The Real Cost of Oracle RAC
September 18, 2013 16 Comments
Storage for DBAs: In my previous article (in this mini-series on database economics) I explained how to calculate the cost of a mid-range Oracle database system. My motive was a concern that many people working either directly or indirectly with database software are uninformed about just how expensive it is – particularly in comparison to the cost of hardware. And in this article I want to cover the great granddaddy of Oracle licenses costs: Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC).
I also want to show you a little-known trick that can allow you to build a two-node fully active/active RAC cluster for a fraction of the price you would normally expect to pay.
But first, let’s talk about RAC…
Oracle RAC: High Availability For the Masses
There was a time, long ago, when big servers were very expensive. Many people ran Oracle on RISC-based UNIX systems, which had limited scalability in terms of the number of CPU cores and the maximum amount of physical memory. Oracle recognised this scalability issue and built a software solution for it, initially called Oracle Parallel Server (OPS). If you never used OPS in anger you should ask some of the grizzled, battle-scarred veterans who did how they fared against it, but at least in theory it allowed customers to scale out when scaling up wasn’t really possible.
However, things change – and nowhere more so than in IT. The days of big iron RISC systems seem long ago and nowadays (comparatively) cheap multicore x86 hardware is the norm. Scaling up to 80 cores in a server is not unusual, so the need for a software scalability solution is less strong than it was. However, Oracle knows a thing or two about staying at the top, so OPS became Real Application Servers and the scalability marketing message got overtaken by a new claim: high availability. Yes, Oracle RAC allows you to run one database across multiple nodes so if you look at it the right way that’s increasing system availability.
Of course, If you look at it another way (as I do), increasing the number of nodes is actually increasing the risk of failure to a single node. Plus, adding a whole raft of cluster functionality such as cache coherence, cluster filesystems and cluster ready services is just adding complexity, which is the enemy of availability. Yet everyone in the RAC game lives with the same shared deception: that losing a whole node does not count as a service outage. Sure, you get a whole load of users that get kicked off. Ok, so you have to bounce a whole set of application servers. But hey, technically it wasn’t a full outage so the SLAs weren’t affected. Er… ok… I think I’ve made my thoughts clear on this before.
Oracle RAC: The Expensive Way
There are two reasons why RAC can be expensive, or to put it another way two dimensions. The price goes up as the license cost increases, but it also goes up in multiples as the architecture scales out to multiple nodes.
In general, RAC is a feature of Oracle Enterprise Edition – in fact looking at the prices on the Oracle Store as I write this it’s the joint-most-expensive option (along with Oracle OLAP) priced at $23k per core (list)… If you consider that the Enterprise Edition license is $47.5k per core then that’s nearly half as much again. Don’t forget that Oracle’s core multiplication factor table determines that we need to multiply these costs by 0.5 for Intel Xeon processors, which is what I’m using in this example (see the first article in this series if you don’t know what this means).
Let’s state some assumptions for this imaginary Oracle RAC cluster we are building. It will have 4 nodes (16 cores per node) and 20TB of usable disk storage. We’ll also assume that in buying the licenses we got a 60% discount. We’re looking at the three-year price and, as always, the maintenance costs us 22% of the net license cost. I’m including the Oracle Diagnostics Pack ($5k per core) in the license cost too – surely nobody can cope without it these days?
The total cost over three years, just for hardware, software and support (i.e. discounting TCO-type calculations like power, cooling, etc) is now up at £1.8m. That’s a relatively large amount of money! But what I find really interesting is the proportion that goes to the database vendor compared to the proportion that is spent on hardware:
The storage (which I naturally have an interest in) is just 8% of the total cost, while the database vendor’s products and support services comprise 89% of the total cost. This is where database consolidation starts to make sense (more databases on the same hardware means better value for money from the core-based licenses). It’s also where flash memory storage makes sense, because it allows a far better return on this massive investment: firstly by unleashing applications to run at the speed of memory, and secondly by unlocking (expensive) CPUs which are otherwise stuck waiting on I/O from slow disk storage systems.
Oracle RAC: The Inexpensive Way
But wait, I promised you an alternative to the costly system above. What is it? The answer can be found buried deep within Oracle’s Software Investment Guide (page 11 of the current published version) where we find the following information: from Oracle 10g onwards, Oracle Standard Edition includes the Real Application Clusters Option provided customers use Oracle Clusterware and ASM. Since Standard Edition is limited to a maximum of 4 CPU sockets (not cores!!) this effectively means a two-node system using two-socket servers.
That’s still an amazing revelation – it’s basically RAC (with certain caveats) for free! With the right choice of high-end CPU, a two-socket server can deliver massive performance. Let’s have a look at the cost of a two-node RAC system running on Standard Edition using the same assumptions from above [massive thanks to Doug (see comments below) for pointing out my mistake - now corrected - that Standard Edition is licensed by the socket not the core and that the core multiplication factor therefore does not apply]:
Now many people will think, “Hang on I can’t cope without Enterprise Edition” … but for this level of saving, isn’t it worth giving that some closer analysis? The real bonus here is that, in only paying licenses by the socket, you can achieve a massive benefit if you use the fastest processors with the largest number of cores and not pay any penalty.
The price of Standard Edition RAC is 87% of the price of our previous configuration. (If you were to compare a like-for-like scenario where 2 node Enterprise Edition RAC moved to 2 node Standard Edition RAC the saving would instead be £702.5k or 76%)
Everything here is just speculation, based on the information available from Oracle at the time of writing. You should not construe my remarks as guarantees or facts, but instead do your own research and talk to your local database vendor’s representatives.
The point of writing this article is that technical people don’t always have a handle on price, because in some organisations they don’t always need to. But when the technical design has such a dramatic effect on the price, I think we all ought to be looking at the bigger picture and taking the time to work out the implications of our choices.
Software, as they say in Redwood Shores, doesn’t come cheap…