OracleWorld: McNealy, Ellison talk grid

Today’s computer industry is “way too complex,” but Sun Microsystems Inc.’s partnership with Oracle Corp. will help customers alleviate that problem, according to Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun’s CEO Scott McNealy.

During a recent keynote at the this year’s OracleWorld conference, McNealy said Sun’s and Oracle’s strategies compliment each other in key areas such as enterprise grid computing, security, high availability and clustering.

McNealy said the companies are teaming to help evolve grid computing from scientific research to commercial enterprise deployments. Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle’s 10g database product takes advantage of the data centre environment Sun is building with its N1 strategy, McNealy said.

According to Sun, its N1 architecture comprises foundation resources, virtualization, provisioning, policy and automation, and monitoring. By making a data centre work like a single system, N1 turns previously siloed resources into a pool of virtual resources. Services can be mapped across this resource pool and customers can create policy-driven services and assign priority to critical services.

McNealy lamented the complexities of data centres that require so many employees to keep things running so that organizations can deliver their services.

McNealy likened the problem to someone deciding to fly from one city to another after first handcrating a “jalopy airplane” – buying all the parts and custom-building the aircraft. Today’s data centres are built like that, he said. “No two are alike – they’re not even close…they’re like different species,” he said.

Sun’s solution is to offer its Intel-based x86 servers, clustered together in a customer-ready setup for grid computing purposes, and running on Linux or Solaris.

Frank Lauritzen, manager of database operations for the Downsview, Ont.-based Meteorological Service of Canada, an Environment Canada operation, said Sun’s is one offering that seems to be “much cheaper…than what the mainframe used to offer.” He added that choosing between a complete customer-ready server configuration and a do-it-yourself project can be a “tough call” for an organization.

“I’ve made calls both ways. Sometimes we’ve done things ourselves and then we’ve looked at how things have gone and said we should have left it up to someone else – other times it’s been the other way around,” he said. In general, Lauritzen said he’s been seeing a trend toward complete services, which “at times is valid.”

Oracle wants to help organizations address one of the major challenges that comes with grid setups: creating the illusion that all these machines are one machine. That was one of the messages in Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s keynote address.

Ellison said data centre employees working for companies that have switched to the grid model have a lot more work on their hands managing all these servers.

For example, they now have to install software and patches on 100 to 200 two-processor machines, whereas before they only had to worry about five or six larger servers.

This management problem has the potential to defeat the purpose of the grid. “If there are no management or provisioning tools, whatever savings we get in hardware will be lost in labour,” Ellison said.

Oracle’s Grid Control software was designed to help customers monitor and manage entire Oracle grid infrastructures, from databases and applications to storage, within a single console, Ellison said.

The grid management product will provide users with advice on how to plan for capacity, availability and performance needs within a grid.

The software can make comparisons for users between different database servers in the grid and reveal how they’re different, Ellison said. It can tell the system to automatically load balance and tune itself to adapt resource usage to patterns.

The software features a “control repository” that contains performance, availability and configuration data about the enterprise, as well as a set of centralized management capabilities that transform and configure data into valuable information, the firm said.

Using Grid Control, administrators can reduce the complexity of managing multiple servers in a cluster and automate the management of computing resources.