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A Serverless Standby Database called Oracle Autonomous Data Guard

By Franck Pachot

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Announced by Larry Ellison last week, here it is: the Autonomous Data Guard. You can try it, unfortunately not on the Free Tier.
First you create an Autonomous Database (ATP or ADW) and then you enable Autonomous Data Guard.
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You know that “Autonomous” is the marketing brand for the services that automate a lot of things, sometimes based on features that are in Oracle Database for a long time. So let’s see what is behind.

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Is it a logical copy?

The slide for the announce mentions that this service maintains a remote copy. That’s right. But the message that it “maintains copy by applying logical changes, not physical changes” is not correct and misleading. What we call “logical changes apply” is logical replication where the changes are transformed to SQL statements and then can be applied to another database that can be a different version, different design,… Like Golden Gate. But Autonomous Data Guard is replicating physical changes. It applies the redo to an exact physical copy of the datafile blocks. Like… a Data Guard physical standby.
But why did Larry Ellison mention “logical” then? Because the apply is at software level. And this is a big difference from storage level synchronisation. We use the term “logical corruption” when a software bug corrupts some data. And we use “physical corruption” when the software write() is ok but the storage write to disk is wrong. And this is why “logical changes” is mentioned there: this software level replication protects from physical corruptions. Data Guard can even detect lost writes between the replicas.
And this is an important message for Oracle because on AWS RDS the standby databases for HA in multi-AZ is at storage level. AWS RDS doesn’t use Data Guard for multi-AZ Oracle. Note that it is different with other databases like Aurora where the changes are written to 6 copies from software redo, Or RDS SQL Server where multi-AZ relies on Always-On.

So, it is not a logical copy but a physical standby database. The point is that it is synchronized by the database software which is more reliable (protects for storage corruption) and more efficient (not all changes need to be replicated and only a few of them must be in sync waiting for the acknowledge).

Is it Autonomous?

Yes, all is automated. The only thing you do is enable it and switchover. Those things are not new. Data Guard was automated in previous versions or the Oracle Database, with the Data Guard Broker, with DBCA creating a standby, with recover from services, and even with automatic failover (FSFO and observer). More than that, “autonomous” means transparent: it happens without service interruption. And that again can be based on many existing features, Application Continuity, Connection Manager Traffic Director,…

So yes it is autonomous and up to a level where the competitors lagging are behind. Currently, AWS application failover is mostly based on DNS changes with all problems coming from caches and timeouts. However, recently, AWS has reduced the gap with AWS RDS Proxy, which is quite new.

This time I totally agree with the term “autonomous”. And I even think it could have been labeled as “serverless” because you don’t see the standby server: you don’t choose the shape, you don’t connect to it. I don’t even see the price </p />
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