Fighting off RAC
February 20, 2008 10 Comments
As mentioned, my current client is upgrading from 9i Standard Edition on Windows to 11g Enterprise Edition on Linux.
The timeframe for this upgrade is quite aggressive. While normal development continues at a blistering pace, automated regression testing began part-time in January for an upgrade originally in March but now re-arranged for April.
Also in January, I was told that it had been decided that we would be going live on a 2-node RAC cluster. Alarm bells rang, sirens went off, I was bewildered as to how such a decision could be made.
This was a decision that management had apparently made in conjunction with the DBAs, with RAC sold as a black box database clustering solution with no question marks over its suitability.
There’s no architecture department/function and in terms of Oracle and databases, it’s a role I have previously filled elsewhere. I immediately went into overdrive, briefing against the wisdom of going to RAC before it was too late.
For us, there are numerous issues that I see with RAC:
- The first is the upgrade timeline. The proposal, in January, was that in March we would be changing hardware, changing OS, changing database version, changing database edition and now also moving to RAC. There are plenty of references out there that suggest RAC alone can take a few months to stabilise and to nail your proper configuration. For a business that was committed to a March (even April now) deadline, this seemed to be to be a big risk.
- Secondly, I am far convinced about the suitability of RAC for our system. It’s one thing for senior management to upgrade the business criticality of a system and give the greenlight for some spending to upgrade the platform. It’s another thing to upgrade your Ford Focus to a Ferrari only to stay stuck in the same commuting traffic. That’s my analogy of our system – lots of bad SQL, lots of statements that cope with 1001 different inputs, far too many lookups in functions called from SQL. At the end of the day there’s no getting away from the fact that our system has something like an average of 8 concurrent requests. Historically, it has been maxed out or close to being maxed out on CPU because the SQL is bad.
- More importantly, I remain very concerned about the suitability of RAC for the profile of our system. I think of RAC as suitable for high-end OLTP systems of for multiple systems with non-OLTP systems restricting themselves to one of the nodes (unless non-conflicting activity can be determined somehow and allocated to relevant nodes). I would probably categorise our single system as a hybrid system with a very small element of OLTP and a large element of reporting. Furthermore, a large proportion of that reporting revolves around the top X% of a single table. The RAC architecture is such that repeated requests for the same blocks will cause significant waits as the instances coordinate and pass the blocks back and forth.
- The bottom line is that RAC is complex and there’s no getting away from the fact complex is bad. Complexity eventually comes back round and bites you. And complexity usually costs more.
For now, my briefing has been a partial success, although really the only point that had any effective leverage was that the the upgrade date was under threat. A 2-node RAC solution is currently on hold for the initial upgrade. The idea being that we upgrade to 11g on the new hardware and then we expand to a 2-node cluster once that initial upgrade phase is stable.
But, and here’s the stickler, the upgrade is going to be to a 1-node RAC “cluster”. I can understand that there is a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity to go to the new hardware, but I don’t like the smell of a 1-node RAC cluster at all. For a start, there surely has to be some overhead to the RAC installation. But we’re not even testing that. But what’s more is the cost. There is a significant licensing overhead to RAC. It’s an overhead that surely means that going to a 2-node cluster is a formality regardless. I’m just glad that it’s not my name on the cheque. It’s one of those things where I just hope that someone down the line doesn’t say that we’re moving off Oracle because it’s so expensive.
A couple of other folks’ thoughts on issues with RAC: