The 8 Most Common Misconceptions about Oracle Exalytics
I get a lot of different questions and confusion about Exalytics. While it has been out for quite some time now, the new certification for HFM on the Exalytics platform has been a game changer for the engineered system. Here are a few common misconceptions I hear when at user group meetings, conferences, and clients about the Exalytics system.
1.) It’s a pre-configured appliance
An appliance is a server that is preloaded and configured for a specific task, such as the Oracle Database appliance. It comes preloaded with Oracle Linux and has an Appliance Manager that guides you though database sizing, creation, etc. It’s meant to plug in and hand over the users quickly.
An engineered system is for software that is developed specifically for that hardware, or at least aware of the hardware to take advantage of the architecture specific to the platform. In the case of Exalytics, the EPM software is engineered to be aware of its high system resources and can do things like in-memory computing. It also has a specific network interface, infiniband, that is a high speed interface specifically to talk to other Exa systems such as Exadata and Exalogic. It also has certain product features and tools that are only available on Exalytics platform.
Exalytics is not an appliance, it is an engineered system. It does not come pre-loaded with anything, and you would install only the specific components you use or have purchased. As the engineered system evolves, product specific instruction sets are even being put on the chips, most notably Essbase operations.
Setting up an Exalytics server can be a very lengthy process. In order to finalize the purchase, a site survey should be done to understand all the components needed. One of the biggest hang-ups in an Exalytics set-up, believe it or not, is cabling. Once racked and stacked, the operating system needs to be installed, Oracle Virtual Machines (OVM) created, and the EPM/BI software installed. If you are considering Exalytics, plan accordingly for the hardware and software onboarding process.
2.) Exalytics is more expensive than commodity
Not necessarily. In some cases, it can actually be cheaper over a 5 year total cost of ownership. A lot of people just look at the surface costs of servers – simply comparing the costs of commodity hardware vs. Exalytics hardware and immediately come to the conclusion that Exalytics is more expensive. However we have done many deep-dive TOC assessments with customers and shown how, in some cases, consolidation of servers on Exalytics is much more financially favorable if you look at all the factors.
- Software licensing
- Operating system licenses
- IT Labor costs
- Storage costs
- Network costs
- Electricity and cooling
- Patching, administration, maintenance
- Datacenter space
For example: Here is a recent case study we did that showed a cost savings of about a half a million dollars:
3.) I only need to buy 1 Exalytics machine
Can you buy just one? Of course. Should you? Probably not. In actuality, most customers purchase 2-5 Exalytics machines. In general, one box is used for the production instance, and then at least one more are used to house lower supporting environments such as DEV and TEST. Also for those looking for a highly available configuration then you will want to have 2 Exalytics machines in Production for load balancing and failover. Additionally, don’t forget that you may want to consider disaster recovery environment as well in another datacenter.
It’s also important to remember there are components of the EPM suite that are still Windows-only or not supported by the engineering team to run on Exalytic, so you may need to have additional servers outside the Exalytics to house these items. Examples are:
- Enterprise Performance Management Architect (EPMA)
- Data Relationship Management (DRM)
- Strategic Finance (HSF)
- The Database
There are many techniques to minimize the number of servers you need by using them for multiple purposes, virtualization, etc which can be vetted out by a thorough hardware design.
4. I can virtualize it anyway I want
While there are options to virtualize Exalytics into multiple virtual machines, there are limitations. According to an Oracle statement in August 2014, there was a limit of only allowing 4 virtual machines, with a maximum of 28 vCPUs and 800GB of Memory each. However, I believe Oracle increased the supported number of VMs to 10 now. If you find the need to configure things outside these limits, it may not be supported by Oracle. Remember, you always have the ability to install multiple instances of EPM on a bare-metal Exalytics (no virtualization), however each instance will need to be configured on different ports to avoid conflict.
The virtualization technology is different depending on the model you purchase. The X series runs Oracle Linux and uses Oracle Virtual Machine (OVM). The T Series runs Oracle Solaris and uses Solaris Containers.
Other OVM considerations:
- An external server or a virtual machine must be provided to run Oracle Virtual Manager(OVM) and Enterprise Manager Cloud Control.
- Is free, but must pay support http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/pricing/els-pricelist-070592.pdf
- In general, CPU and memory performance is similar to bare-metal, however disk performance can be a bit degraded, which could affect I/O intensive applications such as Essbase.
- You cannot use Infiniband with virtualization, so if you plan on using Exalytics with Exalogic or Exadata, you must install bare-metal to take advantage of the networking platform.
5. I need Times Ten for in-memory computing
Times Ten is not really used by EPM / Hyperion. The use case is with OBIEE. Times Ten is used as an in-memory database running on Exalytics as a source for OBIEE. It allows loading a bunch of the database in-memory and other features for better performance.
However, now that the 12c database with in-memory is available on Exalytics, that could be the more robust and higher performing option. It is positioned similar to Times Ten, depending on the exact use case.
6. I cannot run any other software on Exalytics than the software listed as supported
Not (necessarily) True. It comes down to which group will support you. If you purchase an Exalytics, you get support with Oracle’s elite Engineered System Support Group that specializes in engineered systems. The following products are currently supported on Exalytics by the Engineered Systems Group:
- Financial Reporting
- Financial Close suite
- Hyperion Financial Management
- Smartview provider
- Foundation/Shared Services
- Essbase Analyic Link
- Profitability and Cost Management (HPCM)
Customers may run other software applications on Exalytics as long as that software runs on a separate Oracle VM guest based on Exalytics Oracle Linux OVM template. Customers shall be responsible for application supportability, sizing, deployment, availability and other lifecycle aspects of the deployment. Oracle may request such VMs to be turned off if they are found to interfere with the normal operation of Exalytics software. The same applies to Exalytics T5-8 implementations using Oracle VM for Solaris 64
Third party monitoring and backup software can be run on Exalytics, however Oracle does not certify them. Customers need to understand that these software programs may affect performance of the system. Should the software cause any issues in Exalytics system, Oracle support may request the customer to reproduce the issue without these monitoring/backup software programs running on the system.
Remember, OVM is a virtualization technology like any other, you can create a guest using any operating system in theory.
- The X Series uses OVM and you can put a Windows Virtual machine with it, however the T series uses Solaris Zones and you CANNOT put a Windows VM on it.
- You can run non-EPM software on an Exa platform, including the Oracle Database, however, the following applies:
- It cannot run on bare metal and must run in a separate OVM/Zone.
- It will not be supported by the Engineered System Team. You would need to get support from the third party vendor or normal Oracle support for Oracle products.
- The disk system is shared, so be mindful of performance impacts
7. Oracle will supply Exalytics Patches
Yes, but not all in one place. Remember the Exalytics machine is just like any other wholly owned piece of hardware and will require the same maintenance. Customers are responsible for all patching:
- EPM Software patching
- OVM Patching
- Operating System Patching
These are totally different patches, located in different areas, on a different release cycles, on a different version standard.
Also note that patching firmware and Kernel on the Exalytics is not supported, so you will have to leave that alone.
8. Oracle Professional Services must install the Exalytics machine to be certified
Not at all true. This is the most common misconception that I run into. Many customers and even Oracle sales reps believe that in order for an Exalytics environment to be certified and supported, Oracle Consulting has to set it up and install it.
I was once told by a senior member in Oracle that it is against Oracle policy to require Oracle be the one to set up any Oracle Software. Oracle Software is designed to be implemented by customers and Oracle partners alike.
Having said that, it might be a good idea to have Oracle assist with a site visit and ensure all the cabling and networking is in place. They have a very comprehensive 16-page questionnaire that covers logistics, networking, software, virtualization, capacity on demand configuration, ports, etc that is useful in staging the physical hardware, especially if infiniband is in play. However, outside of that, you can choose to work with a partner like ADI Strategies for installation, configuration, tuning, patching, artifact migration/upgrade, ongoing support, and managed services.
When considering an Exa platform, it’s important to do a comprehensive hardware design to ensure you are right-sizing and not overbuying. Contact me for more info.