Exploring Oracle as a SQL Server user – Part one – Reasons and Pre-install Decisions

This is the first of several articles I’m going to write about exploring the Oracle database server product from the perspective of a SQL Server user.  The idea came about from suggestions I received about what my first SQLBits session submission could be about.

I was one of many SQL Server users who for years was curious about the Oracle platform but each time I’d tried to learn more I was put off either by: not knowing how or where to begin, not having a reason to motivate me into actually getting it done, or by simply not devoting enough time to it.  All this changed when after having only used the Microsoft app stack for 10 years I was told my company was about to implement Oracle, and even worse, on Linux.

In hindsight, I realised that even though I’d never needed to use Oracle before it was probably would have been worth having these skills tucked away if only to make my skillset look broader and more open minded.

In this part one I’m going to explore the reasons why as a SQL Server DBA I feel it’s worth knowing how to use the Oracle database and secondly some decisions you’ll need to make before making downloading your trial software from oracle.com.

Reasons to try Oracle

Even if you currently work in a SQL Server only environment tomorrow could be the day you get told:

  • you have to integrate your database with an external Oracle database,
  • you have a new application coming along and it only runs on Oracle,
  • the job markets full of SQL Server only DBAs, it’s time to broaden your skills

Or, if there’s already Oracle database instances in your environment but you’ve never needed to deal with them then tomorrow could be the day you get told:

  • the Oracle guy’s leaving, you can deal with databases right?
  • the data source your application depends on is moving over to Oracle
  • you guys break my test system, get your own Oracle dev server to use

Alternatively if you already work with an Oracle database, for example as an ETL source, you may want to understand more about the querying, indexing and schemas behind the query string you send it.

Despite all these real world reasons existing the main driver I’ve found for SQL Server DBAs wanting to try Oracle is pure curiosity, the problem is that without some serious time to spend on learning a new world it never seems to happen. 

Pre-install Decisions

Once you’ve decided to try Oracle you need to make a few decisions before knowing what to download and begin installing.

Server Host – virtual or physical?  Oracle is very flexible these days about where it can run and it’s more than likely you’ll choose to run your test server as a VM.  If you do then make sure you can give plenty of physical resource, I’d suggest 16GB of memory, but more importantly a healthy IO system.  A test system won’t be IO hungry but not having to wait 5 minutes for the system to boot up will improve your experience and make you less tempted to shutdown and do something else.

Operating System?  This is a big question which will either make your learning experience thorough but deeply technical or easier but less informative in my view.  Having used Oracle on both Linux/Unix and Windows I would always suggest using Linux, even if you’ve never used Linux before.  I hadn’t when I learnt Oracle but it was very rewarding.  Oracle lives in a world of command line tools, text config files and I found it much easier to control and configure in a GUI free environment than when I’ve installed it on Windows.  Learning Linux in order to use Oracle is another skill worth acquiring and it doesn’t have to be anywhere near as complicated as it could be to use successfully use Oracle.  My recommendation would be one of the Red Hat clones such as CentOS as there’s more information on Google for those than SUSE Linux or Solaris etc. 

Version – this is actually my view on why this isn’t a big decision point.  For what most people want to do Standard Edition will be sufficient but Oracle love pushing Enterprise Edition as they like getting people hooked on the higher revenue option (in my view!).  The version also makes little difference.  I learnt on 10gR1, quickly moved to 10gR2 however 11gR2 is now the norm.  I suspect for your first ever use the only difference will be improvements in the web admin tools.  In 10g these were awful, hence my dependence on command line tools, they may have improved but in my view they should only be used in parallel to the command line toolset.

Downloading

The following URL is Oracle’s current tier download homepage
http://www.oracle.com/technology/software/products/database/index.html

Along with the actual installation download also make sure you find the installation notes.  These will give you a thorough list of pre-installation requirements needed before you can successfully install Oracle.  I remember the Linux steps took me a while to get done, work with a Linux sysadmin if you know one, but they will give you a thorough understanding of configuring Linux, installing packages, operating system user security and file permissions.

Part Two

In the next section I will discuss some key concepts that are a priority for a new Oracle DBA to master – database physical file configurations and backups.

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