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One big consolidated server or a bunch of clustered smaller ones?

We have a client that is weighing the pros and cons of building their back end on a big consolodated Sun server or a bunch of clustered smaller servers. One camp suggest/insists the centralized approach will ultimately be better because of the total cost, as well as level of effort to maintain. The other camp is drinking the distributed cool aid leveraging Oracle across a number of back end servers with OPS or RAC to facilitate the cluster and make it highly available with "no single point of failure." I can't help but answer you are both right! Do you know of any white papers that address this debate? Or do you have an opinion on this?

There are a number of sites that indirectly address this issue, but I've never seen one that hits it head on. The problem is that this is really a "people" issue, not a database or technology issue. If cost and efficiency are your driving considerations, a single server or cluster is both cheaper and at least marginally more efficient than a distributed solution. If reliability and availability are your driving consideration, scattering a number of non-homogeneous servers in geographically dispersed locations is much less likely to fail than a monolithic server, even under disaster conditions.

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