In this post, I will begin to get to the heart of the matter: The use of storage-level instantaneous copy technology with Oracle backup.
When I talk about storage-level instantaneous copy technology (which I will refer to from now on with the acronym SLIC), I mean things like snapshots and BCVs. Anything that facilitates a point in time instantaneous copy of a database or file system, through some storage-layer mechanism. SLIC technologies come in two broad types: Physical copy technologies (like BCVs) and virtual copy technologies (like snapshots).
When I first went to work for NetApp back in 1997, this was my first challenge. Those were heady times. The internet boom was underway. EMC was pushing their version of SLIC technology, which was largely BCVs. NetApp had SLIC in the form of snapshots, but Oracle was highly resistant to the concept of NFS. My first assignment was to validate the use of NetApp’s NFS implementation with Oracle databases. In the process, I was strongly encouraged to figure out how to do an Oracle hot backup with snapshots. Which I successfully did in early 1998.
At this point, Oracle 7 was the current version, and hot backup (or “user managed backup” as Oracle preferred to call it) was the only way to back up an Oracle database. It would be difficult to over-emphasize the importance of the hot backup feature in Oracle’s success. I think it was absolutely the killer feature which allowed Oracle to become the dominant force on the planet in this space. Let me explain why that was so.
Again, the internet boom was coming into full swing. This pushed a fundamental change in the way that databases worked in many IT organizations, especially dotcoms or companies that wanted to sell products in the online marketplace. The internet was a global phenomenon. That meant 24 x 7 access. Before the internet, DBAs had some downtime each day to back the database up. No longer. Any downtime was now unacceptable. The database had to be backed up while online and open. The database software market became a horse race to see which vendor could do a better job backing up an online production database.
The dominant forces in the market were Oracle and Sybase. Microsoft SQL Server was a Sybase knock off and basically a toy. IBM DB2 was stuck in the proprietary mainframe world, and had no real open source strategy. It was really between Oracle and Sybase.
Oracle had the feature called hot backup. This allowed you to use SLIC to make an instantaneous copy of a running Oracle database while it was in a special mode called “hot backup mode”. I/O to the database was allowed to continue the entire time. Basically, hot backup mode was, and still is, a form of controlled or “gated” corruption. Oracle knew that any block written to the datafiles during the period when they were in this mode were potentially corrupt. So Oracle simply copied them to the logs as well. During recovery, Oracle ignored those blocks in the datafiles, and pulled those blocks from the logs. This meant that for purposes of optimizing hot backup, you needed to take the copy as rapidly as possible, both to minimize the number of ignored blocks, and reduce the impact of the huge increase in logging which occured while in hot backup mode. Enter SLIC, which enabled the DBA to make a copy of the database instantly.
With SLIC, Oracle databases could be backed up very rapidly. The backup operation had minimal impact on the production database. Most DBAs could not measure any performance impact at all. This meant that databases could be backed up much more often. The impact of hot backup on logging was a tiny blip, that's all.
SLIC allowed the copy to become a fully writable copy of the database instantly as well. This meant that the restore time was also dramatically reduced. Since the database could be backed up more often, this also reduced the time for recovery, since fewer log files needed to be applied.
In contrast, Sybase did not support any SLIC technology whatsoever. You were required to use a tool called Backup Server to make a backup of the database. This tool did lots and lots of I/O. The process seriously affected the production database’s performance, and the backup operation took hours. Restore and recovery time were similarly long.
Thus, when combined with SLIC, Oracle had the best online backup technology going. This allowed Oracle to crush Sybase and become the logical choice for all internet-facing database applications. This in turn led to Oracle’s dominance in the database marketplace, which persists to this day.
EMC led the charge of the storage space to provide SLIC technology to the Oracle database market, initially in the form of BCVs. As I said, I became involved in 1997 in validating NetApp snapshots, as well as NFS, for storing and backing up Oracle databases. By that time EMC had also introduced a set of snapshot SLIC technologies in the form of Timefinder Snap on the Symmetrix and SnapView snapshot on the CLARiiON.
In my next post I will discuss the differences between the SLIC approaches taken by EMC and NetApp and how those decisions have affected the Oracle database user.