Why run Oracle E-Business on vSphere?

If I’ve got the dedicated hardware for my Oracle E-Business (EBS) install, why would I want to run it virtualized?

Most of the places I’ve seen typically have dedicated hardware for the Oracle EBS instances – so why virtualize it at all?

One major reason is the ability to rollback the entire environment in the event of a patching issue. My main client has an upcoming upgrade involving a database upgrades (11gR1 to 11gR2) OS level patches (updates to RedHat 5.4), Java updates (going to 1.6.0_20b5) and roughly 300 Oracle EBS patches. Yes, 300. Although we’re still staying at ATG RUP 7, Oracle recently updated their minimum patch list you must be on to be received Extended Support on Apps 11i as of Nov. You can find the full up to date list at Metalink document Minimum Baseline Patch Requirements for Extended Support on Oracle E-Business Suite 11.5.10 (Note 883202.1).

Without virtualization, I’d have to take a full backup of my Database and App Tiers before starting the upgrade and then be prepared to go back to these if we can’t finish the upgrade by a certain time. Depending on your environment, this could be hours, days or not even practical.

Instead, at the start of the upgrade I merely take a snapshot of each VM involved. If I do this with the VMs shut down (i.e. not capturing the memory state of the VM as well) this takes about 10 seconds. Done. In the event we decide to rollback all our upgrade changes, it’s just a quick Revert to the Snapshot (might take as long as a minute per VM – OMG, a whole minute!!), restart the Apps services and poof, you’re done.

If only the upgrades themselves were so easy and foolproof.

Another reason to virtualize is of course getting the best usage of your Oracle licenses. Oracle EBS requires Oracle Enterprise Edition. I’ve blogged previously here about how to do that so I won’t go into that here.

Avoid the RAC tax. According to Oracle’s most recent Global Price list, RAC is an additional $23k per processor on top of Enterprise Edition. RAC makes sense for companies in two situations – 1) When their database must not go down. 2) Systems too large to run on 1 physical box. Sure, there are some installations where EBS requires more horsepower than can be run under 8 processors (the limit of a VM under vSphere 4.0 Update 2), but they are the vast minority. Many companies running EBS that implement RAC because they want to be protected from hardware failures. VMware has two features that protect you here – High Availability (HA) which will restart your VM on another vSphere host if the VM goes down and the much cooler and more RAC like feature, Fault Tolerance (FT). FT will actually run your VM on two ESX hosts simultaneously. They work in an active / passive arrangement – you aren’t having users connecting to both machines and load balancing between the two machines, but instead all users are connecting to one machine and in the event it fails, user sessions and other processes and connections are now active on the other node. Your users don’t notice anything, no disconnections, no restarts, no autoconfig required. It just simply works. The current drawback to FT is that it’s currently limited to 1 CPU VMs – that’s reasonable in my experience with an Apps 11i Forms/Web tier, but can frequently be a show stopper with a database server. However, if you’re willing to leverage the performance tuning features of 11g, you may be able to get past that. It is also rumored that VMware is working on getting FT to work with multiple processor VMs. When they do that it should really put a dent in RAC. Before I started the leveraging the SQL tuning available in 11gR2 and SQL Profiles, my main client system ran with CPU as the constraint and had a pretty constant load of 4 CPUs. After tuning the SQL, CPU load occasionally spikes at over 1 CPU and typical CPU load is 0.5 processors. The system is now a prime candidate for FT. My limiter became disk I/O which we addressed with more spindles.

Creating a clone of an EBS system for development or testing can be a big pain. Almost always you’re talking about cloning 2 servers (DB and Apps tiers), running autconfig, canceling scheduled concurrent jobs, etc. With VMware Lab Manager, you can have your developers / analysts create linked clones of your Production environment in minutes. No need to run autoconfig, the systems show up with their same instance names, same machine names, etc. This is done behind the scenes by putting the cloned VMs in their own private network. Instead of your copy of PROD taking up 100GB or so for EBS executables and another XXX GB for the database itself, it’s merely just the size of the changes between your production environment and your cloned VM. I have yet to do this in my own environment, so I can’t speak from experience, but what I have seen has been impressive.

It’s been a few years and your server hardware needs to be replaced due to expensive support costs? In the physical world that means building up new database / App servers and having a downtime to copy everything over, reconfigure the networking (and possibly the machine names) and then hoping you aren’t running into some sort of unexpected problem (like the AMD time drift issue a few years back that caused Kernel Panics – see here )… or you could just install vSphere onto your new host, make it visible to your shared storage and vMotion your system live and in production to the new hardware. What’s not to love?

Who really does run Oracle EBS under VMware though? Small little companies? No. Two of my favorite examples are VMware and EMC. Both run Oracle EBS virtualized.

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