Simon Haslam's Oracle Fusion Middleware blog

Virtualisation arrives for Exalogic 2 - Details from Launch Event

Yesterday, via a global webcast, Oracle launched "Exalogic 2.0" or, more precisely, "Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud Software 2.0" (EECS), i.e. the Exalogic X2-2 hardware is the same but the software that runs on it has been updated. This post considers some of the technical aspects of the launch (if you're interested in the marketing stuff try the Exalogic pages on oracle.com).

Hasan Rizvi highlighted the 4 key changes to EECS:

  • Virtualisation including "isolation with support of IB partitioning"
  • "Better performance"
  • "Application to Disk" management
  • Application Delivery Control

Let's pick through those one at a time, then we'll look at the Q&As:

Virtualisation

The most significant part of this launch is that Exalogic now officially supports virtualisation, specifically Oracle VM Server (OVM) 3.0. If you're only running WebLogic clusters on Exalogic then virtualisation is probably not so important to you (since managed servers give you a reasonable method for partitioning resources), but as hardware for running the whole Fusion Middleware software stack I think virtualisation is essential. The reason is that the relatively large power of Exalogic compute nodes (and typical "conventional" servers for that matter) - 12 Intel Xeon cores, 96GB RAM - means you need a way to balance resources with need. For example, I don't need 12 cores (or rather 24 cores when I have two clustered nodes) for, say, Oracle Identity Management and Oracle Access Manager; instead even a fairly large IAM installation may only need two servers of 4 cores and perhaps 16GB memory. Then there are all the other virtualisation benefits we're starting to get accustomed to - quicker provisioning, portability between hosts, standardisation and so on.

At a slightly more detailed level Hassan mentioned that EECS had "isolation with support of InfiniBand partitioning". I haven't worked with InfiniBand before but my understanding is that IB partitioning is like VLANs but with bandwidth management built-in too. That said, something like HP's Virtual Connect Flex Fabric allows you to do something similar with 10GbE in a blade system but I suspect working higher up the protocol stack. Anyway I'd be interested in reading a good article comparing IB Partitions with the alternatives if anyone's found one (please add a comment!).

This brings me on to my second point related to virtualisation, Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder (OVAB). For me one of the most interesting aspects of Exalogic when it was launched in 2010 was the potential use of OVAB (as I mentioned in a short Oracle Magazine video interview). Modern middleware implementations are getting increasingly complex - even just installing all the software on the various different servers is quite long winded, especially given that you'll almost inevitably be clustering them. OVAB helps solve these complexity issues by enabling you to deploy "assemblies" of virtual machines (e.g. a pre-configured cluster of OAM servers for example) in one go (sort of like VMware's vCenter Orchestrator but with a more application focussed approach). I attended some excellent hands-on labs at OOW 2010 run by Mark Prichard - OVAB at that time was clearly a fairly basic product but the exercises did show the potential of the technology (and also showed off the rather lovely, but now departed, WLS-VE). OVAB is much more mature now and this launch says it's supported on Exalogic.

"Better Performance"

Regular readers will know I am sceptical about unofficial performance measurements and customer observations (e.g. "X times faster than our Y year old system" is not useful for comparing Exalogic with competing hardware). Hopefully we'll see something like a SPECjEnterprise2010 benchmark result from Oracle sometime then, whilst no benchmark is perfect, at least we'll have some meaningful data to study.

"Application to Disk" Management

This seems to be a combination of Ops Center (a former Sun product I'm not very familiar with) and Enterprise Manager 12c - the two now appear to be, or in the process or being, integrated. Steve Wilson on the webcast called it an "order of magnitude simpler than using a raw data centre" though I suspect this is mostly benefits of virtualisation. Steve also gave brief demo of Ops Center which has pictures of Exalogic hardware that you can then drill down into... it's pretty but won't come as a big surprise to anyone running IBM or HP blade environments (and probably many of the newer server Lights Out controller modules). Let's not underestimate the importance of the integration done here though and even since the OEM 12c Cloud Control launch last year it has had an Exalogic plug-in (see a nice post by Jos Nijhoff here). From an administrator's point of view this is probably the most important aspect of Exalogic and I look forward to exploring it at some point.

Application Delivery Control

The final new aspect of EECS 2.0 is Oracle Traffic Director (OTD). I've briefly discussed this before and it's certainly providing a missing piece of the original Exalogic jigsaw (i.e. how do you do load balancing between two servers over InfiniBand). OTD was announced with WebLogic 12c last year and is currently Exalogic only.

Questions and Answers

I was also following the Q&A window and here are the most pertinent ones. The first one one hits the nail on the head:

Q: What are the key differences between Exalogic 1 and Exalogic 2?
Oracle:
Key differences are that in Exalogic EECS 2.0 - you have support for virtualization, IaaS Management infrastructure for private cloud deployment,  OTD as our application delivery controller, support for multiple IB partitions

Q: What are the backup/recovery options for Exalogic cloud? Can it work with cloud backup vendors on private network? Also can you highlight a bit on DR/Biz Continuity capabilities?
Oracle:
You have the options to backup either on the InfiniBand fabric to a stand-alone ZFS appliance OR you have to option to use any 3rd party storage via 10 GbE network. We also have the option to run ndmp on Exalogic compute nodes to backup data over IB or 10 GbE network. For DR continuity we have snapshot replications from our embedded ZFS storage directly to another storage source outside of Exalogic.

{There was also a follow on question which I forgot to capture, along the lines of "Does this mean I need several Exalogic machines?" and of course the answer is yes, you'll need at least one for production and one for DR, though you'll almost certain want one for test too (though arguably IB partitioning might allow you to run test and live in the same rack - depending on your appetite for this sort of thing, for example, where would you test an IB switch firmware upgrade?)}

Q: Is OVAB going to be deployed as part of Exalogic Control?  Also, will there be pre-built assemblies shipped to start with?
Oracle: Yes, absolutely. Exalogic Control can deploy assemblies with just a few clicks. Assemblies will be provided for multiple Oracle applications and other common deployment scenarios.

Personal Opinions

Oracle's Wim Coekaerts contributed to the final part of the webcast, talking about virtualisation. I have a lot of respect for Wim - he knows his stuff and is straight talking. In particular Wim actually mentioned VMware directly and acknowledged that VMware was the most well known and longest standing x86 virtualisation product. He said that historically virtualisation was used for consolidation of servers, whereas now with cloud infrastructures we are using servers in a more "fluid" way. However his point was that as "the" virtualisation vendor doesn't own the operating system or applications, and because there are so many products at different layers involved, Oracle is able to better integrate the entire stack. We can debate that premise at length of course, but there's no denying that Oracle is in a unique position. Personally I think it's great for customers that Oracle offers virtualisation products - VMware is certainly not cheap and it is good for them to have some credible competition. What I would like is for Oracle VM to compete directly with VMware on the respective product's technical and cost merits rather than the cards being stacked in OVM's favour by Oracle's licensing and support policies (which I think makes people immediately, and perhaps unfairly, suspicious of OVM).

What is interesting is that it has taken 2 years for virtualisation to arrive on Exalogic, even for Oracle's mighty development organisation (back at the Exalogic launch Oracle were talking about a relatively imminent virtualised Exalogic v1.1). This probably supports Oracle's argument that integrating a bunch of x86 servers is harder than you think, though I can't help feeling much of this time will have been spent in dealing with InfiniBand (which most organisations wouldn't consider if it didn't come pre-packaged from Oracle). It also makes me worry about how much new code there might be in these networking layers. Finally in the in the intervening 2 years "the cloud" has become mainstream which has probably changed the development focus (if not only the branding) for quite a few product vendors.

Conclusions

So in summary I'm particularly pleased to see virtualisation now being supported in Exalogic - that along with the the new management capabilities shows an evolution of the system and brings some more credibility to the "Elastic Cloud" moniker that Oracle has used for Exalogic.


A replay of the webcast is available here: http://t.co/9UKx7rwc If you're interested in the technical stuff see Hasan Rizvi at 15:24, then skip to 32:41. As mentioned Wim Coekaerts joins in to talk about virtualisation at 48:33. The overall webcast runs for just under an hour.

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