Oracle Exadata Review

Exadata can significantly improve performance but there's a learning curve in a few key areas.

What is our primary use case?

Primarily OLTP but report is done against a combination of Materialized Views and transactional tables.

How has it helped my organization?

We have a number of statistics collected before cutover on our legacy environment compared to Exadata. Without doing anything other than copying the data across, we saw significant performance gains for most key processes. We receive feedback from users stating how fast the performance is compared to other systems. Performance issues are few and far between. Our database environment is extremely stable compared to the legacy DB configuration. We upgraded from a X2-2 quarter rack to a X5-2 eighth rack and experienced significant performance gains. We recently performed another technology refresh to a X7-2 so obviously, we've been very pleased with the initial investment. For this deployment, we decided to virtualize the Exadata configuration, providing some additional flexibility to our operational environment.

What is most valuable?

We primarily run OLTP with some reporting. With that being said, the feature that provides us the most performance gains is the Smart Flash Cache for the OLTP databases. The "offloading" capabilities provide the biggest performance gains for Reporting such as smart scans and storage indexes. There is a new security feature which allows disabling ssh to the storage servers which will make my security folks very happy. Also, there is a STIG script for hardening storage servers and Database Nodes which can be implemented as a report only or actually implement security settings. Would advise running report first to assess the results and then manually modify, as needed.

What needs improvement?

My biggest gripe has been patches which has dramatically improved since our initial Exadata was delivered (January 2011). The only issues we periodically experience are with non-default RPMs on the database nodes. These may fail during the pre-req check which means opening a SR with support. This has become the exception, not the norm so overall not much to complain about. The X2-2 used to experience frequent disk failures but now, that is a thing of the past. 

For how long have I used the solution?

Nine years

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

There is redundancy built throughout the Exadata so even when we've experienced a disk failure, it's a very low stress situation. Early on we had some performance issues with DBFS and a node eviction problem. DBFS was resolved through a combination of settings changes and a quarterly patch. The node eviction was resolved through a one-off patch that eventually got rolled into a quarterly patch. I would chalk up these issues to being early adopters. We do have an occasional bug but I can't think of any that would be unique to Exadata with the database software. At least this provides some degree of comfort that Exadata is not the source of the issue.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The key for scalability is selecting the appropriate disk configuration and the proper size rack configuration. The two options are High Capacity and High Performance. If ever in doubt, always go with High Capacity. The performance difference is negligible at best, however having the extra space allows for more consolidation. That's the entire point of Exadata, to consolidate databases. We've added a few databases to the Exadata since we originally started to use the environment and there has been no performance impact. In our case, a Quarter rack was appropriate but for larger environments, this may not be enough.

How are customer service and technical support?

Customer Service:

In terms of overall Oracle customer service, we've had good experiences on this front. Oracle has provided us access to their experts and continually check to see how things are going. Whenever an issue comes up, they treat the problem seriously. Since we support a government customer, Oracle is extra motivated to ensuring we have a successful experience. Since 2011, there have been significant improvements with support. Occasionally we do hit issues which it seemingly takes support a longer period of time to provide a patch or workaround but these namely involve additional features, not core technology so it's a matter of exhibiting patience.

Technical Support:

On the hardware side, customer service is quite good. Any disk failures get replaced in a day and with triple redundancy for disk, it's not been a concern. Software customer service has improved over the years. Early on was a little rough as I will say the software wasn't fully mature. As the product has matured, so has the software support's capability to resolve issues more quickly. We can't take advantage of ASR, however this seems like a major improvement for customer service in terms of responsiveness.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We didn't switch, we were doing a technology refresh and went with Exadata instead of building out our own Oracle RAC configuration. We previously had a combination of Dell servers, Red Had Linux OS, Oracle Cluster File System on EMC Storage with Juniper switches. This configuration had lots of performance issues, node evictions, and constant headaches. Since moving to Exadata, all those pain points went away.

How was the initial setup?

There is a definite learning curve initially. We had to learn about migration options, shared mount point options, how to integrate with Cloud Control, patching, health check, how to optimize, and how to harden the Exadata environment. Since we went live, many more folks use Exadata so there's more how to's and best practice documents available so the learning curve isn't nearly as steep. We learned a lot in the process and now have a tremendous amount of expertise in setting up, configuring, optimizing and maintaining the Exadata.

What about the implementation team?

We implement Exadata in-house and have gone through several migration methodologies.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

We had ACS perform the initial Startup Pack, however there are companies that can do this much cheaper to lower the original setup cost, such as ours. Day-to-day cost is greatly reduced compared to our legacy environment as we no longer have to serve as "fire fighters." In terms of pricing, Exadata is probably not going to be the lowest cost option. There is a price to pay for performance and stability. With that being said, I have not heard of any customers who have regretted the purchase and/or looking to get off the technology. On the contrary, I can't imagine going to another solution at this point and trying to justify this with the user community in terms of why the system performance degraded. Can't imagine that would go over too well.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We had a custom solution and evaluated Exadata versus the custom solution. Exadata was actually a cheaper solution due to the number of cores. Oracle software licenses are based on processor so if comparing a Quarter Rack versus a 4+ four node custom solution, Exadata may win out from this perspective. We were looking at a 5 node RAC which would have doubled the cost of our software licenses when compared to the equivalent with a Quarter rack of Exadata. Besides, the performance metrics indicated Exadata would easily outperform the custom solution which made our decision a no brainer.

What other advice do I have?

Exadata is a powerful solution. As I mentioned there is a learning curve. Working with a company that has experience with Exadata can help avoid potential pain points and maximize the ROI.

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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1 Comment

author avatarit_user3309 (Presenter at a consultancy)

Post 2012 if the Exadata is not set for GATHER_SYSTEM_STATS('EXADATA') a lot of the benefits will not show up. You will then remain in the '2x to 3x' club of Exadata performance instead of the potential 15x performance. -- quoting Mark Smith at Database Specialists -- in Presentation at IOUG Collaborate15 conference in Las Vegas April 2015.
I have experienced the marked difference in performance from just that one setting change.