SEPA reaps cost savings running Oracle on VMware

SEPA’s IT team was warned of the complexities of virtualising Oracle database and apps. But strategic design and testing helped it run Oracle on VMware vSphere and reap benefits.

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SEPA’s IT team had some concerns about virtualising Oracle database and applications using another vendor’s virtualisation products. However, with strategic design, planning and testing, the team found success with VMware.

By 2011, Scottish Environmental Protection Association’s (SEPA) IT team had virtualised most parts of its data centre to bring its infrastructure up to speed with growth in staff, technology and data. 

In addition to virtualising its estate, it also deployed VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) to ensure 100% uptime.

But SEPA kept its Oracle database and applications in a physical infrastructure.

“We had invested hugely in Oracle,” said Alastair Rennie, head of information services at SEPA.

The IT team knew that managing and supporting a fully virtualised infrastructure was far easier and cheaper than supporting a partially virtualised infrastructure.

“Oracle wanted us to use its own virtualisation and disaster recovery products,” Rennie said. “But the cost was horrific.”

With its previous history with VMware Inc.’s vSphere 4 and VMware Site Recovery Manager, SEPA virtualised Oracle using vSphere.

“We were familiar with VMware’s virtualisation tools as we have used free versions of ESX for testing and development, he said. And vSphere had the features that suited our virtualisation needs,” he said.

But the plan to virtualise Oracle products and run them on VMware -- or any other vendor’s platform -- was met with skepticism.

“Everyone advised us ‘don’t virtualise Oracle using VMware, it won’t work,’” he said.

Even the business stakeholders advised against the project as SEPA had many mission critical apps running on Oracle and could not afford to risk them. There were other challenges too, including from Oracle itself, which wasn’t willing to support SEPA’s database and apps that it virtualised using the VMware platform, he added.

Oracle has since extended support for customers running Oracle products on VMware.

For the IT team, however, the benefits far outweighed the challenges. 

“We knew virtualising Oracle will bring prospective benefits of enhanced availability, efficiency in new application deployment and cost savings,” Rennie said. And it isn’t an impossible mission to run Oracle on VMware, he said.

Despite the potential lack of support, the IT team moved forward with the project.

Oracle on VMware challenges, solutions
SEPA developed a technical design to run Oracle on VMware vSphere 4 and started testing the environment, but it didn’t work, Rennie said.

“We found out that we had SATA RAID 6 and Oracle won’t work with that,” he said. 

“That’s the crunch point for Oracle. It needs top of the range, fast high quality stuff around it to be effectively virtualised,” he added.

SEPA’s IT then replaced SATA RAID 6 with SAS RAID 10 and now runs Oracle on VMware vSphere 4. It also protects Oracle and all the other applications with SRM.

“We now have a fully virtualised application system and are reaping enterprise wide benefits,” Rennie said.

The team has virtualised all core business systems -- finance, license management, helpdesk and document management systems. It had 30 terrabytes of data virtualised on vSphere 4 and all this data is protected by SRM.

Its overall virtualisation project brought IT-specific benefits. It has a fully virtualised application system; a robust data backup, replication and disaster recovery strategy; and a virtualised storage infrastructure.

But there were wider business-level benefits too.

“We got some great cash savings,” Rennie said.

The team reduced the implementation budget by approximately £180,000; it reduced the storage space by five cabinets; and consequently reduced power consumption by c20kWx2; it also achieved better than 99.98% availability and improved resiliency.

Once the project was complete, the team reworked its Oracle licensing agreement. SEPA now has an enterprise agreement that covers any Oracle apps that it may want to virtualise using vSphere in the future, and it worked out to be a cheaper licensing arrangement, Rennie said.

“We haven’t experienced any downtime or performance issues since we started running Oracle on VMware,” he added.

“Virtualising a complete Oracle instance is not complex, as long as you approach the technical design carefully and apply good principles for architecture and sizing,” Rennie said.

Have you virtualised Oracle products or looking to virtualise them? Let us know what you think by writing to us at [email protected].

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