Monday, March 21, 2011

What to look out for when changing old servers.

Last week I replied to a post from Marko Sutic on the oracle-l mailing list (Here's the thread on the mailing list archives). Apperently it was worth it as he wrote back saying « I'm astonished with the quality of your reply! » (thanks Marco, it's a good ego booster! :)

He suggested that this post should be shared because it can be useful to many people. And not just as an Oracle specific issue. He also asked if he could post it on his blogNot a bad idea, I thought. So here it is. But first, let's see Marco's original question:

We're considering to replace our SunFire v490 servers with newer generation of Oracle SUN or IBM servers. 
Our current configuration is: 
2x SunFire v490 , 4GB RAM , 2 (1x dual-port HBA) x 2Gb FC
2x SunFire v490 , 8GB RAM , 2 (1x dual-port HBA) x 2Gb FC 
Do you have any experience with Oracle M-Series SPARC servers or x86 Sun servers running as database servers? 
Do you think that Intel 7500 X4470 is strong enough to handle workload of two SunFire v490 servers? 
Same question related to Sparc VII+ M4000 server - can this server handle workload of two SunFire v490's?
So I replied:

> Do you have any experience with Oracle M-Series SPARC servers or x86 Sun servers running as database servers? 
Yes indeed :) 
> We were checking Intel 7500 X4470 and Sparc VII+ M4000 servers as replacement for our SunFire v490's. 
Both CPU architectures can run your type of workload, that's for sure. What you need to look out for is (but not limited to)
a) Budget.
b) Server's RAS & Virtualization features. 
c) Server's technical specs. 
d) Employee technical knowledge in hardware and software. 
e) Data center system's homogenization.
So if we go into more detail for each bullet point, we have...
-- a) Budget.
This is a very important starting point in which you need to check: 1. Oracle software licenses, 2. Oracle hardware cost of purchase, 3. Oracle software and hardware maintenance costs and 4. electrical and HVAC costs.
1. Oracle software licenses.
Make sure to check with your Oracle database friendly salesman. Idon't know if this is still the case, but the Oracle license cost for an x86 CPU was not the same as for the SPARC achitecture. Count the number of cores and run the numbers with your Oracle software representative. Unless things have changed since the aquisition of Sun by Oracle, you might be in for a little surprise.
2. Oracle hardware cost of purchase.
The X4470 and M4000 machines are probably not the same price up front. And you might not be able to get the same discount on both architectures. Make sure to talk with your IHV or Oracle hardware technical representative to see what configuration of each system is adequate for your workload and then get a price for both system types. There could be a big price difference.
3. Oracle software and hardware maintenance costs.
Depending on the type of hardware, your Oracle software licenses might be different. So is the maintenance contract on the hardware itself. Make sure to check those two over a period of 3 to 5 years and compare the TCO at the end of the system's life cycle. Again, that can be quite significant. Considering your pay around 20 % annually of the total cost of purchase on the Oracle software licenses, if they're more expensive up front, they're going to be a lot more expensive after 5 years. I'm not sure about the 20 %, so check this number with your Oracle sales rep.
4. electrical and HVAC costs.
Check the electrical specs for both systems. Keep in mind that you need to feed these machines power to make them run and more power to cool them. Since they probably won't have the same requirements, make sure to check this with your data center specialist to see how much money it will cost to run those systems? Again, run those numbers for up to 3 or 5 years and compare them.
-- b) Server's RAS and Virtualization features.
The M-series is packed with RAS features. Especially if you run Solaris on them. Compare those features with what the X-series platform offers you. The M-series also has built in hardware virtualization with logical domains and such. In an Oracle database scenario, are those important? For example, you could decide to assign a single CPU/memory board for OLTP and perform a dynamic domain change to add the other CPU/memory board for backup or batch jobs at night. Will you be using RAC? Don't forget to ask your Oracle software and hardware reps to know if you can run RAC in logical domains and/or Solaris containers? Make a side-by-side comparision and see what is an added-value to your organisation and what is simply a nice to have. See if the price difference is worth the features?
-- c) Server's technical specs.
The M4000 machine can use up to 256 GB while the X4470 is « limited » to 64 GB. Is that interesting to you? Of course most of us would benefit from a very big SGA, but does it makes sense to pay for the M4000 and 256 GB if your workload is happy with a 10 GB SGA that fits into both hardware platforms?
The Intel 7500 CPU is most probably faster then the SPARC64 VII+ for single threaded applications. But the SPARC architecture is probably better wth multi-threaded applications. Check your SQL code and see if you would benefit from one or the other. Ask your Oracle hardware rep for Oracle benchmarks on both architectures and try to compare apples to apples.
The X4470 is a 3 U machine while the M4000 requires double that. Do you have enough space in your data center racks to have the new machines online while the old ones are still there? You will need it in order to have a smooth transition of your old production machines to the new ones.
-- d) Employee technical knowledge in hardware and software.
Your team of sysadmins and DBAs have obviously been working withSolaris + SPARC for a few years now. Are they familiar with Linux + x86? Or Solaris + x86? They are not the same. Even Solaris SPARC vs Solaris x86 is not the same. If you have all your operating practices documented on Solaris + SPARC, are you ready to update all those to another OS? Will you need to send sysadmins to Oracle university to learn about Solaris x86, the new M4000 or the X4470? Don't forget to factor these into the overall price of the solution too.
You talked about IBM machines. Will they be running AIX or Linux? Consider that the IBM POWER systems running AIX are *very* different then the Oracle SPARC systems running Solaris. Both are very good products, but be ready for a big learning curve if you switch from one to another. 
IMHO you should stick to what you know and are comfortable with. In this case this is Solaris SPARC. But the price might be prohibitive. If you need to switch to Solaris x86, consider training your staff to Linux maybe?
-- e) Data center system's homogenization.
What do you have in your data center? Only Sun Oracle hardware or a mix of many vendors? It's a lot easier to handle a single vendor then three to four different ones. Plus the spare parts are easier to stock and share between the machines of an identical vendor. You also have an easier time to manage the service contracts from one or two vendors then three of four. If your team is trained on Sun and Oracle procedures and hardware, be wary of moving to IBM. It's a lot different and the learning curve is steep. Keep in mind that it's also more expensive and more difficult to keep and find trained sysadmins on different OSes and platforms. Think of what your job offer wouldlook like if you need to hire another sysadmin? The more product you have, the more difficult it will be to find qualified sysadmins. Not to mention that they might ask for a higher salary :)
> Do you think that Intel 7500 X4470 is strong enough to handle workload of two SunFire v490 servers?
> Same question related to Sparc VII+ M4000 server - can this server handle workload of two SunFire v490's?
Again, ask your Oracle rep these questions. I'm pretty sure the answer is yes, both machines can support your workload. But at what speed? And at what cost?
Finally, make sure you have fun! That's a very nice project you have there :o)
So that's it, you have a few ideas as to what to look for before you go and ask your company's upper management for more money. The better prepared you are, the more chances you have of getting the budget approval you need. So do your homework properly and arrive prepared with all the info presented in this blog post. Trust me, it's always more fun to have all the answers in front of your CIO and CEO rather then having to go back to work with your tails between your legs ;)

Have fun!


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