Oracle RAC design: The effects of component failure

This excerpt from the book "Oracle 10g Grid & Real Application Clusters" shows expert techniques used by real-world RAC professionals for designing a robust and scalable RAC system. This section provides a quick look at the effects of component failure.

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The proper design of a Real Application Clusters (RAC) environment is critical for all Oracle professionals. This book excerpt shows expert tips and techniques used by real-world RAC professionals for designing a robust and scalable RAC system.

This is an excerpt from the top RAC book Oracle 10g Grid & Real Application Clusters, by Mike Ault and Madhu Tumma. Click here to download the full chapter.

Introduction to grid design

This chapter focuses on the issues that must be considered when designing for RAC. The reasons for utilizing RAC must be well understood before a proper implementation can be achieved.

Essentially, there are only a couple of reasons to use RAC. RAC spreads the load across multiple servers, provides high availability and allows larger SGA sizes than can be accommodated by a single Oracle10g instance, on Windows2000 or Linux implementations, for example.

The most stringent design requirements come from the implementation of high availability. A high-availability (HA) RAC design must have no single point of failure, a transparent application failover and reliability, even in the face of disaster at the primary site. A HA design requires attention to equipment, software and the network. This three-tier approach can be quite daunting to design.

What are the effects of component failure?

This section will provide a quick look at the effects of component failure.

Failure of the Internet or intranet

While not a component that a DBA usually has control over, failure of the Internet connection, usually due to the provider having a failure, means no one outside the company can access the application. Failure of the intranet or internal networks means no one inside the company can access the application. These components, usually comprised of multiple components, should also have built in redundancy.

Failure of the firewall

The firewall acts as the gatekeeper between the company's assets and the rest of the world. If the database is strictly internal with no connection to the Web, a firewall is not needed. If there is only one firewall, a failure will prevent anyone outside the firewall, such as the rest of the universe, from contacting the database. Internal users, those inside the firewall, may still have access and some limited processing can occur.

Failure of the application server

The application server usually serves the Web pages, reports, forms or other interfaces to the users of the system. If there is only a single application server and it goes down, even if the database is fully functional, there is no application to run against it. A failed application server without redundancy means no one can use the database, even if all other components are still functional. This also applies to single Web cache servers or OC4J servers.

Failure of the database server

The failure of the database server is the one failure that is taken care of in a normal RAC configuration. Failure of a single database server leads to failover of the connections to the surviving node. While not a critical failure that will result in loss of the system, a single server failure means a reduction in performance and capacity. Of course, a catastrophic failure of both servers will result in total loss of service.

The servers will have disk controllers or interfaces that connect through the switches to the SAN arrays. These controllers or interfaces should also be made redundant and have multiple channels per controller or interface. In addition, multiple network interface cards (NICs) should also be redundant, with at least a single spare to take the place of either the network connection card or the cluster interconnect should a failure occur.

Failure of the fabric switch

The fabric switch allows multiple hosts to access the SAN array. Failure of the fabric switch or other interconnect equipment can result in loss of performance or total loss of the application. If the SAN cannot be accessed, the database will crash and no one will be able to access it, even if all other equipment is functional.

SAN failure

SAN failure can come in many forms. Catastrophic failure will, of course, result in total loss of the database. Failure of a single drive, if there is no hot spare or if the hot spare has been utilized, will result in severe performance degradation, by as much as 400% to 1000%, in a RAID5 situation where the data on the failed drive has to be rebuilt on the fly from parity information stored on the other drives in the RAID5 set. Even if there is an available hot spare, it still takes time to rebuild this hot spare from the parity data on the other drives. During this rebuild, performance will suffer.

Usually, SANs are configured with disk trays or bricks of a specific number of drives. This is usually comprised of eight active and a single spare in each tray or brick. A single tray becomes an array, in the case of a RAID0+1 setup, the array will be striped across the eight drives and would be mirrored to another tray in the array. Failure of a RAID0+1 drive has little effect on performance, as its mirror drive takes over while the hot spare is rebuilt on an "on available" basis. In a RAID5 array, the eight drives are usually set up in a 7+1 configuration, meaning seven drives in a stripe set and one parity drive.

When a drive fails, there must be an immediate spare available to replace it, even if the hot spare is available. If the hot spare has already activated and a second drive is lost, the entire array is in jeopardy. Most of these arrays use hot pluggable drives, meaning they can, in time of failure, be replaced with the system running.

NICs and HBAs

Every component requires a connection to the others. This connection is usually via a network interface card (NIC) or host bus adapter (HBA) interface. These NIC or HBA interfaces should be the fastest possible, especially in the case of the cluster interconnect and disk connect. Failed NIC interfaces result in the loss of that component, unless a second NIC card is immediately failed over to. A failure of the HBA results in loss of connection to the disk array. At a minimum, a spare NIC and HBA for each and every component must be available. Wherever possible, use interchangeable NIC and HBA interfaces.

Provide redundancy at each level

It is easy to see that redundancy at the hardware level is vital. At each level of the hardware layout an alternate access path must be available. Duplicating all equipment and configuring the automatic failover capabilities of the hardware reduce the chances of failure to virtually nil. It is also critical to have spares on hand for non-redundant equipment such as NIC and HBA cards and interface cables.

By providing the required levels of redundancy, the system becomes highly available. Once there is an HA configuration, it is up to the manager to plan any software or application upgrades to further reduce application downtime. In Oracle Database 10g using grid control, rolling upgrades are supported, further increasing reliability. At the SAN level, appropriate duplication software such as Veritas must be used to ensure the SAN arrays are kept synchronous. Oracle Database 10g allows for use of the Oracle Automatic Storage Management or ASM. ASM allows for automated striping, backup and database flashback capability.

Click here to download the full chapter.

This was first published in August 2006
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