As Published In

Oracle Magazine
July/August 2010

COVER FEATURE


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.”

Cloud
Oracle Virtualization
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Virtualization Needs Planning

Virtualization requires good planning, a reliable infrastructure, and a solid management strategy. But the payoffs can be bigfrom 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. 


Snapshots


 The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
jhuapl.edu
Location:
Laurel, Maryland
Industry:
Research and development
Employees: 5,200
Oracle products and services:
Oracle Database, Oracle Real Application Clusters, Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle business intelligence solutions, PeopleSoft applications, Oracle Application Server, Oracle Solaris, Oracle VM, Oracle Enterprise Linux, Oracle Insight

 

 Parks Victoria
parkweb.vic.gov.au
Location:
Melbourne, Australia
Industry:
Public sector
Employees:
1,200
Oracle products and services:
Oracle Database, Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle Spatial, Oracle VM, Oracle Enterprise Manager, Oracle Enterprise Linux, Oracle Hyperion solutions, Oracle Enterprise Linux support, Oracle Advanced Customer Services

Focused on the conservation of natural resources, Parks Victoria is also required by law to operate in an environmentally sound fashion—even when it comes to IT. As a result, when Parks Victoria undertook an upgrade to its 15-year-old Oracle stack, it opted to adopt a virtualized infrastructure approach.

“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.” 

Next Steps


READ more about
 Oracle’s virtualization strategy

Download
 Oracle Database 11g Release 2
 Oracle Enterprise Linux and Oracle VM
 Oracle Solaris

For Parks Victoria, the move to virtualization has delivered on its key promise of flexibility and help in reducing the number of potential servers the organization needs to deploy to support dynamically changing business requirements. The adoption of Oracle VM enabled Parks Victoria to reduce physical server numbers, lower the amount of electricity needed to power and cool this hardware, and minimize the organization’s carbon footprint. Coupled with Oracle Automatic Storage Management, virtualization has also led to improvements in performance and availability, shortened backup windows, and reduced server provisioning times.

“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.

 


From the Desktop to Datacenter


With the acquisition of Sun, Oracle now has a complete virtualization solutions portfolio that can virtualize and manage your full hardware and software stack, from applications to disk.

Desktop virtualization. Virtualizing the desktop, which separates an individual desktop environment from a physical machine so that all the programs, applications, processes, and data used are kept and run centrally, improves security, reliability, maintenance costs, and manageability. Oracle has four products to support desktop virtualization.

 

  • Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure provides a solution for managing, hosting, and providing access to virtualized desktop operating systems hosted in the datacenter.
  •  Oracle Secure Global Desktop provides secure access to centralized, server-hosted Windows, UNIX, mainframe, and midrange applications from client devices such as Windows PCs, Mac OS X systems, Oracle Solaris workstations, Linux PCs, and thin clients. Oracle Secure Global Desktop also provides access to full-screen desktop environments, allowing administrators to use a single solution to provide access to both server-based applications and server-hosted desktop environments.

  •  Oracle’s Sun Ray Clients are low-cost devices that display server-hosted virtual desktops. They work with Sun Ray Software and/or with Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Sun Ray Software offers Oracle Solaris or Linux desktop sessions and can make remote connections to Windows Terminal Server (without Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure). Thus Sun Ray thin clients can offer virtual desktops through Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure and Oracle Solaris, Linux, or Windows Terminal Server sessions directly through Sun Ray Software.

  •  Oracle VM VirtualBox enables desktop or laptop computers to run multiple operating systems simultaneously, allowing users to get the most flexibility and use from their PCs. Oracle VM VirtualBox supports many host and guest operating systems and provides high performance and support for virtual appliances.


Server virtualization. Server virtualization masks server resources, including processors and operating systems, from server users. The administrator uses a virtual machine or virtualization at the operating system layer to divide one physical server into multiple isolated virtual instances. Oracle has three products for server virtualization.

 

  • Oracle VM Server for x86 supports both Oracle and non-Oracle applications and Oracle Enterprise Linux, Solaris x86, and Windows operating systems and provides a single point of support for entire virtualization environments, including Oracle Database, Oracle Fusion Middleware, and Oracle Applications, as well as Sun Servers and Sun Storage, which are certified with Oracle VM. Oracle VM Templates deliver rapid software deployment and eliminate installation and configuration costs by providing preinstalled and preconfigured software images. 
  • Oracle VM Server for SPARC provides virtualization capabilities for Sun SPARC Enterprise T-series servers with chip multithreading technology, which allows up to 128 virtual servers to be created on one system. 
  • Oracle Solaris Containers allow organizations to have many virtual partitions within a single Oracle Solaris instance. Each container appears to the user as a separate operating system (OS) instance but provides simplified management because all partitions reside in one OS instance. Containers are ideal for consolidating many applications but with very little overhead. 
  • Dynamic Domains are hardware partitions in Oracle’s Sun SPARC Enterprise M-series servers. Dynamic Domains are completely fault-, service-, resource-, and security-isolated partitions that are ideal for consolidating a wide variety of applications onto a single server, thereby improving system utilization. They can be resized dynamically to meet changing workload requirements.


Virtualized storage. Storage virtualization hides, abstracts, or isolates the functions of a storage system from applications, hosts, or network services to enable network-independent management of storage or data. Virtualization can be applied to storage devices to aggregate functions or devices. Oracle has many solutions for storage virtualization.

 

  • Sun Storage , including tape and disk solutions, supports heterogeneous environments and enables cost-effective virtual storage infrastructures. 
  • Oracle Automatic Storage Management is an interface that is consistent across all server and storage platforms. As a vertically integrated file system and volume manager, Oracle Automatic Storage Management provides the performance of asynchronous I/O with the easy management of a file system. 
  • Oracle Exadata Storage Server combines Oracle’s smart storage software and Sun hardware to deliver database storage performance. 
  • The Oracle VM Storage Connect Framework feature provides integrated server and storage management and isolation between the underlying storage arrays and Oracle VM.

 


Virtualization and Oracle Solaris


The Oracle Solaris operating system has innovative features that help customers meet business and technical requirements such as lower costs, simplified system administration, and high service levels—and it’s part of the stack that companies can use to build a virtualized environment. According to John Fowler, executive vice president of systems at Oracle, the Oracle Solaris operating system will be strengthened technically, even as the role of Oracle Solaris grows as virtualization is more heavily adopted.

“One of the great things about joining Oracle is that now we’re able to invest and make Oracle Solaris the best possible environment for running Oracle applications, by working on everything from security to performance to reliability,” says Fowler. A key focus of that planned investment is virtualization.

“Oracle Solaris is designed from the ground up to incorporate virtualization,” says Fowler. “It’s been designed to operate at very high levels of scale, to give world-class reliability, and to allow you to implement a world-class security environment at levels used by military and intelligence departments.”

Fowler points to Oracle Solaris Containers, part of the Oracle Solaris functionality, which allow organizations to virtualize applications with very high performance. In addition, he says, Oracle’s support for Oracle Solaris and Oracle Enterprise Linux is unique.

“You can run a mixture of Oracle Solaris and Linux across both x86 and SPARC servers and have a common set of management tools and infrastructure that runs across all of them, while ensuring that Oracle applications run on top of them,” says Fowler. “It’s a unique story in the industry that HP, IBM, Dell, and others can’t match.”

The Oracle Solaris team has been working on the next revision of the operating system.

“This upgrade will be major and revolutionary, just as the Solaris 10 upgrade was in 2005,” says Fowler. “We’re reinventing everything from packaging to core scalability and reliability features.

Oracle Solaris is a leading platform for Oracle Database, and Oracle is investing extensively in core technologies around Oracle Solaris to provide even more robust, reliable, and high-performance options for customers.”

 


Making the Most of the Desktop


Desktop virtualization using Sun Ray technology can make a huge impact on workflow. In medical offices or hospitals, for example, doctors or other medical technicians using Sun Ray technology can move electronic patient records from bedside to lab to office without breaking stride.

This capability is enabled by the Sun Ray thin-client and server functionality, including the use of Java smartcards. This combination results in “hot desking”—the capability to access instantly the doctor’s session from any Sun Ray Client. The smartcard allows a doctor to begin a session in the patient’s exam room by inserting the smartcard into the Sun Ray Client. The doctor takes notes or shows the patient an X-ray or test results. When the exam is completed and the patient needs to dress, the doctor suspends the session on the server by removing the smartcard and returns to the office or lab, where the session can be restarted at the same place by inserting the smartcard into another Sun Ray Client.

This functionality is possible because data is stored and processed on the server, so critical information or applications are maintained and secured at a central location. Thus, sensitive information would not be lost, for example, if a laptop were stolen. Moreover, two layers of authentication—a login/password and the smartcard, which can be the doctor’s badge—meet Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other patient-data security regulations.

In addition to improving ease of use, Sun Ray architecture also helps reduce IT management overhead. Regular PC upgrades, maintenance, and repair usually require that medical personnel will lose some time waiting for these changes. Sun Ray Clients are never managed individually but with Sun Ray Software or Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Large user communities, including hospitals with thousands of Sun Ray Client devices, can be managed from a single interface, reducing management overhead.

“Using Oracle’s healthcare or other specialized software, hospitals and clinics—or call centers, financial institutions, retail firms, or other industries—can have a full stack solution,” says Wim Coekaerts, senior vice president of Linux and virtualization engineering at Oracle. Starting with Sun Ray thin-client hardware on the front end connecting to Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or Sun Ray Software-based sessions, which then connect to Oracle healthcare applications running against Oracle Database on Oracle Solaris or Oracle Enterprise Linux on top of Oracle servers and storage means that companies have ease of simplified integration, says Coekarts.


 


David A. Kelly ( dkelly@upsideresearch.com ) is a business, technology, and travel writer who lives in West Newton, Massachusetts.


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