Consolidate. Compress. Control.By David Baum
Improve quality of service and reduce costs with Oracle Database 11g Release 2.
Demands on information systems are greater than ever. DBAs must manage more information and deliver that information to users with a high quality of service. They must reduce costs while deriving greater value out of existing investments. And they must execute all that while mitigating risk.
“There are three major things that organizations are faced with today,” says Andy Mendelsohn, senior vice president, Database Server Technologies, at Oracle. “Number one, IT needs to deliver the best information to the business, so managers can use that information to make the best business decisions. Number two, the business wants this to work 24/7. Number three, every budget is at best flat, but IT is being asked to do even more. So IT needs to get more efficient.”
Oracle Database 11g Release 2 provides a solid foundation that allows companies to address these challenges and control and manage their information more effectively. With Oracle Database 11g Release 2, businesses can increase application performance while consolidating their processing and storage infrastructures and using advanced data compression techniques to further reduce storage requirements.
Mendelsohn adds that the consolidation and compression features of Oracle Database 11g Release 2 can help organizations do more than deliver high quality of service. “We can help lower the cost of the servers underneath the databases by leveraging our grid technologies,” he says, “and we can help lower the cost of storage by leveraging our compression and partitioning technologies.”
Other new functionalities in Oracle Database 11g Release 2 simplify the addition, removal, and consolidation of clustered servers and eliminate idle redundancy in the data center. “Our maximum availability architecture allows customers to get the most return on their hardware investment by using redundant servers and storage not only to provide protection from failures but also to improve the performance of production systems,” Mendelsohn says.
In addition to simplifying clustering and high-availability technologies, Oracle Database 11g Release 2 delivers new technologies for DBAs. “We’re providing DBAs with a lot of automation technologies to make them much more productive,” Mendelsohn says.
Several companies have already seen the benefits of using Oracle Database 11g Release 2. Here’s how.
Banking on Reducing Costs
Like most large retail banks, Postbank Systems AG is finding innovative ways to reduce the cost of doing business. For Jens-Christian Pokolm and other employees in Postbank Systems’ IT department, cost-cutting measures include consolidating their database infrastructure, deploying standardized installations of Oracle Real Application Clusters (Oracle RAC), and simplifying routine database administration and maintenance chores.
“The cheapest CPU is the CPU you don’t have to buy,” says Pokolm, a database architect at Postbank Systems, which has more than 100 terabytes of data in Oracle databases. “With Oracle Database 11g Release 2, we’re seeing faster I/O for the storage system and quicker processing for large queries. This means we don’t need as many CPUs to perform large processing tasks.”
Postbank Systems is just one of many companies that beta-tested Oracle Database 11g Release 2. The bank was especially interested in discovering how Oracle Database 11g Release 2 might improve on its query-processing capabilities.
Postbank Systems requires powerful query-processing capabilities to identify likely customers for new bank products and services—commonly called segment marketing. Marketing personnel typically target customers based on their bank balance, income, family size, and whether they rent or own their primary residence, among other variables. Identifying these market segments entails drilling down to extract the correct records from the bank’s data warehouse.
“Out of 14 million customers, we might target 60,000,” says Pokolm. “This is a huge processing task that is now up to 30 percent faster with Oracle Database 11g Release 2.”
Postbank attributes these performance gains, in part, to automatic in-memory parallel execution of queries. Oracle Database 11g Release 2 can determine the optimal degree of parallelization for a query based on the available resources. The database also automatically partitions a large compressed table (or a smaller noncompressed table) into the available memory across all the servers in an Oracle grid. The database then localizes parallel query processing to the data in memory on the individual nodes.
Best of all, says Pokolm, there’s no need to monitor these database functions, because the parallelism is controlled by the database kernel. “Based on the query that is submitted, the database uses all available CPUs to make sure you get the best results,” he says.
Server and Storage Consolidation
As database efficiencies improve, Postbank Systems can simplify its Oracle RAC configurations by reducing the number of servers and storage devices it needs. For example, previously Postbank Systems had to install three storage subsystems behind every high-availability cluster. With the Oracle Automatic Storage Management functionality of Oracle Database 11g Release 2, the bank is reducing storage installation and administration time by 20 to 30 percent.
Oracle Automatic Storage Management automates the striping and mirroring of a database, eliminating the need to purchase third-party volume-management software. As data volumes increase, additional disks can be added, and Oracle Automatic Storage Management will automatically restripe and rebalance the data across available disks to ensure optimal performance. Similarly, disks that report errors can be removed from the disk array, and Oracle Automatic Storage Management will readjust data accordingly. Now the Oracle Automatic Storage Management Cluster File System, a new feature of Oracle Database 11g Release 2, enables Oracle Automatic Storage Management to be used as a volume manager and automatically manages all operating system files (previously it managed database files only).
In Oracle Automatic Storage Management, configuration agents help control disk groups graphically, and Pokolm finds this method much easier to control. “These tasks were formerly left to our DBAs, but now the UNIX administrators can do them as well,” he says.
In addition to the changes in Oracle Automatic Storage Management, Pokolm likes the Oracle Database 11g Release 2 improvements in Oracle Scheduler, which can automatically alert administrators to a fault situation; Automatic Block Repair; and Policy-Based Cluster and Capacity Management, which allocates and reassigns capacity based on policies that the user defines. Policy-Based Cluster and Capacity Management enables dynamic capacity assignment and faster resource failover.
“You can configure baseline performance such that the clusterware will automatically start a new instance on another box to maintain service levels and ensure quality of service for end users,” he says. “Once you define your baseline, this is automatic.”
Advanced Compression Capabilities
Grupo Elektra, one of Latin America’s leading specialty retailers and financial services companies, is looking to Oracle Database 11g Release 2 to help solve the challenges of managing and using a large data warehouse. The company owns more than 1,000 stores in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, El Salvador, Panama, Argentina, and Brazil, from which it processes about 15 gigabytes of point-of-sale data on a daily basis. Grupo Elektra’s multiterabyte Oracle data warehouse supports many applications that business users rely on.
“Each day we acquire 50 to 60 million rows of XML data, as well as data from other operational databases on different platforms including Oracle, AS/400, and Microsoft SQL Server—in all, about seven sources of information—translate it to relational format, and update our Oracle data warehouse,” says Fernando Hernandez, DBA and manager of Grupo Elektra’s production data warehouse environment. “The volume of information that our company generates is expected to grow steadily for the foreseeable future.”
To help Grupo Elektra manage these extract, transform, and load (ETL) operations as well as to streamline query and reporting activities for more than 36,000 employees in multiple time zones, Hernandez is enthusiastic about the compression capabilities of Oracle Database 11g Release 2.
“Oracle Database 11g Release 2 lets us combine various compression options according to historical partitions, representing cold data versus hot data,” says Hernandez, adding that cold data refers to archival information, and hot data refers to frequently accessed production information.
The data warehouse is running on a three-node Sun Solaris cluster with Oracle Database, Oracle RAC, and Oracle Automatic Storage Management. By using the compression and partitioning technologies of Oracle Database 11g Release 2 in this environment, Grupo Elektra has dramatically improved performance for update statements, aggregate queries, and other essential database operations. Hernandez gives an example: “Multitable joins with complex group-by operations that used to take 45 seconds now take less than 10 seconds,” he says.
In part, Hernandez says that this performance improvement has been achieved with online transaction processing (OLTP) table compression. A feature of Oracle Advanced Compression, OLTP table compression allows data to be compressed during all types of data manipulation operations. The savings cascade through the enterprise, because backups and copies of the databases also use less storage.
“Obviously I like the storage savings,” Hernandez says, but he sees other possibilities for the compression technologies, as well. “With compressed data, we can reduce the size of the database, which saves time doing backups,” he says. “And we can perform a lot of activities in less time—testing and development, for example—for which we need to export and import a lot of information.”
Hernandez also reports seeing consequent memory savings, because each block on the disk drive can deliver more data to memory during I/O operations. And because Grupo Elektra plans to migrate its massive database, Hernandez says compressing the information beforehand will significantly reduce the migration time and therefore the downtime for the data warehouse.
All of these improvements put Grupo Elektra further on the road to success, Hernandez says. “Oracle gives us the performance, stability, and the response times that we need,” says Hernandez. “When we moved to Oracle Database, we started a history of success.”
Controlling Demand and Capacity
XIUS-bcgi, a division of Megasoft Limited, wants to improve Busy Hour Call Attempts (BHCA), a telecommunications metric that refers to the number of telephone calls attempted at the busiest hour of the day. This measurement is important to mobile operators because it helps them determine how much capacity they need on their voice and data networks.
“The higher the BHCA, the higher the stress on the network processors and on our mobile telephone clients,” says Satyendra Kumar, chief database architect at XIUS-bcgi’s Global Delivery Headquarters in Hyderabad, India. “We continually strive to improve the BHCA capacity of our platforms,” says Kumar, who is also the cofounder of the All India Oracle Users Group and serves as its vice president. “Thanks to Oracle Database 11g Release 2 features such as Zero Downtime Patching for Oracle RAC and Automated Application Failover in Oracle Data Guard configurations, we can provide unmatched availability to our customers.”
XIUS-bcgi relies on Oracle RAC, Oracle Automatic Storage Management, and Oracle Data Guard to increase the scalability and performance of its products. “With application failover in Oracle Data Guard configurations, our applications can transparently fail over to a new primary database, and Oracle Active Data Guard will help us offload major queries to a standby database and reduce the load on the primary database,” he says.
When it comes to managing telecommunications solutions, Kumar finds that the Oracle Database 11g Release 2 enhancements to Oracle Enterprise Manager capabilities for clusterware resource management have made a big difference.
“The enhancements to Oracle Enterprise Manager reduce the downtime required for maintenance, ease daily management, and improve the performance of the overall Oracle RAC environment,” Kumar says.
Oracle Enterprise Manager also provides a graphical user interface (GUI) to manage the Oracle Automatic Storage Management Dynamic Volume Manager and Oracle Automatic Storage Management Cluster File System as part of Oracle Automatic Storage Management. The GUI makes it easier to manage the environment, whether it is a standalone server or a cluster deployment of Oracle Automatic Storage Management. The centralized console provides a consistent interface for managing volumes, database files, and file systems as well as Oracle databases.
Easier to Use
There are also significant ease-of-management improvements in Oracle RAC for Oracle Database 11g Release 2. Industry analyst Carl Olofson, a research vice president at IDC responsible for information management, data integration, and software research, says that Oracle has made steady progress in enhancing Oracle RAC so that it is easier to set up and administer. “You no longer need special knowledge in building database clusters, cluster file systems, and so forth,” he says.
XIUS-bcgi’s Kumar agrees. “The new features for Oracle Clusterware upgrades, management, and recovery have become easy and require a lower degree of DBA expertise,” he says. “Moreover, the ease of management of the entire stack of database and clusters helps us to reduce costs for operation personnel.”
What Kumar values most in the improvements to Oracle Database 11g Release 2, though, is how key new functionality—from Zero Downtime Patching for Oracle Clusterware and Oracle RAC to Oracle Enterprise Manager-based clusterware resource management—will improve customer service. “Above all, it helps us to proactively monitor and troubleshoot issues for our customers,” he says.
All of these features help XIUS-bcgi get the job done. “We chose Oracle because of its unmatched performance and Oracle RAC technology,” Kumar says. “Implementing Oracle RAC and Oracle Automatic Storage Management addresses all our business challenges, including scalability, performance, and manageability.”
Consolidation Yields Benefits
Like XIUS-bcgi, McKesson is looking to Oracle Database 11g Release 2 not only to improve its internal operations but also to improve the Oracle technology-based solutions it provides to customers. McKesson Provider Technologies (MPT), a division of McKesson Corporation, has almost 700 hospital clients running earlier versions of Oracle Database as part of its clinical, patient care, financial, supply chain, and strategic management software solutions. MPT has been using Oracle solutions internally, as well as supplying them to its customers since Oracle released Oracle7.
Due to federal regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), McKesson must manage an immense volume of data that needs to be stored securely for long periods of time while finding ways to minimize rising costs.
“We use Oracle technologies to secure, store, and access this information,” says Jay Caviness, a senior systems engineer and Oracle DBA for MPT. “Almost all of our new clients and most of our existing clients are adopting commodity x86 hardware running Linux. We’ve taken full advantage of Oracle RAC and Oracle Automatic Storage Management to create scalable, high-availability solutions for these clients.”
Caviness describes MPT’s newest offering, the McKesson Horizon Appliance, as a self-contained data center in a blade server chassis. “All of our Oracle applications, databases, application servers, and storage devices are hosted within the appliance with common, standardized interfaces,” he says.
Oracle Database 11g Release 2’s new storage capabilities will improve the McKesson Horizon Appliance even further. Caviness says the new Oracle Automatic Storage Management capabilities in Oracle Database 11g Release 2—including moving Oracle Cluster Registry and voting disks into Oracle Automatic Storage Management and Oracle Automatic Storage Management Cluster File System—will simplify configuration and management by reducing costs and minimizing maintenance chores.
“Oracle Automatic Storage Management Cluster File System is a huge feature,” Caviness says.
New capabilities in Oracle Database 11g Release 2 also simplify cluster management. Policy-Based Cluster and Capacity Management enables dynamic capacity assignment when needed to provide server capacity in accordance with the priorities set in policies.
“Because of the reduction in overhead provided by policy-managed databases and server pools in Oracle Database 11g Release 2, we can reduce total cost of ownership for these appliances by more than 33 percent,” Caviness says.
McKesson’s typical database implementation includes two or three clusters with two to four nodes per cluster. Caviness believes that Oracle RAC 11g will allow customers to consolidate these Oracle RAC installations into a single cluster with fewer nodes.
“Based on our extensive testing, Oracle Database 11g Release 2 simplifies the addition, removal, and provisioning of nodes a great deal,” he says. “The time that we formerly spent changing connection information for client software has been eliminated completely. Additionally, the new Grid Plug and Play features in Oracle Database 11g Release 2 simplify the addition and deletion of nodes in a cluster and make it easier to provision capacity to accommodate greater consolidation and future business growth.”
David Baum ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California