Yesterday I attended a Banner/Oracle user conference at Wellesley College. This annual, one-day event of largely peer presentations was a great opportunity for networking and knowledge exchange. Here are some of the take-homes I got out of this conference in no particular order. These are just my observations and opinions and pertain to the scope of our institution and environment.

Oracle Database

Marc Kelberman, Oracle pre-sales engineer for higher-ed gave a presentation on RAC/Grid control and SQL Developer.

Very few have moved from 9i to 10g. Those who have, or will soon, are going straight to 10gR2.

It is important to go to the latest patchset for 10gR2.

Oracle’s RAC/Grid technology is very cool, but it is unlikely it would offer much to our small (6,000 student) university. Larger universities may benefit from it.

Grid/RAC requires a shared storage architecture.

It would take a great effort between systems, networking and database administrators to implement RAC/Grid.

Around 75% of the institutions I spoke to were running Oracle on Sun Solaris.

None of the institutions I spoke to were running Oracle on Linux.

None of the institutions I spoke to were running clustering/RAC/Grid Control.

Several institutions are running some type of network attached storage (NAS) to store their data files.

One institution (I believe this was the host institution, Wellesley) is running their Oracle home directories on network attached storage. This allows them to maintain only one oracle home per database version saving hours of work per upgrade.

Most institutions are still relying on cold backups as their primary backup method.

Only a couple institutions I talked to have adopted Oracle RMAN for backups.

Oracle SQL Developer

Marc did a good demonstration of SQL Developer, but this product is hard to appreciate until you’ve used it. Thankfully it’s free, so there’s no good reason not to test drive it.

Identity Management

Dan Sterling, Chief Technology Architect for SunGard Higher Education presented on SunGard HE’s plans for identity management. It looks like they will focus on integrating with third party tools via open standards.

Banner Student Information System

One university mentioned that when a user asks for a modification to their student information system they require that the user submit a request for product enhancement with the vendor before a local modification is made. This seems like a good policy.

Final thoughts

The relatively small number of attendees made this conference great for networking. It’s very interesting to interact with universities of different sizes. Some of the universities in attendance had one administrator for their Oracle databases, application servers and application support, while others have a large staff and highly individualized positions.

Though this conference happens near the end of the academic year it was a nice diversion from summer planning. Beyond the networking, the take-homes are more than worth the day out of work.

oracle, banner, sungard he, summit, conference, higher education, database, database administration, database development

Zach tells me I need to post how to find files and execute a command on those files. While the man pages are always the definitive reference, these are the options I use frequently. As usual, anything in italics should be replaced with the details for your search.

Note: WordPress loves to convert quotes into fancy quotes (pointing in from each side) so these commands may not work too well if copied and pasted. On the bright side, there’s no time like the present to start commiting these to muscle memory.

Find a file and execute a specific command:

find path conditions -exec command {} \;

find ./ -name "*.php" -exec cat {} \;

The open/close curly bracket marks where the name of each file found will be substituted and the backslash-semicolon marks the end of the command to execute.

Here are a few other options I use frequently:

Search for a file by name:

find path -name filename

find ./ -name style.css

Search by name with wildcards:

find path -name "filename"

find ./ -name "*.html"

Search for files modified within the past n days:

find path -mtime -n

find ./ -mtime -7

Search for files modified before the past n days:

find path -mtime +n

find /tmp -mtime +3

These are mostly based on my experience in Solaris using the bash shell. They should work just about everywhere, but check the man pages as mileage will vary.

Easy Linux CommandsFor more tips like this check out my book Easy Linux Commands, only $19.95 from Rampant TechPress.

Buy it now!

unix, solaris, linux, mac osx, osx, sysadmin, systems administration

SunFireT2000Thanks to the diligence of my coworker Scott Maziarz we have been able to run some practical performance tests on the new Sun Fire T2000 we got on a try and buy program from Sun.

About our environment

While we’re not truly equipped for traditional load testing here at Plymouth State University I decided early on that our daily datamart scripts would be a good test of this system’s capabilities. These scripts are a combination of vendor supplied and homegrown code which create datamarts for reporting. The scripts run separately take between a minute and several hours to complete. They rely heavily on joins and functions so, while there is a fair amount of disk I/O, the speed of the processors and memory should play a large role.

Oracle 9iR2 was used for the testing on both systems. The database configuration was not altered, so despite the point that the T2000 has twice as much memory as our V440s (16GB versus 8GB) Oracle will be using the same amount of memory on both systems. We also unfortunately did not have the opportunity to do any performance tuning on the T2000. As such I consider this a comparison with a straight out of the box T2000. With some careful system tuning the T2000 would probably perform even better.

The two systems

Sun Fire T2000

  • 8 core 1.0GHz UltraSparc T1Processor
  • 16GB memory
  • 2 * 73GB 10K RPM SAS hard disk drives

Sun Fire V440

  • 4 * 1.0GHz UltraSparc IIIi
  • 8GB memory
  • 4 * 73GB 10K RPM Ultra320 SCSI hard disk drives

While these two systems are different in many ways they are comparable in price (the V440s are actually quite a bit more expensive, but this one is around two years old now.) All testing was done on internal disks making the results dependant on the entire system performance.

Oracle was not reconfigured to take advantage of the extra memory in the T2000.

The tests

For the testing we chose a set of 19 datamart creation scripts which we run daily in our production environment. To assure that there is no additional load on the V440 we ran the tests on our reporting instance which is on a relatively idle system.

The first test is to run the 19 datamart scripts staggered. This is how we run them in production. Four scripts are started every half hour to spread out the load on the server. There’s a lot of overlap, but the staggering is enough to keep the system responding normally.

Scripts running staggered

The graph above represents the runtime of each job individually. A shorter line represents a quicker runtime and we can see that the T2000 consistently outperformed the V440 often running n a quarter the time!

The total runtime for all 19 jobs was 2915 minutes on the V440 and 847 on the T2000. On average it took only 29% as long for the jobs to run on the T2000!

For the second test we ran all 19 jobs at once.

Scripts running simultaneous

We still see a significant improvement in performance, but not as high as when these were run staggered. Here the T2000 completed the tasks in 59% of the time of the V440. I attribute this to contention for disk on the T2000.

Thanks to Scott Maziarz for running the bulk of these tests and compiling the results for me.


The Sun Fire T2000 has certainly proven its worth. Some may be put off by the relatively low processor speed (the model tested was a mere 1GHz) but it is clearly not an impediment. The 8 core CPU seems to be up to the challenge and I’m sure with additional tuning I’m sure they’d scream.

With increased performance and higher efficiency than the comparably priced V440, the T2000 will definitely be in our future. The lower energy consumption and lower heat output would be a welcome change in our already taxed data center and the compact 2U size should be an easy fit in any rack.

Check out more details at Sun’s website and if you’re still not convinced apply for your own free 60-day trial!

sun, sun fire t2000, t2000, server, systems administration, database administration, dba, oracle, rdbms, sysadmin, sun microsystems

A recent comment on my story about converting UNIX timestamps to Oracle dates prompted me to do a little extra digging on UNIX time.

UNIX time is a standard system used not only in UNIX but in many other modern computer systems. Instead of being divided into years, months, hours, minutes, etc. UNIX time is simply a number which represents the number of seconds which have passed since midnight Coordinated Universal time (UTC, the same time zone as Greenwich Mean Time, sometimes referred to as Zulu time), January 1, 1970. This date is often referred to as the UNIX epoch.

Sound like a lot of seconds? It is. At the time of this writing it has been 1,145,404,660 since the UNIX epoch, but since people like to think of dates the old fashioned way, in years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds the computer is almost always nice enough to convert the UNIX time into the familiar date and time format, and to your local time zone.

One of the strengths of UNIX time is that when it is recorded (a point in UNIX time is typically referred to as a UNIX timestamp) it is always relative to Greenwich Mean Time. That means UNIX timestamps can be easily converted to different time zones with no ambiguity.

For all the gruesome details on UNIX time, Wikipedia has a typically thorough article on the topic.

While there are several sites on the web to convert a UNIX timestamp to human readable format and vice-verse be careful. Many sites will do the conversion based on their time zone. provides a great page for converting both ways.

In contrast to UNIX time, Oracle Databases record time in a more traditional year, month, day, hour, minute, second manner. In order to convert Oracle dates to a different time zone you need to know what time zone the date was originally recorded in. Only recently has Oracle introduced a time datatype with a time zone attribute.

unix, time, timestamp, time zone, date, oracle, database, solaris, linux

Need to know how much space a directory and its contents are taking up on your UNIX system? Here’s what I use:

du -ks directory

The du command is used to summarize disk usage. Without any flags will show you the usage in blocks for every directory and subdirectory specified. Since the number of blocks varies by operating system we add the -k option to specify that we want the output in kilobytes. In many operating systems you could also use -h for a “human-readable” output with abbreviations like B for bytes, K for kilobytes, M for megabytes and so on.

The -s option lets us gather only the sum of the directory specified. Without the -s flag we would get output on every subdirectory as well as the specified directory.

$ du -k stuff
408560 stuff/patch
104 stuff/scripts
408688 stuff

One other thing that is useful for finding the biggest files and directories where there are a lot to sift through is to use a wildcard to size up multiple directories, then pipe the output of du to the sort command like this:

$ du -ks ./* | sort -n
0 ./sdtvolcheck727
8 ./mpztaWqc
8 ./speckeysd.lock
304 ./dtdbcache_:0
408688 ./stuff

With sort we use the -n option to order things by arithmetic value rather than alphabetic value (making 8 come before 304) so we see the largest things at the bottom.

Try it out. As always check the man pages for more info.

Easy Linux CommandsFor more tips like this check out my book Easy Linux Commands, only $19.95 from Rampant TechPress.

unix, solaris, linux, sysadmin, system administration, storage, storage administration

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