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DBAs warm to Oracle's vision for application clusters

Attendees at OracleWorld in San Francisco are hearing a lot about what Real Application Clusters (RAC) running on Linux can do for them. asked a DBA already using the solution for his take on the technology.

SAN FRANCISCO -- DBA Leslie Henderson doesn't need Oracle 9i benchmark tests, happy Linux customer testimonials or a "RAC pack" T-shirt.

The Oracle professional from Austin, Texas, is already running Oracle9i Real Application Clusters (RAC) on Linux with an Intel platform, following a model that Oracle is pitching hard at its seventh annual OracleWorld technology event this week.

That means Henderson, who works for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, is one of the few people with a good explanation for skipping the Monday morning keynote, where the benefits of running Oracle9i RAC were a central theme.

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He may not have been asked to testify at OracleWorld, but Henderson has been a happy Oracle-Linux customer during the last year.

"It's doing what we want it to do," said Henderson, one of 23,000 Oracle professionals who descended on this city for the four-day technology showcase. "And we're fixin' to do more of it."

Had Henderson attended OracleWorld's opening address, he would have heard about Oracle-Linux solutions besting Microsoft's SQL Server in the categories of performance and price. Of course, IBM was also painted as a loser by Oracle. Officials from the Redwood Shores, Calif., database giant said that using Intel-based clustered servers running Linux is less expensive and faster than implementing Linux on IBM's z800. Running Oracle on Linux is also a better bet than running Oracle on Windows, according to Oracle chief marketing officer Mark Jarvis.

RAC technology, offering higher availability and less downtime, figures prominently in Oracle's attempt to convince IT buyers to spend now in order to save money later.

RAC runs on top of a hardware cluster, a group of independent servers designed to cooperate as a single system. With RAC, an application does not have to be rewritten or reprogrammed to run concurrently on multiple servers. Recognizing an application, Oracle 9i reconfigures and balances the load across nodes. RAC can run on most any computing platform, but the Red Hat Linux Advanced Server operating systems, which can be run on Intel processors, is being marketed by Oracle as the least expensive and most efficient RAC implementation.

Balancing loads was among Henderson's key objectives when he got started last year on his RAC project. He is one of the 750 Oracle customers running 9i RAC technology and among the more than 100 customers who implemented the solution on Linux.

"RAC just seemed the best solution from the standpoint of maintenance issues, and lack of deployment obstacles," Henderson said. "And Linux is going to be a strong player."

Tom Hauck is a DBA at San Diego-based KP onCALL, a division of Oakland-based HMO Kaiser Permanente that runs a call center staffed by nurses for patients with medical inquiries and emergencies. He attended the OracleWorld session "Running your applications on Oracle9i RAC" to find out what RAC couldn't do for him.

"I had a lot of misconceptions about RAC," said Hauck, leaving the session. Among other things, Oracle's RAC technical manager Kirk McGowan told session attendees that RAC is not a guarantee that database performance will be enhanced. "He's saying it's not going to help performance if your database performance in not pushed to the max now," Hauck said. "That's good to know."

Database analyst Carl Olofson of Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp., whose "inclination is [to] be wary of benchmark tests presented by vendors," does think the RAC concept makes sense.

One challenge facing RAC is the learning curve in managing the clusters, he said. "And also the system configurations are a little different than a normal database system," Olofson said. "They require a lot more memory."

"The other issue that comes up has to do with the relationship between the clustered servers and the backup storage," he said. "When you cluster servers that share the same storage, you have to do a little work so that multiple servers can access the same storage resource."

As with all new technology, Olofson said: "There's nothing magic about this. It delivers a benefit that is probably real. It also comes down to the details of how you actually use it."

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