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 Oracle RAC Implementation and Learning Curve
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Oracle 11g Grid & Real Application Clusters by Rampant TechPress is written by four of the top Oracle database experts (Steve Karam, Bryan Jones, Mike Ault and Madhu Tumma).  The following is an excerpt from the book.


RAC is a complex system to implement.  In the authors’ experience, most companies require a consultant to come in to help plan the move to RAC and for the actual installation itself.  There are many different pieces to the RAC environment from networking to disk drives to clusterware to Oracle itself.  On top of that, there are some costly disk requirements.


In order to implement a RAC system, a shared storage device is required.  A single instance database can use Direct Attached Storage (DAS), which is an array of inexpensive disks connected to a single server.  A SAN (Storage Area Network) is much more expensive and is capable of connecting to many servers, usually through fibre-channel connections.  This requires a unique set of hardware ranging from Host Bus Adapters (HBA), a fabric switch, to the SAN itself, and it can get very costly.


Redundancy can also be costly.  Most administrators require redundancy within each server as well.  This means doubling up on hardware, and doubling the hardware equals double the cost.  For example, multiple Host Bus Adapters, multiple network cards, multiple power sources and more can be required.  The multiple HBA cards are used in case a single one fails, but this usually requires expensive software to manage.


Another cost is the network connection.  The RAC system requires a cluster interconnect in order to accommodate RAM-to-RAM transfers of data blocks.  This interconnect must be very fast, high bandwidth with low latency.  Interconnects, such as InfiniBand and Myrinet, can accommodate this but are very expensive.  Though RAC does provide horizontal scalability, if the cluster interconnect cannot handle the traffic, extra servers will actually degrade performance instead of helping it.  The only way around this issue is to change the entire application to accommodate RAC, or purchase other means of disk storage such as Solid State Disk.

Learning Curve

There is a definite learning curve when it comes to RAC.  Because of all the different components that make up a RAC environment, multiple levels of training may be required.


System Administrators will have to learn how to work with the disk resources.  Complex SAN environments such as EMC and NetApp can require training of their own.  In addition, Oracle RAC will only function when using specific disk setups such as ASM, OCFS, or a 3rd Party CFS, and the administrator will have to assist in setup.  Setting up and administering the hardware is no small task!


Network Administrators will have to learn how to work with the new interconnect.  If a specialized interconnect such as InfiniBand is used, training and consulting may be required.


Of all the staff, DBAs will have the greatest learning curve.  They will have to understand how to set up and administer clusterware, volume manager or the file system of choice, the RAC specific features of Oracle, and troubleshooting for clusters.  While this does not sound like much, it makes up many days of training, lots of trial and error, and even a little bit of “miracle work” at times.


As the manager, one may require training to deal with setting up training sessions, consulting, and dealing with employees with some great new marks on their resumes!

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