Docker and Oracle Databases : Finding the Sweet Spot

One of the questions I’m asked, and indeed have asked myself on numerous occasions, is how do databases fit into the Docker world? More specifically, how does the Oracle database fit into the Docker world?

There is some Boring Context at the end of the post. Happy for you to ignore it, but please read it before giving me aggro. 🙂

I don’t feel the typical lifespan of a production Oracle database fits well into the Docker world. Lots of people, myself included, have been quick to show examples of Oracle databases running on Docker, because it’s really easy and it works, but the examples are all one-off builds. There is little in the way of realistic life-cycle discussed. Maybe I’ve missed the memo on that, or I’m following the wrong people. 🙂

The issues with Oracle on Docker come about when you try to do things “the Docker way”, which works great for application servers and small footprint databases with a simpler approach to patches and upgrades, but not so well for Oracle databases. In my opinion Oracle database patches and upgrades are clumsy from a Docker perspective. I wrote about this here. I know at least one person I respect that disagrees with my opinion on this (you know who you are 🙂 ). You can choose manual intervention in the upgrade process, but I feel like that is removing some of “the magic of Docker”. It’s well within Oracle’s capability to make database patching and upgrades more Docker-friendly, but time will tell if they think it is worth the effort.

From a monitoring and tuning perspective I’m not sure Docker really fits into what most Oracle DBAs are used to either. If Oracle start making DBA tools that are a bit more “Docker aware”, that could change of course. Once again, it depends on their priorities.

So what’s the sweet spot for Oracle databases on Docker? Well I think it’s great from a Dev, Test and QA perspective. I had a great example of this last night. I was doing some APEX patching (5.1.3 to 5.1.4) at work yesterday and hit a problem. I went home and tested the APEX upgrade (5.1.3 to 5.1.4) on four environments and they all worked.

  1. Oracle Database  12.1.0.2 using multitentant architecture with APEX installed in a PDB.
  2. Oracle Database  12.1.0.2 using non-CDB architecture.
  3. Oracle Database  12.2.0.1 using multitentant architecture with APEX installed in a PDB.
  4. Oracle Database  12.2.0.1 using non-CDB architecture.

I never use non-CDB architecture at home anymore, so I had to spend about 30 seconds altering two Dockerfiles for that, but the process of getting clean environments up and running was quick and simple. It was so quick in fact that when I finished I had time to update my database Dockerfiles to install APEX 5.1.4, and update my ORDS Dockerfile to use APEX 5.1.4 and Java 8u161. All built and tested.

I’ve been using virtualization for well over a decade and I have gold images, snapshots and build scripts coming out of my ears, but Docker is head and shoulders above everything else for pushing out these small short-lived clean environments.

A while back I watched an online presentation by Seth Miller about RAC on Docker. I guess some of you are thinking WTF at this point, which was pretty much how I felt before watching it. 🙂 Watch the presentation and see why it makes sense for Veritas to invest effort in this from a Dev/Test perspective. They have a use case that fits.

The important thing is to focus on the use cases where it adds value, rather than the typical “Emperor’s New Clothes” approach assuming it’s all things to all people. Sounds obvious, but it is so often lost on the IT world. 🙂

So in conclusion, I remain sceptical about me ever running an Oracle database on Docker for production, but I can see a bunch of situations where it is useful in the Dev, Test and QA space, where you need relatively small, clean, well-defined environments for short periods of time. That seems like the sweet spot to me at this point, but I reserve the right to change my mind over time. 🙂

I’m really interested to know what you think, especially if you think I’ve missed the point. I am still a Docker newbie. Like I said earlier, read the Boring Context before jumping to conclusions though. 🙂

Cheers

Tim…

Boring Context: I feel I need to make a few points so people don’t pounce on me. 🙂

  • I am talking about databases in the sense of the monolith running on Docker. The microservice approach where the data is self-contained as part of the microservice is different.
  • I’m not trying to make out every database engine has the set of same issues, although I suspect there will be some commonality when you start talking about long-term production usage.
  • There’s nothing wrong with using Docker like lightweight virtualization and doing manual installations, patches, upgrades and maintenance inside your container. It’s going to bloat the hell out of it, and it’s not how I want to use it, but you can choose to do that if you want. The Docker police will not arrest you. 🙂
  • There’s nothing wrong with you going off piste with how you organise your builds and images. You can have separate Dockerfiles per database or use build arguments rather than first-run configuration based on environment variables. Once again, you are going to waste lots of storage and that’s not how I like to play the game, but that is your choice.
  • I know that Docker was developed with application delivery in mind and databases probably weren’t at the forefront of the developers minds when it started. I hope it stays that way!
  • Some of the same issues exist when dealing with complex web applications like OBIEE. Yes, you can install them on Docker for a demo, but does it really work for the normal lifespan of that product?
  • I realise well planned virtualization can have many of the benefits of Docker, but it feels a little heavier in comparison. Each to their own.
  • I realise there are products out there for data virtualization (like Delphix), that are capable of doing some cool things for Dev, Test and QA environments. If you are using something like that, that’s great for you. 🙂
  • Docker is changing fast. My thoughts might be very different over time as Docker develops.
  • I realise there are a lot of “we just need to keep the lights on” databases that are small and don’t have extreme requirements. Maybe I’ll find Docker to be a good home for these. Maybe not.
  • I’m not a Docker hater. In fact I’m quite the opposite.

Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

One thought on “Docker and Oracle Databases : Finding the Sweet Spot”

  1. I believe the use-cases you mentioned are the only valid use-cases at this moment; specifically considering the state of [lack of viable] solutions for persistence across Docker networks (K8s, Swarm,…).

    But even in the mentioned use-cases (CD/CI, Unit tests,…) there has to be some clarification from Oracle regarding licensing. I’d love to start a campaign in my [not-so-progressive] working environment to make the Docker platform available on workstations, but I’m sure I’ll be asked whether I’m sure that we’re in the clear or not, and I’m not sure if we are.

    That’s why I’m mostly waiting for the next XE release rather than Docker’s, because we’ve got clarity with XE.

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