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Oracle support betrays a preference for Linux and x86

Which server platform to run Oracle 11g on may have less to do with hardware performance and more to do with cost and quality of support.

Now that Oracle 11g has hit shelves, the question many IT shops ask themselves is which hardware and operating system does Oracle run best on?

For more on Oracle 11g:
Oracle 11g for Linux hits the street

Oracle 11g ships first on Linux, not Microsoft Windows

Oracle 11g's new features not groundbreaking, VARs say

That's a question with no easy answers; Oracle supports its software on a variety of hardware platforms -- such as x86, RISC, mainframe -- and operating systems, such as Windows, Unix and Linux. Although Oracle 11g is available only on Linux x86 systems right now, it will eventually be released for Windows and Unix machines. But the combination of server and OS that takes the cake may depend less on raw performance and more on how much your hardware costs and what kind of service you're getting from Oracle and other vendors.

Choosing hardware for Oracle 11g
When it comes to Oracle server platforms, Donald Feinberg, a Gartner Inc. analyst, said it's really a toss-up between Unix and Linux. He said that IBM sells more IBM System p boxes running Oracle on AIX than it does DB2, its own database software. He added that Sun Microsystems Inc. still has a strong Oracle platform, and "very reasonably priced" with its multicore Niagara, or UltraSparc, chips. Then again, he thinks that Hewlett-Packard Co. is probably the biggest-selling Oracle platform -- primarily with x86 running Linux.

It's clear that x86 hardware and Linux operating system are Oracle favorites.

"In general, Oracle runs well on any Linux-capable hardware," he said.

Once performance is shown to be relatively equal, other factors come into play. Cost and service are two big ones.

Financial services company Wachovia Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., for example, is slowly moving its Oracle applications from a variety of AIX and HP-UX machines to Linux machines -- in particular, the HP DL585s, which can hold up to four dual-core AMD processors. Ed Mulheren, a senior database administrator at Wachovia, said that the newer x86 machines have comparable performance levels to the older, bigger Unix boxes from IBM and HP, and they're much cheaper.

"I think we're still about 60% Unix and 40% Linux at this point," said Mulheren, who was one of the early beta users of Oracle 11g. "I think probably by mid-'08 it will be 50-50 and increase from there. As the older systems are replaced, we'll replace them with these newer boxes."

With its move to release Oracle 11g on Linux x86 systems first, it's clear that the x86 hardware and Linux operating system are Oracle favorites. As further evidence of Oracle's preference for Linux, Oracle now has its own distribution of Linux and is trying to compete with Red Hat on Linux support while at the same time battling against Microsoft SQL Server on Windows.

Patches lag on some platforms
Oracle's preference for Linux is also clear when it comes to application support, said Arup Nanda, senior director of database engineering and architecture at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc., another Oracle 11g beta user. Starwood runs its critical Oracle applications, such as its reservation system, on an Itanium-based HP Superdome running HP-UX. But Oracle software patches for that platform are painfully slow, he said.

"Itanium is way behind," he said. "My experience is that Itanium is a pretty good platform, but [the software patches] are always delayed. Sometimes it takes six months for them to come out on Itanium. It's a pain to run on Itanium."

Meanwhile, Nanda also has smaller Oracle applications on AMD-based x86 systems running Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and Solaris. Software patches come out quickest on Linux, he said, followed by Solaris, AIX, and then finally, HP-UX on Itanium.

Though he doesn't know for sure, Nanda suspects that the reason for the delay is incentive. Not as many people are running Oracle on HP-UX and Itanium, and so the patch takes longer to come out. Meanwhile, Starwood is testing the Oracle brand of Linux but said it's too early to adopt it in production, so the company is sticking with Red Hat for now.

No hardware refresh
Neither Nanda nor Mulheren said there was a need to do hardware upgrades when running Oracle 11g, and Feinberg added that he hasn't heard of users needing to do so. Nanda said you can always upgrade memory to have additional cache, but that's the case with any application.

Mulheren said that with older machines you might have to buy a faster network card if you wanted to run Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) -- Wachovia runs a couple RAC systems -- but today's systems already come with fast enough gigabit network cards to handle the traffic between clustered servers.

"No one has said anything about systems they're working on having to be upgraded or updated at all," said Feinberg, who predicted in a recent report that adoption of Oracle 11g would be faster than in previous versions. "As far as I can tell, there's no indication that anyone would have to upgrade hardware when going to Oracle 11g."

The only exceptions he could think of were storage related. Feinberg said that a new feature of Oracle 11g essentially allows you to hold more kinds of data -- in particular, larger, more complicated objects -- in the database. This could result in moves by companies to digitize more information, which could lead to a need for more storage. A second new feature allows users to recall database queries as far back in time as they want, and so there may be a need for more storage to accommodate this information.

Feinberg added that Oracle 11g includes a lot of performance improvements, but that doesn't mean users will find themselves with spare processing power.

"It doesn't mean that people are going to be able to get rid of CPUs," he said. "Every time someone comes up with performance enhancements, they don't get rid of them. They just grow and use them all up."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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