Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A few thoughts about OCM 12c upgrade

Yesterday I sat for the 12c OCM upgrade exam, which I mentioned in few blog posts before. The first step after checking your ID is of course signing the NDA, and thus you won't find much real information here.

This time I chose Utrecht as the place to take the exam. Not that I have any special preference, I took each of the exams in a different place so far. The only requirements were convenient time and location defined as 'somewhere in Europe'. But in the end, Utrecht turned out to be a good place. Oracle NL headquarters are easy accessible, it's a very new building, the lunch was good:-)
And the city is nice to see.

Regarding the exam, the usual important notes still hold true:

  1. Arrive on time. It's a long day and you will have a lot of things to do.
  2. You will work hard the whole day. Get a good sleep before, be well rested.
  3. Review the exam topics well. Note that they may have change over time. There is for example an update as of January 1, 2016: Flex ASM was added.
  4. Learn how to work with the docs - with no search available. You will need the docs, nobody can remember all the syntax and all the arcane settings.
  5. Love your command line. "GUI is not available for every segment of the exam." And anyway, it's much faster to do things in sqlplus. And you will struggle for time.
Now I just have to wait for the results... And for any of you who wants to take the exam: Good luck!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Don't trust the lying (Data Guard) broker

One of the new 12c features is the "VALIDATE DATABASE" command. According to the documentation it should do many thorough checks and tell you if all is configured well and correctly. However, there is one catch - or to put it a little more bluntly - bug. Or two.

You know that you need standby redo logs for SYNC (or the new FASTSYNC) transport mode. The validate command knows that, too. And you know that you should have one more standby redo log than online redo logs. The validate command seems to know this one as well.

However, the checks appear to have one flaw: they test whether the threads (and let's talk here about a single-instance, so we have only thread #1) have enough standby redo logs (SRLs) assigned. But when you create an SRL with 'alter database add standby logfile', they are unassigned to any thread. In fact, you get 0 as thread#:

select thread#, sequence# from V$STANDBY_LOG;

------- ---------
      0         0
      0         0
      0         0
      0         0
Which is perfectly fine - Oracle waits until the instance actually needs the SRL and only then is this assigned. Makes the administration easier.

But the guys responsible for VALIDATE DATABASE do not seem to realize this. So if you have just set up your SRLs and run the validate command - just to see if the config is all ok (e.g. because you just want to change the LogXptMode and protection mode) then you will get a result like this:
Thread #  Online Redo Log Groups  Standby Redo Log Groups Status
              (CDB5)                  (CDB5SBY)
    1         3                       0                       Insufficient SRLs
    Warning: standby redo logs not configured for thread 1 on CDB5SBY

WTF? Yes, the validate command did not understand that we have plenty of SRLs, only that they have not yet been assigned to any thread.

So.. we do a switchover, back and forth, to let both databases touch the SRLs and...

Thread #  Online Redo Log Groups  Standby Redo Log Groups Status
              (CDB5)                  (CDB5SBY)
    1         3                       2                       Insufficient SRLs

And we still receive a warning - although we have created 4 SRLs, only two of which Oracle has required so far...with the other two currently unassigned. Again, VALIDATE DATABASE is not aware of this and complains.

The morale? Don't just trust the command, especially in the beginning, when your configuration is fresh and still settling down. Although that's exactly the time you want to use checks like this.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

UKOUG Tech15 is over, looking forward to Tech16

What a busy week! The UKOUG Tech15 conference made me busy for four days, postponing any other work and non work stuff.
As usual, I met many people actually using our products - it's always a bit strange feeling and a strong confirmation seeing people trusting their data and apps to something a developer writes:-)
And of course, seeing many old friends again was also very nice. Especially talking to Gluent guys ( and seeing what they are up to was very interesting and promising - I hope they succeed in a big way and change the data landscape.

And of course, the Twinkies...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Oracle transactions in the new world

If the new world of BigData, NoSQL and streaming has sparked your interest, you may have noticed one peculiarity - the lack of proper transactions in these contexts (or transactions at all!) Yes, durability is retained, but the other properties of ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) leave a lot to be desired.

One might think that in this new world perhaps applications are built in such a way that they no longer need it,  and in some cases this may be true. For example, if a tweet or an update to Facebook gets lost, then who cares, and we can simply continue on. But there is of course more important data that still requires transaction support and some NoSQL databases have limited support for this nowadays. However, this is still far from a full implementation, the likes of which everyone takes for granted in the Oracle database (e.g. you cannot modify just arbitrary rows in arbitrary tables in a single transaction). Of course, the huge benefit is that these databases are much easier to scale, as they are not bogged down by lock/synchronization mechanisms that ensure data consistency.

But recently there seems to be much more interest in marrying the worlds together; by this I mean, the old 'proper' RDBMS (Oracle) world and the new BigData/NoSQL/streaming  ('Kids from the Valley') one. So the question then follows, working from the old to the new; how do you feed data from a database, built on an inherently transactional foundation, into one that has no idea about them?

Mind you, such interoperability issues are not a new thing...anyone remember that old problem of sending messages from PL/SQL or triggers? In that case any message (or email) was sent when requested, but the encapsulating transaction could be rolled back or tried again. This lead to messages that were not supposed to be sent, along with messages sent multiple times. The trick there was to use dbms_job in the workflow. This package (unlike the new dbms_scheduler) just queued the job and the job coordinator saw it only after the insert into the queue is committed – i.e, when the whole transaction commits.

There are two basic approaches to addressing this issue for a data feed between the systems:
1. You can revert to the 'old and proven' batch processing method (think ETL). Just select (e.g. using Sqoop) the data that arrived since the last load, and be sure to change your application to provide enough information so that such query is possible at all (e.g. add last-update timestamp columns).

2. Logical replication or change data capture. There is an overwhelming trend (and demand)   toward near-real-time, and people now want and and expect data with low seconds latency. In this approach changes from the source database are mined and sent to the target as they are happening.

So the second option sounds great - nice and easy – except that it’s NOT...
The issue is that any change in the database happens as it is initiated by the user/application, but until the transaction is committed you cannot be sure if the change will be persistent, and thus whether anyone outside of the database should see it.

The only solution here is to wait for the commit, and you can be more or less clever with what you do until the commit happens. You can simply wait for the commit and only then begin parsing the changes; or you can do some/all pre-processing and just flush the data out when you see the actual commit.

For this pre-processing option, as is often the case, things are actually more complicated in real life – and we don’t have to contend just with simple commits/rollbacks at the end of the transaction, but also need to handle savepoints. These are used much more often than you would think; for example, any SQL implicitly issues a savepoint, so that it can roll itself back if it fails. The hurdle is that there is no information in the redo as to when a savepoint was established, and which savepoint a rollback roll backs to.

In the end, things turn out well with the commit/rollback mechanism, except that a queue of yet-uncommitted changes must be maintained somewhere (memory, disk) when running pre-processing or that transactions are shipped only after they ended, adding to lag (especially for long/large transactions) with the wait for commit approach.

A side note: replication in the ‘old RDBMS’ world can also introduce another layer of complexity. Such logical replication can actually push changes into the target even before they are committed - and ask the target to roll them back if necessary. But due to the issues discussed above, this is actually pretty tricky and many products don't even try (Streams, Oracle GoldenGate), although others support this (Dbvisit Replicate).