Oracle RAC: Call me a Convert

Having worked with Oracle since their first version outside of the CIA gives me a different perspective on the product and features than most people hold. I met Larry Ellison twice in my life, but know him through documentation, media and a whole lot of hearsay, mostly, urban legend.

My employer, Systems Development Corporation (SDC) in Mclean Virginia, was using Oracle version two to create a relational database for the military. The customer was the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and the plane was the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP).

Google “Doomsday Plane” and “Looking Glass” for related information. The NEACP no longer exists by that name. Things evolve. Names change. In 2017, two of the original Boeing E4Bs “were damaged by a tornado that struck Offutt AFB, having been struck by falling debris after the tornado damaged the hangar the aircraft were stationed in. They were out of service for eleven weeks while repairs took place”. While I have no other knowledge of fact, the planes that carried my database still exist today.

In 1982, Oracle was not yet available on multiple platforms. Our project developed the first port of Oracle. Moore’s Law was showing and the two slots in our target backplane needed 32-bit solutions, so while porting all releases of versions two through four, we also switched between 16- and 32-bit architectures. Our port was DEC VAX to DG AOS and was not done by Oracle as future ports would be done.

Oracle was a California company. In the early 80s, Ken Jacobs was the east coast contact for Oracle.

Ken was an original Oracle founder in 1978. He was the vice-president of kernel development for ten or more years, and he had not yet developed his “Dr. DBA” persona when we became friends.

We (Ken Jacobs and I) started the Mid-Atlantic Oracle User’s Group, MAOUG, in 1982 at SDC. Our first meeting was attended by 400 and included a presentation by me on the Oracle RDBMS catalog and security as implemented, alone with suggested changes to the catalog and permissions, changes accepted and incorporated in the database. They survive today.

The international Oracle User’s Group held its first meeting in Boston in 1984. PC Oracle was introduced on six 5 ¼” floppy disks to those interested. Oracle, specifically Larry Ellison, billed this product as 25% slower than the Unix product. Our testing in the Pentagon said 25 times slower, not percent.

Larry Ellison was still writing documentation in 1984. Oracle was approximately 3000 modules and somewhere around 30 were written in assembly language, the rest written in C. There was still a back door into Oracle which disappeared in version 5.

Perhaps I could go on, but the point of this post was to be otherwise. It has been interesting for me to do the research and find the words, but the point was to explain why I have changed several opinions on Oracle in recent years.

If asked for comment, my son will advise “say it fast, say it first.” I use far too many words, so if you’re still with me, thank you. Truth be, this was written for me. If you enjoy, you’re welcome.

Over the last 40-some years the Oracle product has changed many times and with each change there have been grandiose claims of their value. Most visually, the change from Oracle7, to 8i, to 10g, to 12c did not just happen at those points, that is just where the inference was changed. This was Larry’s direction. It was never a new product; it is a constantly changing product.

In reality, the product was changing and not changing, the whole time. It was changing in that the name was positioned to reflect the times. It was not changing in old things that worked well, continue to work well. New features were added, perhaps, to reflect the new stated direction, but pieces were there before, or won’t be there until after, if ever, for that new direction. What it was and what Larry says it was were not necessarily the same. Both new and old products or components used seemingly intentionally confusing names. Oracle as a company, not a database, has purchased hundreds of companies. They have no problem in dropping one old product into the place of another… and they did.

Oracle addresses hundreds of issues with every new release, they always have, for forty years, and they will continue to do so. My biggest complaint is the cost. Oracle pricing is insane. Even if you agree with me, if you have not experienced it, a wide-range of it, you may understand without full understanding.

Oracle Support, specifically, MyOracleSupport (MOS), has everything. Oracle Support generally costs 22% annually over the multi-year license period of the software. It is the best. No question, although, it can be frustrating if you can’t work the system.

Oracle has always been great with developers. Oracle Technical Network (OTN) has so much stuff available, but you cannot do it without MOS. This is were patches, updates, tools and advice on configuring Oracle come from with authority. Google does users a mis-service in allowing Oracle Corporation answers in search results because the answers always end the “connect to MOS for details….”, e.g., for the answer. Without MOS you are sunk.

Larry Ellison proclamations were heard and Oracle 10g was released in 2003 and I wrote about it here in 2004. His definition of grid and that of the universities were different. The RAC predecessor, Oracle Parallel Server (OPS) was an over-whelming installation, and very expensive. My immediate reaction was to ignore it, not to use it… and I did not, for a while….

In 2011 while doing the forensic preservation of a large Oracle database after it was hacked, I had months to analyze the disk structure. The system had 32 cores in each node and 128 gb RAM. It used raw devices in a huge SAN and had been receiving rolling upgrades for 7 years. The Oracle “homes” on the disk reflected versions 8i though 11g and while a mess, was a remarkable tribute to the possibilities.

The complexity for the product still did not seem worthwhile. Four months in the cage chilled me on RAC. There is a lot short of Oracle RAC to master. Most of my career was spent in the base enterprise edition database product.

Recently the ability of “Oracle Startup” caught my eye and I decided to see what it takes to implement it. Startup requires the Oracle Grid Infrastructure to be installed. That is the basis of RAC.

I have implemented a couple of systems and have things to write about.

For now, call this part one.

More current stuff to follow. Thanks again for reading.


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