Zone Clusters

The Solaris(TM) Cluster 3.2 update 2 release , also called Sun Cluster 3.2, introduces the new feature called Zone Clusters, which is also known as Solaris Containers Clusters, and this blog introduces the reader to Zone Clusters. Here you will find an overview that defines a Zone Cluster and identifies some important reasons why you would want to use a Zone Cluster. Blogs should be short and concise. So this will be the introductory blog. I plan to provide a series of blogs, where each blog covers one important aspect of Zone Clusters. Subsequent blogs will cover the major use cases, a comparison of Zone Cluster versus other zone solutions, and explanations of various aspects of the technologies that support a Zone Cluster.

Now let’s begin by defining the feature.

A Zone Cluster is a virtual cluster, where each virtual node is a non-global zone.

Thus we are entering a world where a set of machines (defined as something that can host an operating system image) can now support multiple clusters. Prior to this feature, there was exactly one cluster and we did not have a unique name for that kind of cluster. The original cluster type has as voting member nodes all of the global zones, which led us to apply the name Global Cluster to that kind of cluster. Starting with SC3.2 1/09 (also called update 2) there will always be exactly one Global Cluster on a set of machines that Sun Cluster software supports.

The same set of machines can optionally also support concurrently an arbitrary number of Zone Clusters. The number of Zone Clusters is limited by the amount CPU's, memory, and other resources needed to support the applications in the Zone Clusters. Exactly one Solaris operating system instance and exactly one Sun Cluster instance supports the one Global Cluster and all Zone Clusters. A Zone Cluster cannot be up unless the Global Cluster is also up. The Global Cluster does not contain the Zone Clusters. Each cluster has its own private name spaces for a variety of purposes, including application management.

A Zone Cluster appears to applications as a cluster dedicated for those applications. This same principle applies to administrators logged in to a Zone Cluster.

The Zone Cluster design follows the minimalist approach about what items are present. Those items that are not directly used by the applications running in that Zone Cluster are not available in that Zone Cluster.

A typical application A stores data in a file system F. The application needs a network resource N (authorized IP address and NIC combination) to communicate with clients. The Zone Cluster would contain just the application A, file system F, and network resource N. Normally, the storage device for the file system would not be present in that Zone Cluster.

Many people familiar with the Global Cluster, will remember that the Global Cluster has other things, such as a quorum device. The Zone Cluster applications do not directly use the quorum device. So there is no quorum device in the Zone Cluster. When dealing with the Zone Cluster, the administrator can ignore quorum devices and other things that exist only in the Global Cluster.

The Zone Cluster design results in a much simpler cluster that greatly reduces administrative support costs.

A Zone Cluster provides the following major features:

  • Application Fault Isolation – A problem with an application in one Zone Cluster does not affect applications in other Zone Clusters. Those operations that might crash an entire machine are generally disallowed in a Zone Cluster. Some operations have been made safe. For example, a reboot operation in a Zone Cluster becomes a zone reboot. So even an action that can boot or halt one Zone Cluster, will not affect another Zone Cluster.

  • Security Isolation – An application in one Zone Cluster cannot see and cannot affect resources not explicitly configured to be present in that specific Zone Cluster. A resource only appears in a Zone Cluster when the administrator explicitly configures that resource to be in that Zone Cluster.

  • Resource Management – The Solaris Resource Management facilities can operate at the granularity of the zone. We have made it possible to manage resources across the entire Zone Cluster. All of the facilities of Solaris Resource Management can be applied to a Zone Cluster. This includes controls on CPU’s, memory, etc. This enables the administrator to manage Quality of Service and control application license fees based upon CPU's.

We recognize that administrators are overworked. So we designed Zone Clusters to reduce the amount of work that administrators must do. We provide a single command that can create/modify/destroy an entire Zone Cluster from any machine. This eliminates the need for the administrator to go to each machine to create the various zones.

Since a Zone Cluster is created after the creation of the Global Cluster, we use knowledge of the Global Cluster to further reduce administrative work. At this point we already know the configuration of the cluster private interconnect, and thus can automate the private interconnect set up for a Zone Cluster. We can specify reasonable default values for a wide range of parameters. For example, a Zone Cluster usually runs with the same time zone as the Global Cluster.

Once you have installed Sun Cluster 3.2 1/09 on Solaris 10 5/08 (also called update 5) or later release, the Zone Cluster feature is ready to use. There is no need to install additional software. The Zone Cluster feature is maintained by the regular patches and updates for the Sun Cluster product.

So a Zone Cluster is a truly simplified cluster.

Now, let’s talk at a high level about why you would use a Zone Cluster.

Many organizations run multiple applications or multiple data bases. It has been common practice to place each application or data base on its own hardware. Figure 1 shows an example of three data bases running on different clusters.

Moore’s Law continues to apply to computers, and the industry continues to produce ever more powerful computers. The trend towards ever more powerful processors has been accompanied by increases in storage capacity, network bandwidth, etc. Along with greater power has come improved price/performance ratios. Over time, application processing demands have grown, but in many cases the application processing demands have grown at a much slower rate than that of the processing capacity of the system. The result is that many clusters now have considerable surplus processing capacity in all areas: processor, storage, and networking.

Such large amounts of idle processing capacity present an almost irresistible opportunity for better system utilization. Organizations seek ways to reclaim this unused capacity. Thus, they are choosing to host multiple cluster applications on a single cluster. However, concerns about interactions between cluster applications, especially in the areas of security and resource management, make people wary. Zone Clusters provide safe ways to host multiple cluster applications on a single cluster hardware configuration. Figure 2 shows the same data bases from the previous example now consolidated onto one set of cluster hardware using three Zone Clusters.

Zone Clusters can support a variety of use cases:

  • Data Base Consolidation – You can run separate data bases in separate Zone Clusters. We have run Oracle RAC 9i, RAC 10g, and RAC 11g in separate Zone Clusters on the same hardware concurrently.

  • Functional Consolidation – Test and development activities can occur concurrently while also being independent.

  • Multiple Application Consolidation – Zone Clusters can support applications generally. So you can run both data bases and also applications that work with data bases in the same or separate Zone Clusters. We will be announcing certification of other applications in Zone Clusters in the coming months.

  • License Fee Cost Containment – Resource controls can be used to control costs. There are many use cases where someone can save many tens of thousands of dollars per year. The savings are heavily dependent upon the use case.

    Here is an arbitrary example: the cluster runs two applications, where each application takes half of the CPU resources. The two applications come from different vendors, who each charge a license fee where: Total_Charge = Number_CPUs \* Per_CPU_Charge. The administrator places each application in its own Zone Cluster with half the CPU's. This reduces the number of CPU's available to each application. The result is that the administrator has now reduced the Total Charge cost by 50%.

In future blogs, I plan to explain how to take the most advantage of Zone Cluster in these various use cases.

Please refer to this video blog that provides a long detailed explanation of Zone Cluster.

Dr. Ellard Roush

Technical Lead Solaris Cluster Infrastructure


Cool, I will try it.

Posted by money on February 04, 2009 at 08:50 PM PST #

For someone using non-RAC Oracle DB, what, if any, would be some cases where zone clusters would not be a good choice for a Sun Cluster environment?


Posted by Robert Krawczak on February 24, 2009 at 03:06 AM PST #

Is it possible to host a RAC cluster on 2 non-global zones on a single physical node for development/test purposes ?

Posted by Andrew McCormack on July 20, 2009 at 10:47 PM PDT #

@Andrew: Not if you want to try this on Sun Cluster using zones. Zone cluster requires that each node (or zone) reside on a separate physical node.

Posted by zoram on July 21, 2009 at 01:10 AM PDT #

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