Oracle 10gR2 RAC Load Balancing Features

Synopsis. To insure an even workload distribution,
a clustered database must employ methods to distribute incoming sessions evenly
and effectively across the various components of its cluster. This article
explores how Oracle 10gR2 takes advantage of simple client-side connection load
balancing, server-side load balancing, and the new Load Balancing Advisor (LBA)
features to significantly improve the distribution of workloads across the
appropriate nodes in an Oracle 10gR2 Real Application Clusters (RAC) clustered
database environment.

Oracle 10g Real Application Clusters (RAC) provides a
robust, high-availability (HA) architecture that is scalable to an
unprecedented size as business computing requirements increase. Since Oracle
has placed the concept of services as the centerpiece of this
architecture, it also means that application workloads can be distributed
across the entire clustered database. This virtually
eliminates the possibility that any one application will starve because of
resource requirements during its peak processing periods. It also guarantees
that there is always a bit of “Kentucky windage” in the overall estimates for
the required peak capacity of any Oracle 10g database system.

Oracle 10g provides several different methods to support load
balancing capabilities for this service-based architecture, including client-side
connection load balancing, client-side connection failover,
and server-side
connection load balancing.
Since these methods existed before Oracle 10g, I’ll
briefly review them to explain their relative benefits and shortfalls.

Client-Side Load Balancing Methods

Client-Side Connection Load Balancing. This load
balancing method has been available since Oracle 8i. When a user session
attempts to connect to the database, the database’s listener will assign the
session randomly to one of the listed multiple listening endpoints. Listing 1
shows an example of the TNSNAMES.ORA
network configuration file entries for an alias named CSLB that uses the LOAD_BALANCING=ON directive to implement this
load balancing feature.

While this load balancing method is certainly simplest to
implement, it also has an obvious limitation: the listener has no idea if
the session has been assigned to an endpoint whose corresponding database
server is already overloaded
. Moreover, since the listener is essentially
picking the connection completely at random, there is no guarantee that the
connection chosen will even be available at that time. This may force the
session to wait for a considerable length of time – perhaps even minutes, a
relative eternity in computing timeframes! – until the operating system
indicates to the listener that the connection is unavailable, which causes the
user session to fail eventually with an ORA-01034 ORACLE not available error.

Client-Side Connection Failover. Obviously, balancing
the overall number of connections is a desirable goal, but what happens if the
chosen connection point is unavailable because the database server’s listener
is no longer active? To forestall this, Oracle 8i provided the capability to
determine if the connection that has been chosen at random is still “alive”
and, if not, continue to try the other listed connection points until a live
connection is found. This simple method tends to limit the chance of a lost
connection, but unfortunately it must rely on TCP/IP timeouts to determine if a
connection is alive or dead, and this means that an application may wait
several seconds (or even longer!) before it receives a notification that the
connection has been terminated.

I’ve laid out the TNSNAMES.ORA entries to activate client-side
connection failover in Listing 2.
They are almost identical to Listing 1 with the notable exception of one more
directive: FAILOVER=ON.

Server-Side Load Balancing

The two previous methods will adequately handle the distribution
of user sessions across available resources while helping to guarantee that no
session will wait an excessive time to find a currently active address on which
to connect. Clearly, a better solution was needed, and Oracle 9i offered one: server-side
load balancing
. This method divides the connection load evenly between all
available listeners by determining the total number of connections on each
listener, and then distributing new user session connection requests to the
least loaded listener(s) based on the total number of sessions already
connected. While a bit more complex to implement because it requires
configuration of multiple listeners, it most definitely helps to even out
connections across all available listeners in a database system.

To implement server-side load balancing, at least two
listeners must be configured. Also, the REMOTE_LISTENERS initialization parameter must be
added to the database’s PFILE or SPFILE so
that the database knows to search out the value provided in that parameter in
the database server’s TNSNAMES.ORA
configuration file. When server-side load balancing is activated, each
listener that contributes a listening endpoint communicates with the other
listener(s) via each database instance’s PMON process. Oracle then determines
how many user connections each listener is servicing, and it will distribute
any new connection requests so that the load is balanced evenly across all
servers. The entries in TNSNAMES.ORA
direct the listeners to share information about the relative load connectivity.

As shown in Listing 3,
I’ve gathered these required changes to TNSNAMES.ORA. I’ve also created a new PL/SQL
that incorporates three different methods to generate user sessions in an
attempt to “overload” an Oracle 10gR2 database listener. A simple shell script,,
calls a few SQL command files that in turn make calls to the package’s
procedures and thus create a sample workload of approximately 40 connections
against an Oracle 10gR2 database that contains the standard sample schemas.

Load Balancing In Oracle 10g Real Application Clusters Environments

These three methods are actually quite effective for
distribution of incoming connections evenly across multiple listeners in any
single-instance database configuration. An Oracle 10gR2 Real Application
Clusters (RAC) clustered database, on the other hand, needs more robust load
balancing capabilities because of the nature of that environment.

A RAC clustered database comprises at least two (and usually
many more) nodes, each running a separate instance of the
clustered database. In addition, a RAC database usually needs to supply a minimum
of connections and resources to several applications, each
with dramatically different resource needs depending on the current
business processing cycle(s), so the application load that’s placed on each
instance in the clustered database therefore can be dramatically different at
different times of the day, week, month, and year. Finally, it’s likely that a
RAC clustered database will need to guarantee a minimum cardinality
(i.e. a specific number of nodes on which the application needs to run at all
times) to one or more mission-critical applications.

RAC Services. Starting in Oracle 8i, an Oracle
database could dynamically register a database directly with its corresponding
listener(s) based on the settings for the SERVICE_NAMES initialization parameter through
the database’s Process Monitor (PMON) background process. To completely support
this feature, Oracle strongly suggested that the SERVICE_NAME parameter should be used instead of
the original SID parameter
configuration file so that an incoming user session could immediately identify
the database instance to which a session intended to connect.

Oracle 10g RAC leverages this service naming feature to
distribute application connections efficiently across a RAC clustered database.
For example, a clustered database may need to support three different
applications, OLTP, DSS, and ADHOC. The OLTP
application is the main order entry application for this enterprise computing
environment, and therefore it needs a minimum cardinality of two cluster
database instances at all times. The DSS application, on the other hand, supports
extraction, transformation and load (ETL) operations for the enterprise’s data
warehouse, and thus it requires a minimum cardinality of just one instance.
Likewise, the ADHOC
application supports OLAP and general user query execution against the data
warehouse, but it too only requires a minimum cardinality of a single instance.

Oracle 10gR2 RAC: Server-Side Connect-Time Load Balancing

To demonstrate the implementation of load balancing features
in a RAC environment, I’ll use a relatively straightforward testing platform: a
simple two-node RAC clustered database, RACDB, with two instances, RACDB1 and RACDB2,
configured on two nodes (RACLINUX1 and
respectively). I’ve set up this configuration using two VMWare Virtual
Machines, each running CentOS Linux Enterprise Server 3 Release 8 (kernel
2.4.21-40) as the guest configuration.

shows the SRVCTL commands
I’ve issued to create and start three new application services, OLTP, DSS, and ADHOC, on the
clustered database. Note that I’ve specified both the RACDB1 and RACDB2 instances as the preferred
instances for all three applications. When I execute SRVCTL
commands to create these services, Oracle 10g automatically adds these service
name values to the SERVICE_NAMES
parameter for each instance in the cluster database.

I’ve also set up three application aliases for these
applications in the client TNSNAMES.ORA
entries configuration files. Note that I’ve specified the SERVICE_NAME
parameter as RACDB so that
all nodes in the cluster can participate in distributing the load of these
applications across the cluster. I’ve also used the two nodes’ virtual IP addresses
and raclinux2-vip)
as the connection points for these services. This guarantees that if any one of
the listeners or instances servicing these applications should fail, ONS will
automatically relocate any new connection requests to a new listener alias on
another surviving node.

To complete the configuration of server-side connection
load balancing
for this RAC clustered database, note that I’ve set the *.REMOTE_LISTENERS=RACDB_LISTENERS
initialization parameter in the database’s shared SPFILE. I’ve also added a
corresponding RACDB_LISTENERS
entry to the TNSNAMES.ORA file in the Oracle Home of each node in the cluster.
Each database’s PMON process will now automatically register the database with
the database’s local listener as well as cross-register the database
with the listeners on all other nodes in the cluster. In this mode, the nodes themselves
decide which node is least busy, and then will connect the client to that node.

It’s also important to realize that in a RAC environment,
the server-side load balancing methodology differs slightly from the
methodology used in a single-instance environment because Oracle 10gR2
discriminates whether the incoming connection has been requested as either a dedicated
or a shared server connection:

  • If a dedicated session is requested, then the listener
    will select the instance first on the basis of the node that is least loaded;
    if all nodes are equally loaded, it will then select the instance that
    has the least load.

  • For a shared server connection, however, the listener goes
    one step further. It will also check to see if all of the available instances
    are equally loaded; if this is true, the listener will place the connection on
    the least-loaded dispatcher on the selected instance.
Jim Czuprynski
Jim Czuprynski has accumulated over 30 years of experience during his information technology career. He has filled diverse roles at several Fortune 1000 companies in those three decades - mainframe programmer, applications developer, business analyst, and project manager - before becoming an Oracle database administrator in 2001. He currently holds OCP certification for Oracle 9i, 10g and 11g. Jim teaches the core Oracle University database administration courses on behalf of Oracle and its Education Partners throughout the United States and Canada, instructing several hundred Oracle DBAs since 2005. He was selected as Oracle Education Partner Instructor of the Year in 2009. Jim resides in Bartlett, Illinois, USA with his wife Ruth, whose career as a project manager and software quality assurance manager for a multinational insurance company makes for interesting marital discussions. He enjoys cross-country skiing, biking, bird watching, and writing about his life experiences in the field of information technology.

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