An Oracle Linux Skeptic … Converted
A couple of years ago, I came back from my lunch hour to find a DVD had been dropped on my desk. Some coworker who knew that I was “The Oracle Guy” thought I would be interested. I picked it up long enough to see “Oracle Unbreakable Linux” and a penguin in a breastplate on the cover. I tossed it on one of the many piles of paper on my desk (where it was soon buried). That was my first encounter with Oracle Linux and the last time I thought about it until very recently.
About eight weeks ago I was sent an email from the Oracle Partner Network marketing team inviting me to attend a free two-day boot camp. The course was a Live Virtual class for the Oracle Linux 6 Implementation Essentials exam (1Z0-460). I have always enjoyed Oracle University courses and “free” is a magic word. In addition, I am always interested in certifications relevant to my career. I dropped by the topics page on the Oracle University website for that exam. Most of them seemed generic enough that they would be relevant to any distribution of Linux. I requested a slot in the class and got a confirmation email a couple of weeks later.
What I expected to do was attend the boot camp, do enough additional research that I could pass the exam, and then go back to ignoring Oracle Linux. I certainly did not expect the boot camp to convince me that I should be using Oracle Linux. However, that is exactly what happened. Mind you, I am not a Linux connoisseur. To me an operating system is just something for my database to run on. When booting the server I expect to see a splash screen and then the OS should quietly fade into the background and never be heard from again.
I currently have Oracle databases on three Linux servers. My production server is running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 in a hosted data center. I have Quality Assurance and Development databases each running on their own Fedora Linux server at my local office. Neither database has a role important enough to justify paying for a Red Hat support contract. However, I did want access to an update repository. I have read that it is possible to use CentOS update repositories for RHEL systems that are not under a support contract. Doing that strikes me as … inadvisable.
Officially, of course, the Oracle database is not supported on Fedora even though it is well known that it works on Fedora. There are numerous people that run test or development databases on it and on several other unsupported Linux distributions. The only practical downside of doing so is the limit to which Oracle’s support team can assist you if you open a ticket for a database on an unsupported distribution. Since these are seldom production databases, that generally is not a significant factor.
That said, Oracle Linux is free to download, guaranteed to be compatible with the database, and Oracle has a public Yum server that is kept current with all of the updates. Those three points add up to one inescapable conclusion. I will never use Fedora Linux for any of my Oracle database servers ever again. In fact, I have been meaning to rebuild my development server for some time. I now have an added incentive to do so and it will be running Oracle Linux 6 when the rebuild is complete.
The only question that I can see as being viable is in choosing among the supported Linux distributions for a production server that needs a support contract: Oracle Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, or SUSE Linux. As I noted earlier, my personal interest in the OS is minimal. Since most of my colleagues who have strong opinions prefer Red Hat to SUSE, this is the distribution I have always used when the decision is mine to make. Oracle Linux is a tracking version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It has effectively everything RHEL has, but also includes a few tweaks to make the OS perform better as a database server. Red Hat could never make those same tweaks to their distribution because not everyone using RHEL is using it to host an Oracle database.
At this point, let me flashback to a statement I made earlier in this article: “To me an operating system is just something for my database to run on.” Oracle’s development team is specifically working to tweak their distribution of Linux to make it work more efficiently with the Oracle database. Since the only thing I care about is my Oracle database, the conclusion is obvious. In the future, when I select a Linux distribution to host an Oracle database that is critical enough to merit a support contract — it is going to be Oracle Linux. This also means that my development, QA, and production databases will all be using the same OS, which is icing on the cake.
Oracle only made their Linux distribution available in the third quarter of 2010. I cannot imagine that it has a huge share of the Linux market. However, I believe there will be some significant movement to it in the next several years by companies running Oracle database on other Linux distributions. Everyone wants more performance out of their database. Generally that costs money — more hard disk space, faster CPUs, more memory. If the performance tweaks built into the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel result in additional performance, and do so without additional cost, who would decide not to use Oracle Linux?
I originally took the boot camp for the 1Z0-460: Oracle Linux 6 Implementation Essentials exam with the intent of boosting my (generic) Linux credentials. At this point, I think that in the long run I will benefit more from adding Oracle Linux to my credentials. The implementation essentials exam is directed primarily towards employees of Oracle partner companies. The 1Z0-100: Oracle Linux 5 and 6 System Administration exam contains a more comprehensive set of topics and is designed for professionals that will be administering OL6 systems. I plan to pursue that certification in the near future. After all, very shortly I will be administering at least one and perhaps two or three Oracle Linux Servers.