Virtualizing Oracle Databases

According to some recent research conducted by Wibikon, organizations can achieve economies of scale and new efficiencies if they follow these general guidelines below.

Virtualizing Oracle databases and applications based on Oracle can yield significant business benefits including cost reduction, improved recoverability, and faster time to application change. However Oracle, in its desire to maintain account control and bundle as much of its hardware and software stack as possible, is often less than supportive of customers that want to virtualize Oracle with non-Oracle technologies (e.g. VMware, Hyper-V and Citrix).

Oracle's support and certification of non-Oracle virtualization platforms is mixed and highly dependent on five main factors:

    The size of the customer,
    Deal flow/size of the deal,
    Timing in the quarter,
    Customer expertise,
    Industry affinity.

This was the message shared with the Wikibon community at its May 3rd, 2011 Peer Incite - "Oracle and VMware: Peas in a Pod or Oil and Water?" In general, the consensus among Wikibon users is the larger the customer the more likely Oracle will be to provide exemplary support for virtualization platforms outside of its own virtualization platform.

Top Findings

Two industry practitioners, Nathan Biggs from consultancy House of Brick and Bill Santille, a recognized expert and advisor to CIOs, joined the call to provide perspectives. Generally, Briggs argues that virtualizing Oracle was a good business decision and support from Oracle is typically excellent. Santille, however, recommends caution with respect to virtualizing mission critical databases without Oracle's blessing. Both camps agreed that virtualizing Oracle for test and dev systems made good business sense, even without Oracle certification.

In addition, David Floyer presented research from a recent Wikibon community study that uncovered several findings pertinent to Oracle customers that want to virtualize, including the following:

    Technically, it appears that Oracle can and will, in many cases, support and even certify non-Oracle virtualization platforms including VMware.
    Customers in the pharmaceutical industry are able to receive certification for virtualization by paying Oracle large fees.
    By mid-decade, the community believes 90% of Oracle databases within enterprises will be virtualized with VMware as the dominant platform.
    Users should be aware that there are issues that warrant consideration around virtualizing large Oracle databases, including increased complexity of deployment and potential performance impacts. Importantly, once virtualization is deployed, management complexity declines.
    Improperly configured storage was the most frequently cited culprit causing performance problems in virtualized Oracle shops.
    Most Oracle database-based applications, however, are candidates for virtualization. The exception is very large, high value, mission critical applications that are not certified by Oracle to run in a virtual environment. Users should carefully consider virtualizing such systems and weigh the business risks.
    Oracle will provide good support for non-Oracle virtualization platforms. However that support varies widely based primarily on how much is spent with Oracle.
    Several customers reported that often Oracle will ask them to recreate problems on physical systems so that the problem can be isolated. Oracle argues, and Wikibon agrees, that it must do this to minimize finger pointing.
    Nonetheless, it appears Oracle is being less than proactive with regard to supporting and certifying Oracle for virtualized platforms - with the exception of Oracle VM and in cases where customers pay Oracle large sums.
    Improperly configured storage was the most frequently cited culprit causing performance problems in virtualized Oracle shops.

Advice to Oracle DBAs

There are several actions users can take to extract maximum value from virtualizing Oracle while at the same time minimizing risk, including:

    Choose the right virtualization platform. Several options are available. VMware right now is the front-runner in the enterprise, but Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix Xen are both increasingly popular and growing. There are others such as IBM's LPAR and of course, Oracle VM.
    Properly configuring system and storage resources. There will be overhead associated with virtualizing Oracle. This overhead can be minimized and made negligible for most applications with some careful planning and expertise. The use of outside consultants may be warranted as this is a long-term platform decision for organizations.
    Understand Oracle's virtualization policies. Users should familiarize themselves with Oracle's partitioning guidelines. Clearly Oracle is not eager to allow users to cut their Oracle software and maintenance bills using virtualization.
    Be prepared to recreate problems on physical machines. The number of customers reporting that Oracle insists on this policy cannot be ignored. Oracle has every right to do this as a means of avoiding finger pointing and users should expect that Oracle will adhere to this strategy. However, third-party software tools are available that simplify migrating a database to and from a virtualized environment are available in the market.
    Push for VMware support from ISVs. SAP, IBM, and others will support Oracle running under VMware, and this is a critical piece of the puzzle. Several vendors have announced tested and proven solutions, which are an excellent customer 'freebie' that warrants investigation.
    Reduce reliance on Oracle. Some Wikibon users have reported that they are having great success with non-Oracle databases in virtual environments. Several Wikibon members are migrating key applications to Microsoft SQL Server or in some cases IBM's DB2 because the vendors are stable and provide better support for virtualization than Oracle does. However, migrating mission-critical databases is not advisable in most cases as the risks may not outweigh the rewards.
    Rethinking the organizational structures. Infrastructure support has been built out along stove-piped lines - e.g. server admins, storage admins, DBAs, network admins, etc. These roles are changing as a result of virtualization, and organizations must re-consider common goals, incentive systems and reporting structures.

On balance, the Wikibon community advises that customers begin to aggressively adopt virtualization technologies for Oracle environments. Because there are risks, especially given Oracle's selective support and certification approach, users should start small with test and dev systems and work their way across the application portfolio. Some systems may never migrate but most will, and therefore it is important to establish good technical, operational, and procedural practices that can serve as a platform for the next five to ten years.

Action Item: By mid-decade, 90% of Oracle-based applications will be virtualized. This inevitability heightens the imperative that organizations begin to formally develop a virtualization plan instead of ad hoc test and dev deployments. Establishing best practices today will serve to ensure that virtualizing Oracle will be both profitable and less risky down the road.


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