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Posted Jan 26, 2006

Oracle 10g Automatic Storage Management (ASM), Part 3: Advanced Features - Page 2

By Jim Czuprynski

Coarse vs. Fine-Grained Striping

When a new disk group is created, ASM will spread files in 1MB allocation unit (AU) chunks across all of the disks in a disk group. This default method, called coarse striping, eliminates the need for manual disk tuning. When striping is completed, all disks in the same ASM disk group should have about the same size and performance characteristics; this helps to insure that optimal I/O is attainable. For most installations, only a small number of disk groups should be sufficient (e.g., one disk group designated as a work area and one for a recovery area). Thus, even though the number of files and disks may increase, a constant number of disk groups will probably have to be managed.

Most ASM files stored in the ASM instance will perform well with normal (coarse) striping. However, Files like online redo logs, flashback logs, and control files typically require low latency. For these file types, ASM provides fine-grained (128K) striping. In this case, each AU is striped, and this tends to break up medium-sized I/O operations into many smaller I/O operations that will be executed in parallel.

Failure Groups

ASM failure groups provide mechanisms to prevent the failure of a set of disks within a single particular disk group that share a common resource whose failure must be tolerated. A typical example of this concept is a series of disks connected to a single, common disk controller. In this situation, if the controller failed, all the other disks on the controller's common bus would also be unavailable, even though all of the individual disks are still working fine. (Note that what constitutes a failure group tends to be site-specific and will depend upon the failure level(s) that a site can accept.)

By default, ASM assigns each disk to its own failure group. The DBA can, of course, select a different disk grouping when creating a disk group or adding a disk to a disk group. Once a set of failure groups are identified, ASM will tend to optimize file layout so that the possibility of data unavailability because of the failure of a shared resource is reduced.

Disk Group Mirroring

ASM provides three types of disk group mirroring possibilities. The first type, external redundancy, does not utilize failure groups at all and thus provides no mirroring. This type of redundancy is best when either the DBA has decided to rely upon external OS-level hardware mirroring, or when data loss is an acceptable risk due to media failure. Normal-redundancy disk groups are the ASM default, and they support two-way mirroring that insures two copies of a file extent will always exist on the disk group. Finally, high-redundancy disk groups support triple mirroring, which insures that there will always be three copies of each file extent on the disk group.

When ASM allocates a new primary extent for a file to one disk in a disk group, it allocates a mirror copy of that extent to another disk on one of the several available "partner" disks in the same disk group. Because ASM ensures that a primary extent and its mirror copy never reside in the same failure group, ASM can thus tolerate simultaneous failures of multiple disks in a single failure group. In addition, since ASM mirrors file extents instead of disks, ASM requires spare capacity only within that disk group, not among all disks.

When a disk fails – and all disks eventually do! - ASM reads the mirrored contents from the surviving disks and then automatically rebuilds the complete contents of the disk that has failed onto the surviving disks in the disk group. This also has the advantage of spreading out the I/O hit from the recovery from a disk failure across several disks.

Disk Group Rebalancing

ASM automatically rebalances a disk group whenever disks are added or dropped. Therefore, the rebalancing process requires no intervention. Because ASM uses special indexing techniques to distribute extents over all available disks in a disk group, re-striping of the data is not required; instead, ASM only moves enough data proportionally versus the amount of storage that's been added or removed. This evenly redistributes the files and keeps a balanced I/O load across all disks in the disk group.

Oracle recommends that, to avoid unnecessary data movement, it is generally more efficient to add or drop multiple disks simultaneously. This tends to insure that the disks will be rebalanced in a single operation.

Creating New Disk Groups

On to some practical examples! I have already set up some additional simulated disks on my Linux server, so I will next create a new ASM disk group via the CREATE DISKGROUP SQL command. See Listing 3.3 for the sample code I used.

Adding New Disks

If I want to add one or more ASM disks to an existing ASM disk group, I can use the ALTER DISKGROUP ADD DISK command. ASM performs the addition of ASM disks to an ASM disk group in a single operation. I can add specific ASM disks to a disk group by name, or I can choose to use a disk discovery string. The nice thing about the disk discovery string is that if ASM detects ASM disks that are already part of an ASM disk group in the folder specified by that string, the disks will be ignored and only those ASM disks that are not yet in use will be added.

When I add an ASM disk to a disk group, the ASM instance will determine if the disk is addressable and usable; if so, then the ASM disk is formatted and rebalanced. Rebalancing tends to be time-consuming because it moves extents from every file in the ASM disk group onto the new ASM disk. Though an ASM rebalancing operation does not block any ongoing database operations, rebalancing will definitely have at least some impact on the I/O load on the system. I can also tell the ASM instance to expend more resources on the rebalancing by increasing the value of the ASM_POWER initialization parameter.

See Listing 3.4 for an example of adding a new disk to an existing disk group while requesting a higher than normal amount of resources for rebalancing the affected ASM disk group.

Resizing Disks

I can easily resize an existing ASM disk via the ALTER DISKGROUP <disk_group> RESIZE <disk|failure_group|ALL> <size>; command. ASM offers me the choice to resize all disks in the specified disk group, all disks in the specified failure group, or just the specified disk. Listing 3.5 shows examples of these three options.

Verifying ASM Disk Groups

Keeping my ASM disk groups in ship-shape condition should be one of my primary concerns. I can issue the ALTER DISKGROUP <disk group name> CHECK [NOREPAIR]; command to verify internal consistency of ASM disk group metadata and repair any possible errors. This command checks each file, each disk, or all components of the ASM disk group for any errors and will attempt to repair them. Specifying the NOREPAIR directive alerts me to any errors and bypasses any repairs; all errors will still be reported in the ASM instance's alert log. Listing 3.6 shows an example of ASM disk group verification via this command.

Manually Rebalancing a Disk Group

Even though ASM will automatically rebalance a disk group when any operation other than a MOUNT, DISMOUNT, or CHECK has been issued, I also have the option to initiate a disk rebalancing manually. Issuing the ALTER DISKGROUP <disk group name> REBALANCE [POWER n]; command requests ASM to perform rebalancing on the specified ASM disk group, provided that any rebalancing is needed.

If the optional POWER directive is specified, ASM will rebalance the disk group using the integer value to override the value that the ASM_POWER_LIMIT initialization parameter has set forth. I can thus override the speed of a potential rebalancing or change the power level of an ongoing rebalance operation by changing the POWER directive's value. In addition, if I set POWER to zero (0), any rebalancing on the disk group is halted until I directly or implicitly invoke the rebalancing operation again. See Listing 3.7 for an example of manual rebalancing a selected ASM disk group.

Mounting and Dismounting ASM Disk Groups

Dismounting a mounted ASM disk group is performed via the ALTER DISKGROUP <disk group name> DISMOUNT; command. Its reciprocal is the MOUNT directive. See Listing 3.8 for examples of both of these commands.

Removing Disks from a Disk Group

I can issue the ALTER DISKGROUP <disk group name> DROP DISK <disk name>; command to drop a single ASM disk from an existing ASM disk group. And I can also "undrop" (i.e. cancel the pending drop) of any ASM disks that were previously assigned to ASM disk group(s) with the ALTER DISKGROUP <disk group name | ALL> UNDROP DISKS; command. However, note that once a disk drop operation completes successfully, issuing UNDROP will not recover the disks. See Listing 3.9 for examples of these two commands.

Dropping a Disk Group

Finally, I can drop an entire existing ASM disk group – along with all of its files - via the DROP DISKGROUP command. If the disk group does still contain any files besides internal ASM metadata, then I have to specify the INCLUDING CONTENTS option as well. Also, the disk group to be dropped must be mounted. ASM will first validate that none of the disk group files are open, and then remove all of the assigned ASM disks and the disk group itself from the ASM instance. ASM will also overwrite the header of each previously used ASM disk to remove any remaining ASM formatting information. Listing 3.10 shows an example of this command.

Migrating a Database to ASM Storage

As discussed in the prior article in this series, ASM files cannot be accessed through normal operating system interfaces. Therefore, RMAN is the only means for copying files from regular storage to ASM, and is the only tool a DBA can use to migrate an entire database from regular to ASM storage. Oracle recommends the following process for a full database migration:

Step 1. Take a complete backup of the database before proceeding with any migration efforts. This will provide a relatively safe fallback position in case any of the migration steps outlined below should fail.

Step 2. Gather the file names of the current control files and online redo logs using V$CONTROLFILE and V$LOGFILE.

Step 3. Shut down the database in consistent mode using either SHUTDOWN IMMEDIATE, SHUTDOWN TRANSACTIONAL, or SHUTDOWN NORMAL. This is a crucial step.

Step 4. Change the database's server parameter file:

  • Set the necessary OMF destination parameters to the desired ASM disk group.
  • Remove the CONTROL_FILES parameter.

Step 5. Restore a control file from backup. This will migrate the control files to ASM storage automatically. Note that if an OMF control file is created but there is a server parameter file, then a CONTROL_FILES initialization parameter entry will also be created in the server parameter file.

Step 6. Issue ALTER DATABASE MOUNT; to mount the database.

Step 7. Edit and run an RMAN command file that:

  • Backs up the database
  • Switches the current data files to the backups
  • Renames the online redo logs. You can move only tablespaces or data files using the BACKUP AS COPY command

Step 8. Once the DBA is certain that the migration has been successful, she can delete the original database files left behind in the "regular" storage directories.

An example RMAN command script to accomplish Step 7 is shown in Listing 3.11.


While I have endeavored to introduce practical examples of how to employ Automatic Storage Management (ASM) within multiple Oracle 10g environments, I have truly just scratched the scratch on the surface of what ASM can accomplish. ASM places extremely powerful file management tools into the hands of every Oracle DBA, and it is definitely worth the effort to explore its features no matter the size of the database environment.

References and Additional Reading

While there is no substitute for direct experience, reading the manual is not a bad idea, either. I have drawn upon the following Oracle 10g documentation for the deeper technical details of this article:

B10739-01 Oracle Database Administrator's Guide, Chapter 12

B10743-01 Oracle Database Concepts, Chapter 14

B10755-01 Oracle Database Reference

B10759-01 Oracle Database SQL Reference

» See All Articles by Columnist Jim Czuprynski

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