Archive for the 'Cluster Fencing' Category

Oracle Clusterware and Fencing…Again?

Coming back from vacation and failing to catch up on oracle-l list topics is a bad mistake. I was wondering why Kirk McGowan decided to make a post about fencing in the context of Oracle Clusterware. After finally catching up on my oracle-l backlog, I see that the stimulus for Kirk’s blog entry was likely this post to the oracle-l list where the list member was asking whether Oracle Clusterware implements STONITH as its fencing model. It seems the question was asked after the list member watched this Oracle webcast about RAC where slide 11 specifically states:

IO Fencing via Stonith algorithm (remote power reset)

The list member was conflicted over the statement in Oracle’s webcast. It seems he had likely seen my blog entry entitled RAC Expert or Clusters Expert where I discuss the clusters concept of fencing. In that blog entry, and in the paper I reference therein, I point out that Oracle Clusterware doesn’t implement STONITH because it doesn’t. Oh boy, there he goes again contradicting Oracle. Well, no, I’m not. The quote from Oracle’s webcast says they implement their fencing using a “STONITH algorithm” and they do. The bit about remote power reset is splitting hairs a bit since the way the fenced node excuses itself from the cluster is by executing an immediate shutdown (e.g., Linux reboot(8) command). Kirk correctly points out that the correct term is actually suicide. Oracle uses algorithms common to STONITH implementations to determine what nodes need to get fenced. When a node is alerted that it is being “fenced” it uses suicide to carry out the order.

What Time Is It?
From about 2003 through 2005 I had dozens of people ask me for in-depth clusters concepts information with both a generic view and an Oracle-centric view-I was working for a clustering company and had a long history of clustered Oracle behind me after all. It seems people were getting confused as to why there were options to use vendor-integrated host clusterware on all platforms except Linux and Windows. People wanted to better understand both generic clustering concepts as well as Oracle Clusterware. It seems some merely wanted to “know what time it is” while others wanted to “know how to tell time” and some even wanted to know “how the clock works.” About the time Oracle implemented the Third Party Clusterware Validation Program I decided I need to write a paper on the matter, so I did and posted it on the OakTable Network site. In the paper, and my blog post, I point out that Oracle Clusterware is not STONITH-clinically speaking-and indeed it isn’t. STONITH requires healthy servers to take action against ill servers via:

  • Remote Power Reset. This technology is not expensive, nor spooky. In fact, here is a network power switch for $199 that allows SNMP commands to power cycle outlets. Academic (and some commercial) approaches use these sorts of devices when implementing clusters. A healthy server will simply issue an SNMP command to power off the ill server. Incidentally, not all servers that run Oracle even have a power cord (think blades) and some don’t even use AC (see Rackable’s DB Power servers) so Oracle couldn’t use this approach without horrible platform-specific porting issues.
  • Remote System Management. There are a plethora of remote system management technologies (e.g., power cycle a server remotely) such as DRAC, IPMI, iLO, ALOM, RSC. Oracle is not crazy enough to tailor their fencing requirements around each of these. What a porting nightmare that would be. Oracle has stated more than once that there are no standards in this space and thus no useable APIs. The closest thing would have been either IPMI or OPMA, but the industry hasn’t seemed to want a cross-platform standard in this space.

The lack of standards where cluster fencing is concerned leaves us with a wide array of vendor clusterware such as Service Guard, HACMP, VCS, PolyServe, Red Hat Cluster Suite and on and on. I had a lot of Oracle customers asking me to inform them of the fundamental differences between these various clusterware and Oracle’s Clusterware so I did.

Gasp, Oracle Doesn’t Implement STONITH!
Henny penny: the sky is falling. So Oracle doesn’t really implement STONITH. So what. That doesn’t mean nobody wants to understand the general topic of clustering-and fencing in particular-a little bit better. It would not be right to tell them that their quest for information is moot just because other cluster approaches are not embodied in Oracle Clusterware. However, the importance of Oracle’s choice of fencing method is probably summed up the best in that oracle-l email thread which dried up and died within 24 hours after another member posted the following:

Has anyone see a RAC data corruption due to Clusterware unable to shoot itself?

I can assure you all that if anyone reading the oracle-l list had such a testimonial we would have heard it. The oracle-l list membership is huge and there are also a lot of consultants on the list who have contacts with a lot of production sites. The thread dried up, dropped to the ground and died. I think what I just wrote mirrors Kirk McGowan’s position on the matter.

What Would It Take
No clustering approach is perfect. Whether STONITH, fabric fencing or suicide, clusters can melt down. That is, after all, why Oracle offers an even higher level of protection in their Maximum Availability Architecture through such technology as DataGuard.

What would it take for an Oracle Clusterware fencing breach and why would I blog such taboo? It takes a lot of unlikely (yet possible) circumstances and because some people want to know. With Oracle Clusterware, a fencing breach would require:

  • Failed Suicide. If for any reason Oracle’s Clusterware process is not able to successfully execute a software reboot of the ill server.
  • Hangcheck Failure. The hangcheck kernel module executes off a kernel timer. If the system is so ill that these kernel events are not getting triggered then that would mean hardclock interrupts are not working and I should think the system would likely PANIC. All told a PANIC is just as good as hangcheck timer succeeding really. Nonetheless, it is possible that such a situation could arise.

A Waste of My Time
So over the last few years I spent a little time explaining clusters concepts to people with Oracle in mind. In my writings I discussed such topics as fencing, kernel mode/user mode clusterware, skgxp(), skgxn() and a host of other RAC-related material. Was it a waste of my time? No. Do I agree with Kirk McGowan’s post? Yes. Most importantly, however, I hang my hat on the oracle-l thread that dead-ended when the last poster on the thread asked:

Has anyone see a RAC data corruption due to Clusterware unable to shoot itself?

…and then there was silence.

Comparing and Linux RAC Fencing. Also, Fencing Failures (Split Brain).

BLOG UPDATE 2011.08.11 : For years my criticism of Oracle Clusterware fencing methodology brought ire from many who were convinced I was merely a renegade. The ranks of “the many” in this case were generally well-intended but overly convinced that Oracle was the only proven clustering technology in existence.  It took many years for Oracle to do so, but they did finally offer support for IPMI fencing integration in the 11.2 release of Oracle Database. It also took me a long time to get around to updating this post.  Whether by graces of capitulation or a reinvention of the wheel, you too can now, finally, enjoy a proper fencing infrastructure. For more information please see:

I’ve covered the clusters concept of fencing quite a bit on this blog (e.g., RAC Expert or Clusters Expert and Now is the Time to Open Source, etc), and in papers such as this paper about clusterware, and in an appendix in the Julian Dyke/Steve Shaw book about RAC on Linux. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1000 times; if you are not a clusters expert you cannot be a RAC expert. Oddly though, Oracle seems to be sending a message that clusterware is commoditized—and it really isn’t. On the other hand, Oracle was brilliant for heading down the road of providing their own clusterware. Until all the kinks are worked out, it is good to know as much as you can about what is under the covers.

Linux RAC “Fencing”
As I’ve pointed out in the above referenced pieces, Oracle “fencing” is not implemented by healthy servers taking action against rogue servers (e.g., STONITH), but instead the server that needs to be “fenced” is sent a message. With that message, the sick server will then reboot itself. Of course, a sick server might not be able to reboot itself. I call this form of fencing ATONTRI (Ask The Other Node To Reboot Itself).This blog entry is not intended to bash Oracle clusterware “fencing”—it is what it is, works well and for those who choose there is the option of running integrated Legacy clusterware or validated third party clusterware to fill in the gaps. Instead, I want to blog about a couple of interesting observations and then cover some changes that were implemented to the Oracle init.cssd script under that you need to be aware of.

Logging When Oracle “Fences” a Server
As I mentioned in this blog entry about the CRS patchset, I found CRS—or is that “clusterware”—to be sufficiently stable to just skip over So what I’m about to point out might be old news to you folks. The logging text produced by Oracle clusterware changed between and But, since CRS has a fundamental flaw in the way it logs this text, you’d likely never know it.

Lot’s of Looking Going On
As an aside, one of the cool things about bloggingis that I get to track the search terms folks use to get here. Since the launch of my blog, I’ve had over 11000 visits from readers looking for information about the most common error message returned if you have a botched CRS install on Linux—that text being:

PROT-1: Failed to initialize ocrconfig

No News Must Be Good News
I haven’t yet blogged about the /var/log/messages entry you are supposed to see when Oracle fences a server, but if I had, I don’t think it would be a very common google search string anyway? No the reason isn’t that Oracle so seldomly needs to fence a server. The reason is that the text generally (nearly never actually) doesn’t make it into the system log. Let’s dig into this topic.

The portion of the init.cssd script that acts as the “fencing” agent in is coded to produce the following entry in the /var/log/messages file via the Linux logger(1) command (line numbers precede code):

194 LOGGER=”/usr/bin/logger”
1039 *)
1040 $LOGERR “Oracle CSSD failure. Rebooting for cluster integrity.”
1042 # We want to reboot here as fast as possible. It is imperative
1043 # that we do not flush any IO to the shared disks. Choosing not
1044 # to flush local disks or kill off processes gracefully shuts
1045 # us down quickly.

Let’s think about this for a moment. If Oracle needs to “fence” a server, the server that is being fenced should produce the followingtext in /var/log/messages:

Oracle CSSD failure.Rebooting for cluster integrity.

Where’s Waldo?
Why is it when I google for “Oracle CSSD failure.Rebooting for cluster integrity” I get 3, count them, 3 articles returned? Maybe the logger(1) command simply doesn’t work? Let’s give that a quick test:

[root@tmr6s14 log]# logger “I seem to be able to get messages to the log”
[root@tmr6s14 log]# tail -1 /var/log/messages
Jan 9 15:16:33 tmr6s14 root: I seem to be able to get messages to the log
[root@tmr6s14 log]# uname -a
Linux tmr6s14 2.6.9-34.ELsmp #1 SMP Fri Feb 24 16:56:28 EST 2006 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

Interesting. Why don’t we see the string Oracle CSSD failure when Oracle fences then? It’s because the logger(1) command merely sends a message to syslogd(8) via a socket—and then it is off to the races. Again, back to the init.cssd script:

22 # FAST_REBOOT – take out the machine now. We are concerned about
23 # data integrity since the other node has evicted us.
[…] lines deleted
177 case $PLATFORM in
179 export LD_LIBRARY_PATH
180 FAST_REBOOT=”/sbin/reboot -n -f”

So at line 1040, the script sends a message to syslogd(8) and then immediately forces a reboot at line 1081—with the –n option to the reboot(8) command forcing a shutdown without sync(1). So there you have it, the text is drifting between the bash(1) context executing the init.cssd script and the syslogd(8) process that would do a buffered write anyway. I think the planets must really be in line for this text to ever get to the /var/log/messages file—and I think the google search for that particular string goes a long way towards backing up that notion. When I really want to see this string pop up in /var/log/messages, I fiddle with putting sync(1) comands and sleep before the line 1081. That is when I am, for instance, pulling physical connections from the Fibre Channel SAN paths and studying what Oracle behaves like by default.

By the way, the comments at lines 22-23 are the definition of ATONTRI.

I’ve never understood that paranoia at lines 1042-1043 which state:

We want to reboot here as fast as possible. It is imperative that we do not flush any IO to the shared disks.

It may sound a bit nit-picky, but folks this is RAC and there are no buffered writes to shared disk! No matter really, even if there was a sync(1) command at line 1080 in the init.cssd script, the likelihood of getting text to /var/log/messages is still going to be a race as I’ve pointed out.

Differences in
Google searches for fencing articles anchored with the Oracle CSSD failure string are about to get even more scarce. In, the text that the script attempts to send to the /var/log/messages file changed—the string no longer contains CSSD, but CRS instead. The following is a snippet from the init.cssd script shipped with

452 *)
453 $LOGERR “Oracle CRS failure. Rebooting for cluster integrity.”

A Workaround for a Red Hat 3 Problem in CRS
OK, this is interesting. In the init.cssd script, there is a workaround for some RHEL 3 race condition. I would be more specific about this, but I really don’t care about any problems init.cssd has in its attempt to perform fencing since for me the whole issue is moot. PolyServe is running underneath it and PolyServe is not going to fail a fencing operation. Nonetheless, if you are not on RHEL 3, and you deploy bare-bones Oracle-only RAC (e.g., no third party clusterware for fencing), you might take interest in this workaround since it could cause a failed fencing. That’s split-brain to you and I.

Just before the actual execution of the reboot(8) command, every Linux system running will now suffer the overhead of the code starting at line 489 shown in the snippet below. The builtin test of the variable $PLATFORM is pretty much free, but if for any reason you are on a RHEL 4, Novell SuSE SLES9 or even Oracle Enterprise Linux (who knows how they attribute versions to that) the code at line 491 is unnecessary and could put a full stop to the execution of this script if the server is in deep trouble—and remember fencings are suppose to handle deeply troubled servers.

Fiddle First, Fence Later
Yes, the test at line 491 is a shell builtin, no argument, but as line 226 shows, the shell command at line 491 is checking for the existence of the file /var/tmp/.orarblock. I haven’t looked, but bash(1) is most likely calling open(1) with O_CREAT and O_EXCL and returning true on test –e if the open(1) call gets EEXIST returned and false if not. In the end, however, if checking for the existence for a file in /var/tmp is proving difficult at the time init.cssd is trying to “fence” a server, this code is pretty dangerous since it can cause a failed fencing on a Linux RAC deployment. Further, at line 494 the script will need to open a file and write to it. All this on a server that is presumed sick and needs to get out of the cluster. Then again, who is to say that the bash process executing the init.cssd script is not totally swapped out permanently due to extreme low memory thrashing? Remember, servers being told to fence themselves (ATONTRI) are not healthy. Anyway, here is the relevant snippet of init.cssd:

226 REBOOTLOCKFILE=/var/tmp/.orarblock
484 # Workaround to Redhat 3 issue with multiple invocations of reboot.
485 # Here if oclsomon and ocssd are attempting a reboot at the same time
486 # then the kernel could lock up. Here we have a crude lock which
487 # doesn’t eliminate but drastically reduces the likelihood of getting
488 # two reboots at once.
489 if [ “$PLATFORM” = “Linux” ]; then
491 if [ -e “$REBOOTLOCKFILE” ]; then
493 fi
496 if [ ! -z “$CEDETO” ]; then
498 $LOGMSG “Oracle init script ceding reboot to sibling $CEDETO.”
499 fi
500 fi

Testing RAC Failover: Be Evil, Make New Friends.

In Alejandro Vargas’ blog entry about RAC & ASM, Crash and Recovery Test Scenarios, some tests were described that would cause RAC failovers. Unfortunately, none of the faults described were the of the sort that put clusterware to the test. The easiest types of failures for clusterware to handle are complete, clean outages. Simply powering of a server, for instance, is no challenge for any clusterware to deal with. The other nodes in the cluster will be well aware that the node is dead. The difficult scenarios for clusterware to respond to are states of flux and compromised participation in the cluster. That is, a server that is alive but not participating. The topic of Alejandro’s blog entry was not a definition of a production readiness testing plan by any means, but it was a good segway into the comment I entered:

These are good tests, yes, but they do not truly replicate difficult scenarios for clusterware to resolve. It is always important to perform manual fault-injection testing such as physically severing storage and network connectivity paths and doing so with simultaneous failures and cascading failures alike. Also, another good test to [run] is a forced processor starvation situation by forking processes in a loop until there are no [process] slots [remaining]. These […] situations are a challenge to any clusterware offering.

Clusterware is Serious Business
As I pointed out in my previous blog entry about Oracle Clusterware, processor saturation is a bad thing for Oracle Clusterware—particularly where fencing is concerned. Alejandro had this to say:

These scenarios were defined to train a group of DBA’s to perform recovery, rather than to test the clusterware itself. When we introduced RAC & ASM we did run stress & resilience tests. The starvation test you suggest is a good one, I have seen that happening at customer sites on production environments. Thanks for your comments.

Be Mean!
If you are involved with a pre-production testing effort involving clustered Oracle, remember, be evil! Don’t force failover by doing operational things like shutting down a server or killing Oracle clusterware processes. You are just doing a functional test when you do that. Instead, create significant server load with synthetic tests such as wild loops of dd(1) to /dev/null using absurdly large values assigned to the ibs argument or shell scripts that fork children but don’t wait for them. Run C programs that wildly malloc(2) memory, or maybe a little stack recursion is your flavor—force the system into swapping, etc. Generate these loads on the server you are about to isolate from the network for instance. See what the state of the cluster is afterwards. Of course, you can purposefully execute poorly tuned Parallel Query workloads to swamp a system as well. Be creative.

Something To Think About
For once, it will pay off to be evil. Just make sure whatever you accept as your synthetic load generator is consistent and reproducible because once you start this testing, you’ll be doing it again and again—if you find bugs. You’ll be spending a lot of time on the phone making new friends.

RAC Expert or Clusters Expert?

Introducing the Oracle SMP Expert. What is a Spinlock?
I am not joking when I tell you that I met an individual last year that billed himself as an “Oracle SMP expert.” That is fine and dandy, but through the course of our discussion I realized that this person had a severely limited understanding of the most crucial concept in SMP software scalability—critical sections. It wasn’t necessarily the concept of critical sections this individual didn’t really understand, it was the mutual exclusion that must accompany critical sections on SMP systems. In Oracle terms, this person could not deliver a coherent definition for what a latch is—that is, he didn’t understand what a spinlock was and how Oracle implements them. An “Oracle SMP expert” that lacks even cursory understanding of mutual exclusion principles is an awful lot like a “RAC expert” that does not have a firm understanding of what the term “fencing” means.

I have met a lot of “RAC experts” in the last 5 years who lack understanding of clusters principles—most notably what the term “fencing” is and what it means to RAC. Fencing is to clusters what critical sections are to SMP scalability.

Is it possible to be a “RAC expert” without being a cluster expert? The following is a digest of this paper about clusterware I have posted on the Oaktable Network website. For that matter, Julian Dyke and Steve Shaw accepted some of this information for inclusion in this RAC book.

Actually, I think getting it in their book was a part of the bribe for the technical review I did of the book (just joking).

I Adore RAC and Fencing is a Cool Sport!
No, not that kind of fencing. Fencing is a generic clustering term relating to how a cluster handles nodes that should no longer have access to shared resources such as shared disk. For example, if a node in the cluster has access to shared disk but has no functioning interconnects; it really no longer belongs in the cluster. There are several different types of fencing. The most common type came from academia and is referred to by the acronym STOMITH which stands for Shoot The Other Machine In The Head. A more popular variant of this acronym is STONITH where “N” stands for Node. While STONITH is a common term, there is nothing common with how it is implemented. The general idea is that the healthy nodes in the cluster are responsible for determining that an unhealthy node should no longer be in the cluster. Once such a determination is made, a healthy node takes action to power cycle the errant node. This can be done with network power switches for example. All told, STONITH is a “good” approach to fencing because it is generally built upon the notion that healthy nodes monitor and take action to fence unhealthy nodes.

This differs significantly from the “fencing” model implemented in Oracle Clusterware, which doesn’t implement STONITH at all. In Oracle Clusterware, nodes fence themselves by executing the reboot(8) command out of the /etc/init.d/init.cssd. This is a very portable approach to “fencing”, but it raises the question of what happens if the node is so unhealthy that it cannot successfully execute the reboot(8) command. Certainly we’ve all experienced systems that were so incapacitated that commands no longer executed (e.g., complete virtual memory depletion, etc.). In a cluster it is imperative that nodes be fenced when needed, otherwise they can corrupt data. After all, there is a reason the node is being fenced. Having a node with active I/O paths to shared storage after it is supposed to be fenced from the cluster is not a good thing.

Oracle Clusterware and Vendor Clusterware in Parallel
On all platforms, except Linux and Windows, Oracle Clusterware can execute in an integrated fashion with the host clusterware. An example of this would be Oracle10g using the libskgx[n/p] libraries supplied by HP for the MC ServiceGuard environment. When Oracle runs with integrated vendor clusterware, Oracle makes calls to the vendor-supplied library to perform fencing operations. This blog post is about Linux, so the only relationship between vendor clusterware and Oracle clusterware is when Oracle-validated compatible clusterware runs in parallel with Oracle Clusterware. One such example of this model is Oracle10g RAC on PolyServe Matrix Server.

In situations where Oracle’s fencing mechanism is not able to perform its fencing operation, the underlying validated host clusterware will fence the node, as is the case with PolyServe Matrix Server. It turns out that the criteria used by Oracle Clusterware to trigger fencing are the same criteria that host clusterware uses to take action. Oracle instituted the Vendor Clusterware Validation suites to ensure that underlying clusterware is compatible and complements Oracle clusterware. STONITH is one form of fencing, but far from the only one. PolyServe supports a sophisticated form of STONITH where the healthy nodes integrate with management interfaces such as Hewlett-Packard’s iLO (Integrated Lights-Out) and Dell DRAC. Here again, the most important principle of clustering is implemented—healthy nodes take action to fence unhealthy nodes— which ensures that the fencing will occur. This form of STONITH is more sophisticated than the network power-switch approach, but in the end they do the same thing—both approaches power-cycle unhealthy nodes. However, it is not always desirable to have an unhealthy server power-cycled just for the sake of fencing.

Fabric Fencing
With STONITH, there could be helpful state information lost in the power reset. Losing that information may make cluster troubleshooting quite difficult. Also, if the condition that triggered the fencing persists across reboots, a “reboot loop” can occur. For this reason, PolyServe implements Fabric Fencing as the preferred option for customers running Real Application Clusters. Fabric Fencing is implemented in the PolyServe SAN management layer. PolyServe certifies a comprehensive list of Fiber Channel switches that are tested with the Fabric Fencing code. All nodes in a PolyServe cluster have LAN connectivity to the Fiber Channel switches. With Fabric Fencing, healthy nodes make SNMP calls to the Fiber Channel switch to disable all SAN access from unhealthy nodes. This form of fencing is built upon the sound principle of having healthy servers fence unhealthy servers, but the fenced server is left in an “up” state—yet completely severed from shared disk access. Administrators can log into it, view logs and so on, but before the node can rejoin the cluster, it must be rebooted.

Kernel Mode Clusterware
The most important aspect of host clusterware, such as PolyServe, is that it is generally implemented in Kernel Mode. In the case of PolyServe, the most critical functionality of SAN management, cluster filesystem, volume manager and so on are implemented in Kernel Mode on both Linux and Windows. On the other hand, when fencing code is implemented in User Mode, there is always the risk that the code will not get processor cycles to execute. Indeed, with clusters in general, overly saturated nodes often need to be fenced because they are not responding to status requests by other nodes in the cluster. When nodes in the cluster are getting so saturated as to trigger fencing, having critical clusterware code execute in Kernel Mode is a higher level of assurance that the fencing operation will succeed. That is, if all the nodes in the cluster are approaching a critical state and a fencing operation is necessary against an errant node, having Kernel Mode fencing architected as either robust STONITH or Fabric Fencing ensures the correct action will take place.

Coming Soon
What about SCSI-III Persistent Reservation. Isn’t I/O fencing as good as server fencing? No, it isn’t.


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