Oracle HA & DR Basics [With Video]

Oracle has different availability and recovery options from SQL Server. Being aware of what these options are and how you can use them will go a long way toward keeping your Oracle boxes just as safe as your SQL Server boxes.

Here’s my 17-minute video explaining it, or you can keep reading and get your learn on silently.

Protect the precious data!

Protect the precious data!

Data Guard

Oracle Data Guard is a way to set up and maintain standby databases. There’s a primary (yay!) and one or more standby databases. A standby is initialized from a backup of the primary.

If Data Guard sounds SQL Server log shipping to you, you’d be close to right.

If Data Guard sounds SQL Server database mirroring, you’d also be close to right.

Oracle Data Guard is something of a hybrid between SQL Server log shipping and database mirroring.

When you’re using a physical standby database, Data Guard works by streaming redo log records from the primary to the secondaries. The redo logs are applied at the secondary and the secondary database is kept up to date (for values of up to date). The physical standby is an exact copy of the primary database.

A logical standby database is logically the same as the production database. It has the same data, but the structures can differ. In a logical standby, redo logs are transformed into SQL statements and applied to the standby database. This flexibility gives the DBA options like creating reporting focused indexes, using Data Guard for rolling upgrades, or other helpful scenarios. There are some limitations and considerations for using a logical standby, but the option is there.

It’s also possible to use a snapshot standby. A snapshot standby only gets changes applied periodically. The difference from logical and physical standbys is that the snapshot standby is fully updatable. Users can make changes and validate different scenarios. Whenever you’re ready to resynchronize, the changes made are discarded, the database is converted into a physical standby and changes can be applied again.

Holy cow, that’s a lot to think about. Plus, there are three modes of operation for the Data Guard set up:

  • Maximum performance
  • Maximum availability
  • Maximum protection

Maximum performance is the default configuration for Data Guard. In this mode, asynchronous log record transport is used. Depending on the speed of all pieces of the system, some data loss is possible, depending on network latency and how much data the secondary has been able to process.

Maximum availability tries to stay online and provide zero data loss. The maximum availability mode will synchronously send log records to the standby, but if the standby isn’t available, the primary will wait until a timeout expires. Data Guard will regularly attempt to contact the standby (whenever logs are switched). Once the standby comes back online, Data Guard will start sending logs to the standby. Some data loss is also possible in maximum availability mode.

Maximum protection is synchronous. If the standby goes away, the primary will stall and eventually fail. If there is more than one standby database, the primary is going to wait for at least one standby to respond. Needless to say, it’s recommended to have more than one standby if you’re going to be operating in maximum protection mode.

To complicate matters even further, it’s possible to have a Data Guard Broker as a witness to make help ensure automatic failover for both databases and for clients connecting to Oracle.

We can use Oracle Data Guard to achieve very small windows of data loss with short failovers.

Active Data Guard

Active Data Guard is an additional licensed feature for Oracle Data Guard. Active Data Guard makes it possible to read from the standby servers while still applying log changes to the instance. Active Data Guard is roughly analogous with SQL Server’s AlwaysOn Availability Groups.

Active Data Guard also includes a feature called Far Sync. In this scenario, the DBA sets up a limited Far Sync instance. Far Sync is used to use Active Data Guard for off-site purposes. The Far Sync instance itself is a limited Oracle instance – it can’t be queried. The purpose of the Far Sync instance is to stand in as an intermediary. Log records are moved to the Far Sync instance and then they’re sent to the geographically distant standby.

Basically – the Far Sync instance can be used for disaster recovery. Active Data Guard, with the Far Sync option, gives you one solution for both HA and DR. Depending on how Active Data Guard has been configured, it can be used to allow zero to minimal data loss and support very fast recovery times.

If you lose one piggy bank, you've got more, right?

If you lose one piggy bank, you’ve got more, right?

Oracle RAC

Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) is a way to ensure high availability with minimal failover. You can think of it as somewhat similar to SQL Server’s failover clustering, but with RAC all RAC nodes are active and serving data. Oracle RAC does this by having all RAC nodes share the same set of disks. This can lead to some complexities, but it presents a lot of availability options for DBAs looking for a combination of performance and availability.

RAC provides several options for failover. Clients can be made RAC aware – a client can move between different RAC nodes if one node goes down. Depending on requirements, the query can return an error to the client or keep running on the new RAC node. RAC also provides a RAC listener that enables automatic failover between RAC nodes.

DBAs can upgrade RAC with minimal downtime. Individual nodes can be upgraded through a rolling upgrade. The other nodes will see increased load during this time, but it’s a price to pay for the ability to keep serving data during an upgrade. Occasionally updates will come along that can’t be applied through a rolling update process so make sure you read the release notes.

Maximum Availability Architecture.

You can’t read more than a few paragraphs about Oracle HA & DR without seeing the phrase “Maximum Availability Architecture.” Oracle publish a document about the Oracle Maximum Availability Architecture (MAA). Basically, the MAA is a pre-defined set of features that combine multiple Oracle technologies to create a highly available and redundant Oracle environment. The MAA covers instance failure, storage failure, human error, and the loss of a data center. But, like all HA solutions, start with the business requirements and map them to the technology solutions.

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