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Practical tips for deploying Oracle and open source

It's high time that companies started evaluating open source software in the same manner that they do proprietary offerings, according to speakers at Oracle OpenWorld.

If you're choosing between "open source" and "closed source" to meet your company's needs, stop -- because there's no need to differentiate the two anymore, according to speakers at last week's Oracle OpenWorld conference.

It's important to remember that Linux and open source applications are "just other pieces" of software that should be put through virtually the same evaluation process as their proprietary counterparts, Steve Helle, chief technology officer of NextAction Corp., and Keith Majkut, a senior IT manager with Monster Worldwide, told OpenWorld attendees.

Helle and Majkut, who recently led migrations from Oracle-on-Windows to Oracle-on-Linux at their respective companies, said there is a tendency to put open source into a category of its own and deploy without going through the proper steps. Oftentimes, they said, this is the result of the liberal use of the word "free" and can result in wasted time and money.

"Don't get sucked into free. It's not always better," said Majkut. "We've had a lot of success with open source and we've had a lot of success with [proprietary] applications."

When evaluating open source you should look at the same issues that you'd consider with proprietary offerings, including whether it's stable and secure, the fine print on the licensing literature and the software's longevity, Majkut explained.

When it comes to support, Majkut said, consider if the open source project or product is supported by a community of users or a company with a support staff and the associated labor and financial costs. Perhaps more importantly, think about which method fits in best with your organization, he added.

Majkut said that the Oracle-faithful should also consider how well the open source project in question interacts with the Oracle database.

Helle told the class that his company's migration to Oracle-on-Linux was designed to help it support ever-increasing amounts of data. The migration began in March 2004 when he realized that Microsoft SQL Server running on Windows couldn't scale efficiently enough to meet the needs of the Westminster, Colo.-based database modeling company.

"I was skeptical about managing multi-terabyte databases on a Windows platform," Helle said.

Following an evaluation process, the company dumped Microsoft for Oracle Database 10g running on Suse Linux. The entire process took six months, during which time NextAction also moved off direct attached storage in favor of an HP-based storage area network.

Helle said he actually considered moving to an open source database management application like MySQL, but ultimately chose Oracle instead for its partitioning capabilites, which he said are essential.

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"I was amazed at how far MySQL had come," he said. "[But] we've got 1,200 clients. We have one client [for which] we're getting ready to load a partition that by itself can have 1 billion transactions and 40 million customer names and addresses."

Helle said he didn't have any negative preconceptions about open source Linux going into the project.

"I don't really see a whole lot of difference between [Linux] and other platforms," he said. "It's very much as controlled as a Windows environment or Solaris."

Some attendees still considering Linux

When Helle and Majkut polled the audience to see how many were actually running Oracle with Linux, about a third raised their hands. Other attendees at the show said they were there investigating the possibility of a move to Linux.

This was the case for Steve Delfino, a Unix administrator with Redback Networks, a San Jose, Calif.-based networking firm.

Redback runs Oracle with Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system, and Delfino said he was there to "see where Oracle is going" with Linux. He said that while there is some interest in moving to Linux, some of his firm's DBAs are still concerned about the operating system's level of stability.

"Stability is pretty much the only thing that Sun has going for it these days," Delfino said.

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