The HP Enterprise Database Consolidation (DBC) Appliance is one of the first entries in a new type of computing platform: the database appliance. Announced at this year’s PASS Summit in Seattle, the DBC Appliance is now available for purchase, with the first units shipping in January 2012. Although using appliances is a new trend in the database industry, there’s no doubt it’s quickly growing in importance.

Database appliances offer several important advantages over do-it-yourself installations. Appliances are optimized to perform the workload for which they’re designed. They greatly accelerate the time to deployment because they’re delivered with all of the hardware and software preinstalled and configured. In addition, they can simplify operations by providing a single point of contact for support.

Because of the way the DBC Appliance is architected, it acts as a building block in establishing a private cloud within an IT infrastructure, transforming enterprise database instances into Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) applications. At its core, the DBC Appliance is essentially a high-performance virtualization platform that has been optimized to support hundreds of concurrent database workloads.

Engineering teams from HP and Microsoft worked closely together for several years to design the DBC Appliance. After analyzing database implementations from a number of sources -- including Microsoft IT’s 30,000 SQL Server instances, the SQL Customer Advisory Team (SQLCAT), and selected Technology Adoption Program (TAP) partners -- the engineering teams identified three model SQL Server workloads that they designed the DBC Appliance to support. These workloads represent small, medium, and large SQL Server implementations. A small workload can be supported by a virtual machine (VM) with one virtual CPU (vCPU) and 4GB of RAM. It uses about 100GB of storage and can support about 50 I/O operations per second (IOPS). A medium workload can be run by a VM with two vCPUs and 8GB of RAM. This workload typically requires about 200GB of storage and can support about 400 IOPS. A large workload can be run by a VM with four vCPUs and 16GB of RAM. The large workload typically needs 400GB of storage and can support about 1,600 IOPS. Larger workloads that require more than four vCPUs, more than 64GB of RAM, or more than 2,500 IOPS per disk aren’t good candidates for the DBC Appliance. However, these limits will certainly be lifted in future versions of the appliance. The DBC Appliance is designed to support a large number of these different types of database workloads. In a full-rack configuration, the DBC Appliance provides sustained support for 60,000 IOPS, enabling it to run about 200 concurrent database instances.

The DBC Appliance challenges some outdated database perceptions, especially the ideas that you can’t run SQL Server and other enterprise database workloads in a VM and that you can’t combine multiple database workloads on the same virtualization host. The DBC Appliance is designed to do both. Recent technological advances such as processor support for Second Level Address Translation (SLAT) provide the performance foundation that VMs need to support CPU-intensive workloads. More important, the engineering teams designed the DBC Appliance’s storage to support very high levels of sustained random IOPS. It’s important to note that the DBC Appliance is built on top of Hyper-V virtualization, so it isn’t limited to running SQL Server. It can support other databases (including Oracle and MySQL) and any other workload that can run in a Hyper-V VM.

The private cloud is more than just virtualization, and the DBC Appliance is more than just a high-performance server that can run lots of SQL Server VMs. It provides extreme scalability and has its own self-contained management layer as well as built-in high availability. To see how this is possible, let’s dig deeper into the different components that make up the DBC Appliance.

DBC Appliance Hardware

Unlike the HP Business Decision Appliance, a 1U department unit that I reviewed in the Windows IT Pro article “HP Business Decision Appliance,” the DBC Appliance isn’t a small unit. It’s designed for enterprise-level computing.

The DBC Application is built in an HP BladeSystem C3000 enclosure and is delivered in two form factors: a half-rack configuration and a full-rack configuration. In the half-rack configuration, it has four dual-socket HP ProLiant BL465c G7 blade servers and eight AMD Opteron 6100 Series processors, with 96 cores and 1TB of RAM. In the full-rack configuration, the DBC Appliance has eight HP ProLiant BL465c G7 blade servers and 16 Opteron 6100 Series processors, with 192 cores and 2TB of RAM. Each BL465c G7 blade server also has two 300GB hard drives.

Being a standalone appliance, the DBC Appliance comes configured with its own storage and networking. Internally, it uses two ProCurve E6600 10GBps switches and two ProCurve E2910 1GBps switches. The ProCurve switches aren’t connected to the customer’s network. They’re used internally by the DBC Appliance. There are two HP Virtual Connect Flex-10 Ethernet Modules for connectivity to the customer’s network. All of the networking components are duplexed for high availability. There are also four separate internal power distribution units.

The DBC Appliance contains its own storage array, which is built using a storage block design methodology. Each storage block can deliver about 15,000 IOPS and consists of one HP P2000 G3 10GbE iSCSI disk array, three HP D2700 disk racks, and 99 small form factor (SFF) spindles with 146GB and a speed of 15,000rpm. In the half-rack configuration, the DBC Appliance has two storage blocks for a total of 28TB of raw data storage and 198 spindles. In the full-rack configuration, it has four storage blocks for a total of 57TB of raw data storage and 396 spindles. The storage is configured with RAID 10 to provide protection from drive failure. At the OS level, the storage is essentially divided into five Cluster Shared Volumes (CSVs), along with some space reserved for guest VM iSCSI connections and guest clustering. You can see an overview of the DBC Appliance’s half-rack and full-rack configurations in Figure 1.

Half-rack and full-rack configurations of the HP DBC Appliance
Figure 1: Half-rack and full-rack configurations of the DBC Appliance

For extreme scalability, you can have up to 10 full racks all functioning as part of a single appliance. The half rack is designed to provide support for 30,000 sustained IOPS, which Microsoft conservatively estimates will support 100 database instances. The full rack will support 60,000 sustained IOPS and 200 database instances. Designers from Microsoft and HP estimate that 10 of these racks would equal the computing power of about 3,000 physical servers. You have the ability to geographically separate the different racks for protection from site disaster.

DBC Appliance Software

One of the most important features of the DBC Appliance is that it has been configured for high availability right out of the box. The DBC Appliance is delivered to the customer with a preconfigured Windows failover cluster. The half-rack configuration with four blades uses a four-node failover cluster network, whereas the full-rack configuration with eight blades uses an eight-node failover cluster network.

Out of the box, the DBC Appliance ships with more than a dozen prebuilt management VMs. They include:

  • A VM running Windows Server 2008 R2 Active Directory (AD)
  • A VM running System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) 2007 R2
  • A VM hosting the SQL Server 2008 R2 database for SCOM
  • A VM hosting the SQL Server 2008 R2 data warehouse for SCOM
  • A VM running System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2008 R2
  • Two VMs hosting a SQL Server 2008 R2 guest cluster for VMM
  • A VM running Windows Server 2008 R2 IIS Web Server
  • A VM running SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) 2008 R2
  • A VM running System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007 R3
  • A VM running System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2010

The VM running VMM is the core of the DBC Appliance. It’s used to manage all the database VMs that run on the appliance. It’s also used to perform physical-to-virtual (P2V) migrations for existing physical database servers as well as creating new VMs from existing templates. The DBC Appliance provides six customer templates that match the three model workloads: small, medium, and large. Three of them include Server 2008 R2 only; the other three include Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition. It’s important to note that these templates include Sysprep images of the Windows OS and SQL Server (if applicable). After creating a VM with one of these templates, you have a fully running VM with no need to install the Windows OS or SQL Server application code. Using these templates really speeds up the deployment of new VMs.

The other VMs support the management of the appliance. The AD VM provides the AD infrastructure for server applications running on the appliance. The SCOM VM provides monitoring, whereas the SCCM VM supports server updating. The SSRS and data warehouse VMs provide management reporting. The DPM VM provides backup for the appliance and can be used to back up guest database VMs. Remember, manually creating, installing, and configuring these VMs and their different System Center components isn’t required. All these VMs are prebuilt and come up running right after the initial deployment of the DBC Appliance.

There are also two optional components for the DBC Appliance. The DBC Appliance license includes their use, but because many organizations might not want them, they’re not included in the default installation. They can be added later at the customer site. The additional components are:

  • System Center Service Manager (SCSM), which lets you integrate the DBC Appliance with your organization’s service ticketing processes
  • System Center Opalis, which lets you create workflows to automate daily operations

In addition to these optional components, the DBC Appliance includes a number of management-related software components. They include an enhanced Best Practices Analyzer toolkit, an enhanced Microsoft Assessment and Planning tool, a specialized System Center Appliance Management Pack, and a System Center Appliance Performance Resource Optimization Pack. The DBC Appliance is far more than just a powerful hardware platform. It also comes with a complete self-contained management platform.

Installation and Use of the DBC Appliance

Before deploying the DBC Appliance, you need to run the Microsoft Assessment and Planning tool to analyze the different database workloads that you’re considering moving to the appliance. This tool identifies the workloads that can and can’t be migrated to the appliance. After you buy the appliance, HP’s First Service team comes on site and performs the initial installation of it. The team also performs several P2V operations and new VM deployments to ensure that everything is working properly. Typically, the initial deployment takes a couple of days.

After the DBC Appliance has been installed, you can populate it in a number of ways. You can use VMM’s P2V feature to begin converting physical database instances to a VM. You can create new database instances using the supplied templates, or you can use VMM to import existing VMs from other VMware or Hyper-V servers.

You manage the DBC Appliance as a single unit by using RDP to connect to the appliance’s management node. The management node provides a unified dashboard that lets you manage all the different servers that are running on the appliance.

Licensing

In a half-rack configuration, the DBC Appliance lists for approximately $664,000 ($380,000 for the hardware, plus $284,000 for all of the software). The full-rack configuration lists for $1,230,000 ($660,000 for the hardware, plus $568,000 for the software). These costs don’t include the SQL Server Enterprise Edition licensing costs for the VM guests. However, in many cases, the organization’s current SQL Server Enterprise Edition or Software Assurance licenses will cover the SQL Server licensing requirements.

Optimized Performance in a Prebuilt Package

The DBC Appliance is one of the first entries in the new database appliance industry. It enables you to move your enterprise database services from standalone instances to a new class of IaaS applications. The DBC Appliance provides extreme scalability and very high levels of built-in availability, which all of the database instances running on the appliance can take immediate advantage of. Although the DBC Appliance is built using many off-the-shelf components, its hardware and software configuration would be extremely difficult to create on your own. Delivering this combination of hardware and software as an appliance gives customers optimized performance and manageability in a prebuilt package that can be rapidly deployed. For more information about this appliance, check out the “HP Enterprise Database Consolidation Appliance” web page.