Can the DBA manage the Exadata machine?

Oracle's push to bundle its database, storage and hardware together presents a quandary for prospective buyers. Who manages it all?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle chairman Larry Ellison announced this week that the company sold 1,000 Exadata machines in the past year.

While it's set a lofty goal of selling another 3,000 in the coming year, use cases and best practices are still difficult to come by despite the sheer size of Oracle's customer base.

A question for any organization considering the big-ticket database machine is, who oversees it -- and what skills does an employee need? Bundling together storage, database, hardware and networking would seem to call for a wide range of IT skills.

"What really scares most of us -- and to be honest, me particularly -- is network management,"

Arup Nanda, principal database architect for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.

At a session  for database administrators (DBAs) at OpenWorld, Arup Nanda, principal database architect for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., explained that oversight of Exadata should fall to a new role, the database machine administrator (DMA), essentially a database administrator with a few additional skills.

"It's very difficult to coordinate across groups," he said. "You have to find a synergy of one skill set managing everything."

Nanda, an Oracle ACE, has installed an Exadata machine at Starwood and broke down the skills necessary for a DMA as follows:

  • System administration: 10%
  • Storage administration: 0%
  • Network administration: 5%
  • Database administration: 60%
  • Cell administration: 25%

Storage administration is irrelevant because Exadata does not require traditional storage commands, he said. Storage is Exadata-specific and does not rely on the existing skills of a traditional storage administrator. That's why Nanda set aside a separate skill set of cell administration. Additionally, the Linux skills required are not typical Linux administration and require only a smaller set of skills to manage Exadata.

"Most of us, if not all of us, know a little Linux commands," Nanda said.

To manage Exadata, he said DMAs need to know storage commands like the CellCLI command line interface, database nodes commands like ASM commands SQL*Plus, standard database commands like, startup and\ alter database.

"The only thing you don't know today is CellCLI; everything else you probably know," he said. "The question is, can I be a master of that?"

Additionally, it calls for some server management skills.

"Most of you have not done server management," Nanda told attendees at his DBA session. "But in server administration what you have to do is simple commands. Once in a while you'll get a patch from Oracle. That's a skill you probably never had to apply in the past. In DMA you have to know that. How much? Very little."

The same goes for network management, but since Exadata uses switched fabric communications link  InfiniBand, the networking angle is different -- and simpler, according to Nanda.

"What really scares most of us -- and to be honest, me particularly -- is network management," he said. "Fortunately, Oracle provides tools to manage this. It's designed for only one domain, Exadata. It's not for the entire operation. Its scope is only in the Exadata box itself."

In fact, according to Nanda, all the tools a DMA needs for network support can be found at Ora/opt/oracle.SupportTools. And the Exadata product manager promises more to come, Nanda added.

Turning DBAs into DMAs

"It worked very well for us," Nanda said. "We trained DBAs in these specific aspects. Was it difficult? No. If we can do it, so can you."

For those still worried, Nanda offered up some of the training he used at Starwood. He offers training in Linux command mastery and a four-part Exadata Command reference.

"If you put it all together, the bulk is the DBA," Nanda said. "In my opinion it makes a lot of sense for the DBAs to make up the skill-set differences to become the DMA."

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