Tag Archives: commidity computing

Why I Wrote the Book – Oracle and Open Source

Back in the late 90’s New York City was deep in the dot-com boom. Silicon Alley was being born, and a thousand internet startups were sprouting. Everyone was hiring, it was an exciting time to work in technology!

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Trend Spotting Circa 2000

As an independent consultant, I had the opportunity to work at quite a few startups. The technology stack was identical at almost all of them. Sun Microsystems hardware, Apache webservers, and Oracle on the backend. The database was always the sticking point, and developers struggled to get their queries right.

It was an interesting role to hold. Most career DBAs worked at large fortune 500 firms, the old stodgy kind where nothing ever changes. Few of the Oracle old guard, the kind you’d meet at User Groups or conferences, had much exposure to Linux, and they certainly didn’t trust it.

Also: Here’s how to do a scalability performance review

Meanwhile in the startup scene in NYC I was seeing the cutting edge uses of the technology, with more and more shops switching to Linux and commodity hardware. There was even talk of *gasp* Oracle porting to Linux. There was a real rumor mill around all of this.

Oracle and Open Source Published – 2001

Seeing this shift towards commodity hardware, and the tremendous demand for Oracle married with open source technologies, I pitched O’Reilly and Associates with a book idea. Let’s talk about what’s happening in the trenches. How and when does Oracle – the most commercial of relational databases, work with Open Source technologies? What is in the mix? What are real firms using it for? What tools and technologies can help firms grow faster?

Related: Oracle DBA Interview questions for managers, candidates & recruiters alike

These were the questions my co-author and I sought to answer, and to judge from the response I think we did a very good job. As that push continued, Oracle eventually ported it’s enterprise database to Linux. This was a seismic shift that meant existing Oracle customers would spend a lot less on hardware, and thus have more to spend on Oracle licenses. Win-win except for Sun. The trend continued with Oracle pushing Apache into the mix as well.

Fast Forward a Decade

Now a decade later, Oracle has bought it’s former partner Sun, and in so doing owns MySQL too.

Read this: Top MySQL Interview questions for Devops, managers & recruiters

What new trends are happening? We hear an incessant drum of hype around cloud computing. In many ways the trend parallels what happened a decade ago. See our related piece a history lesson for cloud detractors. How so?

[quote]Commoditization: push towards new platforms, driven by cost. [/quote]

But this is slowed by an equally large stumbling block.

[quote]Performance: new cloud servers can’t compete with their big iron cousins. Not yet at least.[/quote]

Interested in Amazon EC2? We wrote an Intro to EC2 Cloud Deployments article which digs in deeper.

What’s Next for Datacenters

Commiditization will continue, driving costs downward. This will provide more gravity to cloud migrations for firms big and small.

Performance will improve. Cloud services like Amazon EC2 will get bigger & better, as will the all important network & disk subsystems.

Also: 5 things toxic to scalability

Big enterprises are already dipping their feet in the water with VPC technology, tying their existing datacenter to a cloud. They can grow elastically while still having feet firmly planted on the ground.

As large enterprises begin to get experience behind the wheel, it’ll chip away at the stranglehold of Oracle and the huge taxation type licensing that firms struggle with today. Where salesforce.com had a huge impact, workday.com will be even bigger.

[quote]The cloud will finally disrupt the last old guard industry – enterprise software.[/quote]

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Amazon EC2 Outage – Failures, Lessons and Cloud Deployments

Now that we’ve had a chance to take a deep breath after last week’s AWS outage, I’ll offer some comments of my own.  Hopefully just enough time has passed to begin to have a broader view, and put events in perspective.
Despite what some reports may have announced, Amazon wasn’t down, but rather a small part of Amazon Web Services went down.  A failure, yes.  Beyond their service level agreement of 99.95% yes also.  Survivable, yes to this last question too.

Learning From Failure

The business management conversation du jour is all about learning from failure, rather than trying to avoid it.  Harvard Business Review’s April issue headlined with “The Failure Issue – How to Understand It, Learn From It, and Recover From It”.  The economist’s April 16th issue had some similarly interesting pieces one by Schumpeter “Fail often, fail well”,
and another in April 23rd issue “Lessons from Deepwater Horizon and Fukushima”.
With all this talk of failure there is surely one takeaway.  Complex systems will fail and it is in the anticipation of that failure that we gain the most.  Let’s stop howling and look at how to handle these situations intelligently.

How Do You Rebuild A Website?

In the cloud you will likely need two things.  (a) scripts to rebuild all the components in your architecture, spinup servers, fetch source code, fetch software and configuration files, configure load balancers and mount your database and more importantly (b) a database backup from which you can rebuild your current dataset.

Want to stick with EC2, build out your infrastructure in an alternate availability zone or region and you’re back up and running in hours.  Or better yet have an alternate cloud provider on hand to handle these rare outages.  The choice is yours.

Mitigate risk?  Yes indeed failure is more common in the cloud, but recovery is also easier.  Failure should pressure the adoption of best practices and force discipline in deployments, not make you more of a gunslinger!

Want to see an extreme example of how this can play in your favor?  Read Jeff Atwood’s discussion of so-called Chaos Monkey, a component whose sole job it is to randomly kill off servers in the Netflix environment at random.  Now that type of gunslinging will surely keep everyone on their toes!  Here’s a Wired article that discusses Chaos Monkey.

George Reese of enStratus discusses the recent failure at length.  The I would argue calling Amazon’s outage the Cloud’s Shing Moment, all of his points are wisened and this is the direction we should all be moving.

Going The Way of Commodity Hardware

Though it is still not obvious to everyone, I’ll spell it out loud and clear.  Like it or not, the cloud is coming.  Look at these numbers.

Furthermore the recent outage also highlights how much and how many internet sites rely on cloud computing, and Amazon EC2.
Way back in 2001 I authored a book on O’Reilly called “Oracle and Open Source”.  In it I discussed the technologies I was seeing in the real world.  Oracle on the backend and Linux, Apache, and PHP, Perl or some other language on the frontend.  These were the technologies that startups were using.  They were fast, cheap and with the right smarts reliable too.

Around that time Oracle started smelling the coffee and ported it’s enterprise database to Linux.  The equation for them was simple.  Customers that were previously paying tons of money to their good friend and confidant Sun for hardware, could now spend 1/10th as much on hardware and shift a lot of that left over cash to – you guessed it Oracle!  The hardware wasn’t as good, but who cares because you can get a lot more of it.

Despite a long entrenched and trusted brand like Sun being better and more reliable, guess what?  Folks still switched to commodity hardware.  Now this is so obvious, no one questions it.  But the same trend is happening with cloud computing.

Performance is variable, disk I/O can be iffy, and what’s more the recent outage illustrates front and center, the servers and network can crash at any moment.  Who in their right mind would want to move to this platform?

If that’s the question you’re stuck on, you’re still stuck on the old model.  You have not truely comprehended the power to build infrastructure with code, to provision through automation, and really embrace managing those components as software.  As the internet itself has the ability to route around political strife, and network outages, so too does cloud computing bring that power to mom & pop web shops.


  • Have existing investments in hardware?  Slow and cautious adoption makes most sense for you.
  • Have seasonal traffic variations?  An application like this is uniquely suited to the cloud.  In fact some of the gaming applications which can autoscale to 10x or 100x servers under load, are newly solveable with the advent of cloud computing.
  • Are you currently paying a lot for disaster recovery systems that primarily lay idle.  Script your infrastructure for rebuilding from bare metal, and save that part of the budget for more useful projects.