Wednesday Jun 30, 2010

Summer Reading - July-August 2010 Oracle Magazine

OK, before any wisecrack comments, this is not my only summer reading, but one of my great finds since joining Oracle is definitely the Oracle Magazine. In the July-August issue, a must read is the interview of Oracle Chief Corporate Architect Edward Screven on the importance of open source and open standards. The cover feature on The Virtual Enterprise also is a compelling article discussing how Oracle customer JP Morgan Chase is using Oracle virtualization technologies.

While Oracle has many virtualization technologies, one discussed by both articles is Oracle VM. When considered in combination with the new Sun Fire x4800 server, Oracle VM is a great example of the benefits of Oracle's Software. Hardware. Complete. engineering philosophy. While there are alternative VM technologies in the market, Oracle VM is one of the few that can take full advantage of the capabilities of servers built using Intel's latest 7500 series x86 CPUs like the Sun Fire x4800. Oracle VM can take full advantage of all 64 x86 cores in the Sun Fire x4800 as well as all 1 TB of memory. If you are not using Oracle VM as your virtualization platform, you might want to ask your VM vendor when they will support a full 1 TB of memory and 64 CPU cores like Oracle VM does today (full Oracle VM technical specs can be found here).

You can read all of this issue of Oracle Magazine online, but I also recommend that you signup for your own complimentary subscription. The paper copy is highly recommended for poolside or beach lounging, as well as for those 10 minute periods during takeoffs and landings.

Tuesday Jun 29, 2010

A Petabyte of Storage Isn't What it Used to Be

Just a few years ago, few CIOs would have imagined managing a petabyte of storage in their data center. Those that did typically had a significant staff of storage administrators to manage the complex SAN infrastructure required. But in today's world where a 500 GB laptop drive fits in your shirt pocket and consumer 2 TB drives can be purchased at your favorite electronics store for about $100, the petabyte barrier is being crossed even by many mid size organizations. But as storage administrators know, a petabyte worth of disk drives doesn't equate to a petabyte of usable storage. Disk formatting and RAID partitioning can use up to 50% of your storage and user quotas meant to ensure a single user doesn't use up all of your storage downloading high definition video files can leave valuable unused storage inaccessible when you need it. As a result, many CIOs are surprised to learn just how little they actually can store on a petabyte of storage. Worse yet, software features like deduplication and compression, if even available, are sold as costly add-on options which require even more staff hours to administer. If you are wondering how to deal with the ever increasing cost and complexity of delivering petabyte class enterprise storage infrastructure, you need look no further than Oracle's Sun Unified Storage.

Starting with the entry level Sun Storage 7110, Sun Unified Storage scales up to 576 TB of raw capacity with the newly upgraded Sun Storage 7410. However, unlike other storage offerings that deliver much less usable storage than their raw capacity, Oracle's unified storage offerings often delivery more storage than their raw capacity. Lets take a look at how that's done.

For starters, Oracle's unified storage products are all based on the ZFS file system so you get ZFS's powerful data compression built in at no additional cost. ZFS data compression not only saves valuable storage space, it can actually speed up applications like the MySQL database. Listen to what Oracle customer Don MacAskill from online photo site SmugMug had to say about ZFS data compression and MySQL. Full disclaimer, I'm a happy paying customer of SmugMug storing about 20,000 pictures on the site.

Of course, Oracle's unified storage offers a lot more ways to save storage than simple data compression. While other storage vendors require you to purchase costly software upgrades, often from 3rd party firms, to enable data deduplication, all of Oracle's unified storage servers now offer deduplication built in. So if I upload 10 copies of the same picture to SmugMug they only need to store it once (actually, SmugMug keeps four copies of every unique picture I upload, one of the best availability and preservation policies of any photo site). Or if I'm running 10 copies of the same Oracle VM virtual machine image, deduplication can save me from storing duplicate data.

While SmugMug doesn't put any quotas on how many photos I can upload and store, most enterprise environments enforce user quotas to ensure a single user doesn't use up more storage than expected. Quotas have been around for many years. If you have a 100 TB filesystem, you can allocate 100 users a 1 TB quota and ensure you never run out of space. However, since many users will never use even a fraction of their quota, quotas can actually waste space. Enter so-called "lightweight" quotas. A lightweight quota scheme only allocates space to a user when they require it, allowing you, for instance, to share a 100 TB filesystem with 200 users, each with a 1 TB quota. This of course requires some additional active management as you approach your filesystem capacity to move users to new filesystems as you approach capacity. However, even most so-called lightweight quote systems don't reclaim space when a user deletes files. So if you have 100 users store 1 TB each of data, then they each delete half a TB, the quota system will still show 100 TB allocated. Oracle's unified storage is one of the only systems to implement truly lightweight quote systems. If a user stores 1 TB of data, then deletes half of it, the remaining 500 GB becomes available for other users.

The combination of data compression, data deduplication, and lightweight quotas all help you stretch more value out of a petabyte of data. Of course, those are only some of the ways that Oracle's unified storage helps you simplify your storage.

A petabyte of storage just isn't what it used to be.

Monday Jun 28, 2010

Highlights of Oracle's Next Generation x86 Systems Launch

To me, the highlight of today's x86 Systems Launch was not any individual server, but the focus on engineering complete systems of x86 clusters for Oracle and non Oracle workloads. The focus on engineering of complete systems, coupled with other trends in system architecture, will have profound changes on the way systems vendors design and customers purchase systems in the coming decade. Let me explain.

One of my favorite automobile companies, BMW, ran an advertising campaign a while back promoting the ability to configure to order your BMW from "a million possible combinations, give or take a nappa leather color option or two". That is actually great when you are selling cars, because at any given time one car is only being driven on one road by one driver, and there are many different types of drivers and roads. For many years, a similar design philosophy has been followed by x86 server vendors. The leading x86 vendors today offer a nearly endless combination of server form factors and options: 1 socket, 2 socket, 4 socket, 8 socket; rack mount, tower, blade; different I/O and memory capacities; and on an on. At one time, that made sense, as each server was typically purchased for a dedicated application and the endless options allowed an IT purchaser to configure and pay for only the features they needed. But unlike cars, the vast majority of x86 servers being purchased today are not serving a single user or running a single application.

With the widespread server consolidation enabled by virtualization technologies and the ever increasing power of multi-core CPUs, the vast majority of an organization's x86 compute demands can today be met with clusters made of up a single x86 server type. Cloud Computing providers like Amazon EC2 have recognized this for years as have High Performance Computing customers like Sandia National Labs. So why have system vendors continued to insist on gratuitously pumping out more and more x86 server models in every shape, size, and color? Well, if all you have to engineer is individual servers, then I guess you get creative. At Oracle, however, our x86 engineers have been busy designing complete x86 clusters to run Oracle and non Oracle workloads, and that has led to some of the design decisions exposed in today's launch.

If you had to build an x86 cluster to handle the broadest possible set of workloads, I'd definitely use the new Sun Fire x4800. Powered by up to eight Intel Xeon 7500 series processors, one terabyte of memory, and eight hot swappable PCIe ExpressModules, this is the most powerful, expandable, and reliable of Oracle’s x86-based servers. Given that the PCIe Express Module standard was first announced by the PCI standards body in 2005, its amazing that five years later we don't see more vendors using this standard to provide hot swappable I/O cards for their servers. Sun first introduced PCIe ExpressModules in our Sun Blade family of blade servers several years ago and the Sun Fire x4800 now continues their use. If your systems vendor isn't using the PCIe Express Module standard for hot swap I/O and only offering proprietary hot-swap solutions, or worse yet, no hot-sway I/O cards, you might want to point them to the 2005 Announcement from the PCI SIG. Of course, if you are designing servers intended to be used as single standalone systems instead of in clusters, then perhaps a choice of bezel color is a more important option.

While I don't have time to discuss all of today's product introductions, one more that I did want to discuss is the new Sun Network 10GbE Switch 72p. Offering 72 10GbE ports in a single 1RU chassis, this switch is definitely designed for building clusters not single servers. While everyone seems to be hawking 10GbE switches these days, most so called "top of rack" switches only support 24 or 48 ports in a 1RU form factor. To replicate the full non-blocking fabric provided by the Sun Network 10GbE Switch 72p would require nine 24 port switches or five 48 port switches, up to 54 additional cables, 1/5 of a rack more space, and significantly more power. When used in conjunction with Oracle's Sun Blade 6000 24p 10GbE NEM, one can easily build non-blocking fabrics of up to 160 nodes or clusters of up to 720 nodes with oversubscription.

So hopefully that gives you a few ideas for building your next x86 cluster. With a lot of vendors, the ideas would stop after the hardware. On the software front, products like Oracle Weblogic 11g Application Server and MySQL Enterprise need no introduction and they require no modification to run on 10GbE clusters. But lets say you are are upgrading an older 2-socket, dual core x86 server to a new 2-socket, six core Sun Fire X4170 M2 Server. Do you really need to upgrade to 10GbE network or will your application run just fine on your existing 1GbE network? For starters, everything else being equal, if your old server ran a single application, with 3x as many cores, your new server, with sufficient memory and I/O, should be able to run at least 3 applications using Oracle VM virtualization software. Of course, one of the benefits of Oracle VM is not only server consolidation, but more flexible management. Even if your core applications run fine with 1 GbE, you could gain significant performance benefits with 10 GbE when you needed to move VMs off the server for planned maintenance, for load balancing, or unplanned server failures (using Oracle VM HA functionality).

Unlike a BMW, which is perhaps best enjoyed by itself on a deserted mountain road, Oracle's new x86 servers are designed to be used together in clusters, along with our high performance 10 GbE and InfiniBand switches, Oracle storage, and Oracle software. Engineered together from application to disk.

Software. Hardware. Complete.

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