Originally written in 2004 shortly after Oracle10g was released.
Oracle would like you to jump into the grid and buy into all that it offers. What is not clear immediately is the complexity of these systems, nor what they offer. The central piece of the grid in this new version of database software is failed technology, reworked, repackaged, definitely renamed from many years of earlier versions. It requires database administrators to have experience that most do not have, and most cannot get. It remains expensive.
The cost of the required Real Application Clusters (RAC) license is brushed aside in general conversation. More than casual conversation with an Oracle representative on the subject and you will find offers of standard edition vs. enterprise edition with RAC included for free.
There are also a couple of offerings from Dell that include hardware with up to four CPUs, software, licenses and consulting services. Beyond that you must negotiate for an expensive RAC license.
A practical grid would not be restricted to four CPUs. The biggest benefits in the scientific/computational area using Oracle’s solution have been shown using 300 +/- nodes doing heavy parallel jobs on otherwise largely under-utilized hosts.
What is the grid anyway?
Carl Kesselman1 and Ian Foster2 literally wrote the book on the grid as it is envisioned in most research circles, including the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC).
What Is the Grid? See Ian Foster’s short definition from 2002, here.
Who is using the grid as defined by Kesselman and Foster?
Universities, facilities like the SDSC whose mission statements include “to develop and use technology to advance science”3 are using the grid.
There is also development taking place where money is being spent on research. In San Diego this means in Pharmaceutical, Genomics and Bioinformatics industries.
There is a convoluted interconnection between these disciplines and the universities and businesses, and related legal and security requirements.
Complex rules about who may do what, at which location, and with which data have to be in place to allow access without hindering resources within the grid.
Rules for sharing are probably not much different than those required by law enforcement, government, military… and even private organizations today considering the current threats of terrorism.
The academically defined grid (“the grid”) consists of environments custom built to meet specific goals of the target organizations.
“It takes a degree in computer science to understand today’s parallel computers and several more years of training to write code to use them efficiently.”4
If you are considering the grid, do your homework. Know why you are doing it.
But my vendor says its product is the grid.
The big industry players seized on the grid as a new marketing opportunity and turned it into a new term for “actively managed clusters”.
Oracle has RAC; IBM has On-Demand Computing, and HP has Utility Computing. In fact, HP is reworking their entire storage line to provide Smart Cells of grid storage using the Lustre parallel file system.
Regardless of the fancy bells and whistles involved these guys are all just talking about clusters on a LAN. That’s why Oracle started that breakaway GT’04 conference from the Global Grid Forum (GGF).
IBM does understand WAN grids and is working actively on helping merge standards for grid services and web services. However, at the end of the day, only Sun truly embraces the WAN version of grids and provides tools for it.
Back to the Grid… is it for me?
All of this may sound like fun to a techie. There’s a place for models and standards battles, beta software, and all that. If you’re reading this, I presume that isn’t what you want to be doing with your business application or development project.
There are two cases to be made for grid-computing in the cluster sense of Oracle and their competitors – uptime and dynamic capacity balancing.
Uptime is pretty obvious since you’re just talking about moving the sessions from a dead box to a live one in the cluster. 24/7 operation comes at a cost. How much uptime does the user need? How much can the user afford?
Dynamic capacity balancing is far more interesting since you can take a pool of ten servers and during your monthly sales campaign convert an underutilized accounting server to be an extra web or transactional server to handle that load. When it’s time to run payroll, you redeploy a web server into accounting. It’s a powerful concept and they actually have some very slick tools for this.
A company would need to invest in a capacity survey and planning exercise to really get full benefit from this level of balancing. Most firms have no idea what utilization their servers are at during various periods. Many firms intentionally overbuy hardware only to later push to take it out of service because of power and cooling requirements in the data center.
Just as the licensing fees need to be adjusted for the grid, the fees charged to cost centers by the IT department will have to be considered. There’s got to be some trick in the software to track costs, and in an environment that already includes so many security issues and access rules this should not be a problem to calculate.
Do we need Oracle10g?
As a rule, the response should be “it depends”. Are you currently experiencing problems that appear to be fixed in a new release of Oracle? Are there other problems that might be fixed by installing, removing, or re-installing software? Is your product about to expire? Are there upgrades to your applications that need to be or can’t be upgraded? The list goes on.
If you are already creating, customizing, and using software against an Oracle database your database administration team should always be looking at new versions. There are new features, tools, controls, performance and maintenance improvements in 10g that do not require RAC.
An article to follow will discuss what you can do with Oracle10g without the grid, and when your requirements are for actively managed clusters, there are some new cost savings to be had with Oracle10g features and aftermarket storage hardware.
1 Carl Kesselman, director, Center for Grid Technologies, USC, School of Engineering
2 Ian Foster, professor of computer science at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago
3 Fran Berman, director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center
4 Kennedy, director Rice’s Center for High Performance Software Research
Last Revised: May 2020