The Virtual Enterprise
By David A. Kelly
From desktop to datacenter, Oracle offers a complete virtualization solution.
“Oracle VM has helped companies achieve their virtualization objectives, but now with the combination of Sun and Oracle solutions, we have the most-complete desktop-to-datacenter virtualization and the most-complete integration management and support,” says Edward Screven, chief corporate architect at Oracle. “If you choose that single stack from Oracle, you have one single place to call for support. We think that’s a big win for the customer.”
Virtualization Needs Planning
Virtualization requires good planning, a reliable infrastructure, and a solid management strategy. But the payoffs can be big—from server consolidation and lower energy costs to better hardware utilization. And with even bigger payoffs in the form of IT flexibility, agility, and efficiency, virtualization can also mean a path to the future.
“Cloud computing is forcing people to step back and think about what it means for their infrastructure in the longer term,” says Al Gillen, program vice president of system software at IDC. “They want to make sure that whatever new systems they deploy will be compatible with future infrastructure architectures. Any organization that wants to adopt cloud computing really needs to adopt virtualization first.”
Gillen says that the biggest change with virtualization over the past few years is that the solutions have both matured and gotten less expensive. “Virtualization technologies are packaged for consumption today in a way that they simply weren’t even two years ago,” he says.
The question for many companies, of course, is where to start. A good place is by understanding that there can be many aspects to virtualization, depending on technology infrastructure and corporate strategy. In fact, longtime Oracle solutions such as Oracle Real Application Clusters (Oracle RAC) provide virtualization capabilities, as do new features such as instance caging and server pooling in Oracle Database 11g Release 2. Organizations can also advance to hypervisor-based solutions such as Oracle VM, or virtualization built into the operating system such as Oracle Solaris Containers.
But virtualization isn’t just about servers any more. With new solutions, organizations can virtualize everything from desktops (to increase security or decrease deployment issues) to storage (for increased performance, reliability, and flexibility). (See the sidebar “ From the Desktop to Datacenter,” below.)
A successful virtualization strategy requires organizations to take an integrated approach to both virtualization and management. IDC’s Gillen highlights the importance of management when it comes to deploying a successful virtualized environment.
“If an organization isn’t using systems management tools in a fairly comprehensive and consistent manner, it really needs to start, because that’s one dimension that goes hand-in-hand with virtualization,” says Gillen. “You really shouldn’t virtualize your infrastructure without putting together a good management plan as well.”
Virtualization: Innovation Based on Experience
Maintaining performance in times when resources could fluctuate was important for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which has been on the cutting edge of research and development since it was founded in the 1940s. One of several federally funded, university-affiliated research and development centers across the country, APL has a long heritage of creating innovative technologies for the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, and other government agencies. Today the organization is moving toward a virtualized IT infrastructure based on Oracle technology.
“We have a reputation for being an innovator and leader in technical areas, and we operate in the role of trusted advisor to the U.S. government,” says Raymond Payne, principal systems architect, Oracle infrastructure, at APL. “We have a very large footprint of Oracle technology, so it’s a natural fit that we use Oracle technology to support our critical business infrastructure and applications.”
APL has deployed everything from Oracle Database and Oracle RAC to Oracle business intelligence solutions, Oracle’s PeopleSoft applications, and Oracle Application Server. When APL was considering changes to its technical infrastructure, the organization used the Oracle Insight program to help match its future architecture to its business needs. One recommendation that came out of the study was to increase its use of x86-based servers running Linux. As a result, APL embraced the idea of a core computing infrastructure built around low-cost hardware running Oracle Enterprise Linux.
“Oracle’s one-stop approach with its Unbreakable Linux support made Oracle Enterprise Linux a viable operating system platform for our enterprise applications,” says Payne.
Since then, APL has done two Oracle Insight implementation studies on virtualization. One focused on using virtualization for the technical infrastructure side of its operations; the other focused on using a virtualized environment for the deployment of applications.
“Virtualization allows us to consolidate some of our legacy applications into a single, Oracle E-Business Suite-centric approach,” says Payne.
For APL, a key driver in adopting virtualization was the recognition that in the future, the demand for computing resources would fluctuate greatly. If the organization wanted to react as quickly as its needs dictated, a commodity server-based architecture that could be expanded efficiently and cost effectively would be necessary.
“Virtualization provides us with significant benefits in terms of being able to respond quickly to our development team’s need for more resources or more-isolated resources,” says Payne. “We’ve effectively been provisioning virtual private clouds since before they became popular.”
Payne says that in the past, supplying the hardware and infrastructure environments for its development teams as quickly as they needed them was almost impossible. Specific development footprint needs for projects would rise and fall over the course of a project. “Now, by using virtualization—and Oracle VM specifically—we can address those changing infrastructure needs very quickly,” says Payne.
APL is also leveraging prepackaged VM Templates from Oracle to help deliver virtualized solutions even faster.
“With the Oracle Virtual Machine, we can use existing Oracle VM Templates to build fully blown, fully installed, fully configured environments to support specific new technologies or development requirements,” says Payne. “We can simply grab a template and have a fully deployable system very quickly. Also, the ability to create our own templates is something we’re just getting started with, but we think it will be a key capability for us moving forward.”
For example, APL recently needed to evaluate the talent acquisition and management portions of Oracle’s PeopleSoft 9.1 applications. In the past, several weeks typically would have been needed to get an application administrator and DBA engaged and involved, to procure the necessary hardware, and to configure and deploy a suitable environment. Virtualization simplified that process.
“We used a prepackaged Oracle VM Template for PeopleSoft, downloaded it into the Oracle VM environment, and by the end of the second day we were able to deliver a fully functional PeopleSoft 9.1 environment to the development team for evaluation,” says Payne. “It saved us significant time.”
Payne says that the investment in defining, deploying, and managing virtualization pays off with a solid return. “In the end it’s worth the challenge and effort,” he says.
Flexibility and Performance
Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, Parks Victoria is the statutory authority for managing close to 4 million hectares of Victoria’s parks and reserves, as well as numerous bays and rivers—altogether, 17 percent of the total landmass of the state. The organization is tasked with protecting Victoria’s natural heritage while also meeting the needs of visitors.
“When we decided to deploy Oracle E-Business Suite 12 as a fresh install and implement Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition and Oracle’s Hyperion solutions, we first thought we’d need to purchase 16 new servers,” says Willem Popp, enterprise architect and support manager at Parks Victoria. That would have been a big investment. The servers would have been expensive to buy, and the hardware and the racks to house the servers wouldn’t fit in the Parks Victoria server room. The electricity required to power and cool the servers would have been significant as well, increasing the size of the organization’s carbon footprint.
“Parks Victoria is a green organization, and we need to maintain our green credentials,” Popp says. “That’s one reason we’ve been pushing for virtualization across our infrastructure. Because Oracle has a solution in this space, we could standardize on the Oracle VM platform.”
The organization decided to virtualize its operation and now runs its Oracle E-Business Suite environments, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition implementation, and Hyperion environments on 16 virtualized servers managed by Oracle Enterprise Manager. In the end, a total of 33 Oracle VM virtual servers were established to allow further expansion of Oracle projects, including Oracle Identity Management, Oracle Enterprise Manager 10g Grid Control, and other Oracle products.
“Oracle Enterprise Manager 10g Grid Control is a fantastic tool,” says Christine Varga, business systems analyst, Oracle applications, at Parks Victoria. “It simplifies some very complex tasks and has cut down on the time needed to manage the Oracle applications environment.”
The end result has been an IT environment that can be provisioned rapidly for new or changing business needs.
“In the past, it used to take 6 to 10 weeks to provision a physical server; with Oracle VM, we can have a virtual machine up and running in 35 minutes,” Varga says. “This is achieved by using Oracle VM Templates developed by Oracle Advanced Customer Services to Parks Victoria specifications, which delivers a consistent and reliable build every time. The ability to build guest servers rapidly is an advantage when we’ve had to move quickly to accommodate new business needs.”
In addition, with its virtualized environment, Parks Victoria can now manage maintenance work during business hours without impacting users. Using virtualization, the organization can migrate users and applications from one physical server to another, allowing it to take down physical servers as needed for upgrades or repairs.
The virtual environment runs on Oracle Enterprise Linux. “Basically, we wanted to consolidate our infrastructure, make sure all the elements interacted smoothly, and benefit from support from one provider,” says Varga. “The main benefit of using Oracle Unbreakable Linux support is that support was coming directly from the company building the software, so we were sure the resolutions would work as designed.”
Parks Victoria has also leveraged the capabilities of Oracle Automatic Storage Management to reduce database backup times and increase flexibility. “Oracle Automatic Storage Management automatically manages the way data is written to disk, addressing read/writes directly to raw disk,” says Shaun Levey, consultant DBA at Parks Victoria. “Since installing Oracle Automatic Storage Management, previous I/O problems were greatly reduced. One program that was taking 1.5 hours to back up can now be completed in 25 minutes.”
“The implementation of a virtual environment with Oracle VM has been very smooth,” says Levey. “It is very easy to quickly implement new servers, balance loads across multiple physical machines, and migrate guest servers to different physical hosts. Moreover, virtualization has enabled us to do some innovative things without incurring huge expenses.”
The virtualization project has been so successful that the organization is planning to migrate its entire suite of corporate applications to the environment.
“Having an integrated Oracle infrastructure—from the operating system and enterprise applications to storage management and virtualized servers—really makes a lot of sense,” says Popp.
David A. Kelly ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is a business, technology, and travel writer who lives in West Newton, Massachusetts.