COMMENT: Analyst's Corner
Clustering Gains New MomentumBy David Baum
Companies of all sizes are turning to clusters for flexibility, availability, and speed.
Oracle Magazine spoke with Jean Bozman, research vice president in IDC's Worldwide Server Group, about the latest trends in clustering technology.
Oracle Magazine: Clustering technology has been with us for decades. Why is this technology experiencing such renewed interest?
Bozman: During the economic downturn between 2001 and 2003, many IT managers started buying smaller servers because they were easier to get through Purchasing. They soon discovered clustering as a way to harness those servers more effectively. Since then, technologies such as Oracle Real Application Clusters [Oracle RAC] have been developed to help people deploy clustered information systems and put them to work on critical workloads.
Oracle Magazine: What types of companies are adopting clustered information systems today?
Bozman: Clustering technology is pervasive across a variety of industries. Small, medium, and large companies all use it, partly because hardware and software vendors have made clusters relatively easy to deploy. They have also developed specific clustering technologies aimed at the small-and-medium-business market. We're especially seeing clusters in technical sectors such as scientific research and pharmaceuticals. The primary motivators are the need for high availability and the need for flexibility. You can add new nodes to a cluster very easily. Software such as Oracle RAC brings those servers online and makes the resources available automatically.
Oracle Magazine: What are the challenges associated with managing clustered information systems?
Bozman: Smaller companies are sometimes concerned that they don't have the proper IT skills to put together a clustered solution. They're afraid that they'll have to spend a lot of time writing custom scripts to cluster-enable their applications. That's partly because of their experience with earlier technologies. In the 1980s and 1990s, IT departments had to do a lot more capacity planning, configuring, and tuning to get these systems working.
Today people have many more deployment options, and preconfigured clusters are alleviating those concerns. Much of the tweaking and tuning has been automated. Companies can ramp up quickly and take advantage of highly advanced management tools that let managers see all the interrelated hardware and software components. If anything goes wrong—say, a hardware outage on one of the servers—you are notified automatically.
Oracle Magazine: How are clustered environments changing as these preconfigured systems become more advanced?
Bozman: We're seeing a wider array of operating systems being used. For example, companies can deploy clusters that are based on UNIX, Linux, or Windows environments. Additionally, today's businesses have much stricter uptime requirements, so the systems are much more resilient.
In the early days of clustering, it was generally OK if some servers went down for an hour. Organizations were able to tolerate these outages. Today, our expectations are higher because business operations are more heavily dependent on the network.
Oracle Magazine: How would you expect clustering technology to evolve in the future?
Bozman: The whole idea of clustering is to pool servers and storage devices to maximize the resources available to your business. Soon these virtual environments will include networking resources as well. The ultimate goal is to enable business applications to run at a higher level of abstraction. Oracle RAC, for example, can direct workloads to the correct set of processors and the correct amount of storage capacity. Even as we virtualize the hardware layer, I think clustering software will retain a vital role—especially when there is a need to protect business applications.
Oracle Magazine: How are the management tools for clustered information systems evolving?
Bozman: When it comes to systems management, some companies are now viewing the situation from the application down, rather than from the hardware up. The objective is to keep system administrators focused on the work the organization needs to get done, rather than on the IT infrastructure per se. That's where technologies such as Oracle RAC and Oracle Enterprise Manager will be very important.
David Baum (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.
IDC is a global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets.