and performance guidelines, along with a list of known issues and limitations.

The Sun ZFS Storage Appliance is one powerful and nifty device. You can tell from the number of interesting articles we are publishing on it that there is a lot under the hood.

- Kemer

Wednesday Mar 09, 2011 Will NOT Disappear After June 1 (Corrected)

A few days ago I wrote:

The site will be decommissioned on June 1 of this year.

In the comments I went on to say that I doubted there would be 1:1 redirects.

I was wrong. (Don't tell my wife I'm capable of saying that!) The domain will NOT be decommissioned or sold on June 1 of this year. Rather, URLs will redirect to URLs, with 1:1 redirects where possible.

Most of the content that was on BigAdmin,, and some sections of SDN has already been migrated to the System Admin and Developer Community of the Oracle Technology Network (OTN).

Our engineering team is working on a solution for the Hardware Compatibility List. I'll let you know where it ends up and in what form as soon as I know.

If you find content on those legacy sites that you'd like to ensure we make available on OTN, please let me know.

- Rick

Wednesday Mar 02, 2011

Sharing the Breadbox

A Better BreadboxIf the Oracle Solaris ZFS is the greatest file system since sliced bread, then, well, the Sun ZFS Storage Appliance is the ultimate breadbox. (I had to work long and hard on that analogy, so stay with me...) The Oracle Solaris ZFS Datasheet summarizes it nicely:

Anyone who has ever lost important files, run out of space on a partition, spent weekends adding new storage to servers, tried to grow or shrink a file system, or experienced data corruption knows that there is room for improvement in file systems and volume managers. Oracle Solaris ZFS is designed from the ground up to meet the emerging needs of a general-purpose local file system that spans the desktop to the datacenter

The Oxford American Dictionary defines an appliance as 'a device or piece of equipment designed to perform a specific task.' We have all the pieces to build powerful storage appliances that marry this powerful file system with an optimal combination of both disk and flash storage. Implied in the term appliance is generally ease-of-use, and we also have an incredibly slick graphical front-end (formerly known as Fishworks) that ties it all together. It's not a surprise that the Sun ZFS Storage Appliances have been a hit.

Of course, to be a true network appliance, you have to manage competing protocols and file services. While some of us have lived in the world of NFS for seemingly most of our lives, one must not ignore Microsoft's Active Directory, common to the Windows environment. Supporting this, too, doesn't even break a sweat with ZFS Storage Appliances

Sun ZFS Storage Appliance Rule-based Identity Mapping Between Active Directory and NIS Implementation Guide, by Art Larkin, tells you in detail how you can configure it to support multiple file services. Art explains in detail how the Sun ZFS Storage Appliance identity mapping service manages users of both Active Directory services and Network Information Services (NIS) by associating the Windows and UNIX identities of each user. This allows shares, such as directories or files to which access is controlled by a password, to be exported and accessed by clients using either Common Internet File System (CIFS)/Server Message Block (SMB) or Network File system (NFS) protocols. Even if you aren't concerned about this specific configuration, you will find the paper is an excellent introduction into how painless it is to do non-trivial management through the graphical front end: this 30-page paper is full of illustrations.

- Kemer

Monday Feb 28, 2011

More on How to Find Old Sun Documentation

image courtesy of

Google search is starting to index the old Sun docs, but until has caught up (about 25,000 docs got migrated!), use this SunDocsFinder to find the Sun documentation. It's a hack, and it does not work in every single case, but it is a big help:

  1. Find the part number corresponding to your doc title
  2. Enter site: into a Google search box.

Here's an example:

  1. The part number for "Solaris 2.5.1 Server Release Notes" is 802-5366, so
  2. Enter "802-5366 site:" into a google search box

- Rick

Friday Feb 25, 2011

Back Page: Content Collections on OTN

Rough coupla weeks, here. Mostly for those of you who rely on our docs to do your jobs. But also for those of us who care about making your life a little easier.

This doesn't come close to solving the doc problem, but it's a small step in the right direction: The Back Page of OTN Systems (Sysadmin and Developer Community of OTN) re-creates the Collections of BigAdmin. If you need to find content related to, say, security, go to the Security Collection. It lists all security-related content we've published, whether in a blog, a technical article, or a web page.

Speaking of security, don't forget to keep an eye on our new Solaris Security forum, moderated by Alex Barclay.)

Unfortunately, our OTN Collections don't include the content we published previously on BigAdmin or SDN. That content as migrated to OTN, but we don't have the resources to go back and reorganize it by topic. (If you have a particular favorite, let me know, and I'll hunt it down.)

Regarding the docs, we're not going to be able to solve the entire problem right away. The docs team is working on improving Search, which may be the most helpful. I'll hunt down hidden docs and broken links when we hear about them, and a few of us may put together some online index cards to help you find the docs, too. I hope we can be a little more helpful in the coming weeks.

But don't forget that it's Friday, And sometimes you just gotta take your mind off your troubles.

- Rick

Monday Jan 24, 2011

When You Can't Find the Torque Wrench

I come from a part of the world that considers doing it yourself without the right tools a great sign of resourcefulness (Lima, Peru.) I live in part of the world that considers doing it yourself with the right tools a sign of preparedness (Colorado, USA).

Both may be true, but sometimes the torque wrench refuses to reveal its location and that usually happens when the VP of IT has chewed out the Director of IT who has called your boss and his best buddies into the corner office for a serious discussion whose resulting action items are going to land on your head just as you're heading out to the local sysadmin bar.

That's when you want to have a couple of quick meals in your pantry:

Oracle Linux Validated Solutions

Pre-tested, validated architectures—including software, hardware, storage, and network components—plus documented best practices. Improved performance, scalability, and reliability of Linux solutions, with faster, lower-cost implementations for dozens of leading applications.

Oracle Sun Hardware Solutions

Slightly different from the Linux Validated Configurations, above, but similar in spirit, Oracle's Sun Hardware Solutions assemble the stack components that are best suited to optimize the performance and management of these seven popular enterprise business applications.

You can always find these links under the Product Pages and Resource Pages headings in the right-most column of OTN's Sysadmin and Developer Community.

- Rick

Wednesday Nov 24, 2010

Top 10 Reasons to Be Thankful on Thanksgiving

10.  Dessert

 9.  Surprise visits from close relatives.

 8.  Dad didn't pick you up from Pop Warner Football dressed like this.

7.  Conscientious people

6.  This isn't the lighthouse where you took your wife for a romantic celebration of your 7th wedding anniversary

5. Nobody was there to see it when the wimpy neighbor's cat beat up your dog.

4.  There's always somebody dumber than you.

3.  Carol Shelby.

2. A genetic excuse for a guy's moods.

1.  Your pals at the System Admin and Developer Community of the Oracle Technology Network (otherwise known as OTN).

Happy Thanksgiving!

- Rick

Tuesday Aug 03, 2010

Recipe for a Systems Monday

If you're not sure which sessions to attend at Oracle OpenWorld on Monday, Sep 20, see this entry in the Oracle Develop Conference Blog.

 - Rick

Thursday Jul 29, 2010

Oracle Solaris, OEL, and Oracle VM Available on All Certified non-Sun Hardware

(updated with new headline to include all Solaris-certified hardware vendors.)

This has been a big question for fans of Solaris on non-Sun hardware, but it's finally been answered.

Oracle Solaris can be certified and resold by Dell, IBM, HP, Fujitsu, and any Solaris-Certified hardware vendor on their own hardware.

So can Oracle Enterprise Linux and Oracle VM.

Oracle Premier support is available for Oracle Solaris, Oracle Enterprise Linux, and Oracle VM.

A few quick resources:

More info later....

- Rick

Thursday Jul 01, 2010

How to Stay Informed During BigAdmin/SDN Content Migration

Content from BigAdmin,, SDN/Solaris, and SDN/Studio is being migrated to the Oracle Technology Network.  It will appear, along with content about Oracle Sun servers and storage systems (eventually), in the "Systems Admin and Developer Community" of the Oracle Technology Network. 

I will distribute the URL to that community as soon as migration is complete.

In the meantime, keep an eye on (or subscribe) to these channels to stay informed:

For the complete list of OTN communication channels, see Finding it Difficult To Keep Up?

- Rick (Systems Admin and Developer Community Lead)

Monday Jun 28, 2010

Flops and GigaFlops

This blog is about the benefits of running Solaris on SPARC.

Although I was born in Santiago, Chile, I became a teenager in Lima, Peru in time to watch the beautiful Peruvian National Team advance all the way to the quarter finals of the 1970 World Cup.  For a small country like Peru, this was a gigantic achievement.  

If you've watched any World Cup matches lately, you've probably noticed two things:

  1. The best players get fouled incessantly.
  2. Everybody flops.

I'm not a fan of either.  (And don't even get me started on the NBA.)

In Peru we believed you were a good defender only if you could strip the ball away without touching your opponent.  A foul might save a goal, but it wouldn't save your honor.  As a result of this appreciation for technique, the1970 team won the FIFA Fair Play Trophy. With flopping and strategic fouling so prevalent in the World Cup, it's a miracle we made it to the quarter finals! 

Because I'm also a geek, I have the same respect for the combination of Solaris and SPARC

Oracle Solaris and Sun SPARC Systems—Integrated and Optimized for Enterprise Computing

Oracle Stack

By now you've probably heard how all the products in the Oracle stack have been optimized for the best possible scalability, security, and reliability.  This is particularly true for Solaris, our Virtual Machine, and Sun SPARC enterprise servers.

This white paper takes the discussion one step further.

Written by Mike Mulkey with the help from Solaris engineers, this paper discusses the benefits of Oracle Solaris running on Sun SPARC Enterprise M-Series and T-Series servers, but drills down on the specific optimizations for reliability, scalability, security, and virtualization. It describes the superior results of taking a comprehensive, integrated architectural approach to designing the operating system with the hardware, such as:

  • Solaris multi-threading capabilities, when combined with the SPARC multi-core chips, provide the capacity to run 64 threads per chip, which can make your data center more flexible, quicker, and far more reliable. 
  • Solaris running on the SPARC64 VII chips of Sun M-Series servers provide mainframe-class performance and reliability at lower cost.  Not to mention vertical scalability.  Plus hot-swapability for major components.
  • Predictive self-healing in Solaris works with the highly reliable memory subsystems of the SPARC Enterprise server to stop faults from bringing down your system.
  • In addition to its scalability and reliability features, ZFS lets you add, change or remove storage devices on the run.

After you finish reading Mulkey's white paper you might come to the same conclusion as I did:

The combination of Solaris and SPARC Enterprise servers lands squarely in the world of American Football, a game that leaves little room for flopping, whining, or making excuses.

(Read this forum discussion if you want to find out how many floating point operations a SPARC chip supports).

 - Rick


Logan Rosenstein
and members of the OTN community


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