Virtualized Exadata Machine (Isolation vs Efficiency)

Virtualizing Exadata machine has become an important deployment decision for many Exadata customers and most of them like to explore or at least discuss virtualization to see if there is any benefit for them. Since I have already been part of those conversations, I decided to share my thoughts on this topic to help my readers.

Oracle started supporting Exadata virtualization while ago and it’s free. You might want to virtualize your Exadata Machine for many reasons (Consolidation, Security, and Compliance) and end result will be to achieve some level of Isolation. Isolation is probably one of the main reason to virtualized Exadata machine. And if you are planning to virtualize your Exadata, keep in mind that everything (CPU, memory, disk) will be hard partitioned. Even though you can over-provision CPU’s, Oracle recommend strongly against over provisioning any resources. With dedicated CPU’s, memory and disks you will be able to achieve great isolation but it will not be an efficient use of Exadata machine resources. For instance, virtualization will provide you opportunity to have different patching cycles for each Exadata VM cluster but not without maintenance overhead. I have worked with Exadata Rack with up to 3 VM’s and it was not fun patching them, imagine if you have multiple virtualize Exadata machines. Remember Oracle releases around 4 bundle patches a year and you need to apply at least 2 of them to be in compliance for Oracle Platinum Service. Additionally, since everything is hard partitioned in virtualized Exadata machine, you will not be able to use IDLE hardware resources from Other VM’s. Hence you are wasting very expensive Hardware and Software resources.

It’s also important to understand that there are many levels of isolation like physical level, OS level, Storage Level, cluster level or RDBMS level and you can still achieve some level of isolation without virtualizing Exadata machine. For example you can have multiple RDBMS homes, different ASM disk groups and isolated network using VLAN.  I am not against virtualizing Exadata Machine but you should have very good use case for it. I would suggest combining above mentioned isolation strategies with 12c multitenant option to achieve excellent efficiency. But again if you are required to isolate everything at OS level, virtualizing Exadata Machine using OVM is your only option. Even though Exadata VM’s are also great for consolidation but best strategy would be to combine VM’s with database native consolidation options like multitenant. Exadata VMs have good Isolation but have poor efficiency and higher maintenance. Virtualizing Exadata Machine should not be your standard built, you should always consider bear metal install over Virtualized Exadata install.