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Oracle support of Red Hat Enterprise Linux in question

Mark Fontecchio, Editor

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A recent Oracle Support note has some Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) customers wondering about Oracle’s future support of Red Hat. But one expert says it’s more a statement of Oracle’s plans for its own database storage management features.

The note, released this spring and updated earlier this month, has to do with ASMLib, a support library for the Automatic Storage Management (ASM) feature of Oracle Database. According to the note, the support library “allows an Oracle Database using ASM more efficient and capable access to the disk groups it is using.”

One section of the support note concerns RHEL 6, released in the fall and updated last month.

“For RHEL6, Oracle will only provide ASMLib software and updates when configured with a kernel distributed by Oracle,” the note reads. “Oracle will not provide ASMLib packages for kernels distributed by Red Hat as part of RHEL6. ASMLib updates will be delivered via Unbreakable Linux Network (ULN) which is available to customers with Oracle Linux support. ULN works with both Oracle Linux or Red Hat Linux installations, but ASMlib usage will require replacing any Red Hat kernel with a kernel provided by Oracle.”

Oracle’s mixed message on ASMlib
The note has made some Oracle customers who run Red Hat nervous about Oracle’s intentions. Marianne Gillfillan, a database administrator with Concordia Administrative Information System -- which is part of the St. Louis-based Concordia University System -- said she’s worried. She wonders whether the note means Oracle will start forcing Oracle shops running ASM on Linux to drop Red Hat support for its own.

“I do believe it’s their attempt to pull support from RHEL to [Oracle Enterprise Linux],” Gillfillan said.

But Tim Hall isn’t so sure. Hall is an Oracle Certified Professional and runs the popular Oracle DBA and developer site oracle-base.com. He said that udev, a device manager within the Linux kernel, has become the de facto replacement for ASMLib.

“The story goes that when Oracle came up with ASMLib, they planned on it being an API that storage vendors would work with,” Hall said. “The reality is that this didn’t happen, so all ASMLib ended up doing is disk discovery, permissions and ownership. This can be done almost as easily with udev, which has the advantage of not needing to be upgraded every time the kernel version changes.”

Neither Oracle nor Red Hat would comment for this story.

Hall added that even early supporters of ASMLib within Oracle have since suggested there is no point to using it now. Some writing that dates back a few years also suggests that ASMLib is obsolete on a modern Linux system.

Gillfillan said she hasn’t been able to get an answer from Oracle or Red Hat on the reasons behind the support note. And though she acknowledged that udev may be a viable substitute, she said that she and other DBAs have become so accustomed to using ASMLib that they may still switch support to Oracle when the time comes. In the meantime, Gillfillan is planning to evaluate  the capabilities of alternatives such as udev. If they’re not up to par, she’ll stick with ASMLib and move to Oracle Enterprise Linux.

“The only issue I see with switching is that Oracle Support has not been very responsive lately, at least on the database side of things,” she said. “I’m hoping that they are a bit more responsive on the OS [operating system] side. Otherwise it’s going to be a major step down in support.”

Hall acknowledged that he is just speculating about the reasons behind the support note, saying he cannot truly know the motives behind the move.

“But removing support for a product that most people don’t bother with and can be easily replaced by a bit of native functionality is hardly a glaring sign of impending doom for RHEL,” he said.

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