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Best Practices for Tuning AIX for Oracle

Oracle AIX

Tuning AIX in an Oracle environment has changed significantly through the years, especially with the advent of Power Systems and virtualization. You simply can’t tune AIX or Oracle the same way today that you would tune 10 years ago. Let’s look at best practices for tuning AIX for Oracle and also provide tips for tuning Oracle as well. Before we go into technical detail, make sure any of your tuning exercises follow a certain type of methodology. You should never tune first before you’ve established a baseline of data. Here are the steps you should follow.

  • Establish a baseline
  • Stress test
  • Monitor
  • Identify/analyze
  • Tune
  • Repeat starting with step 2

It’s critical you some type of structured pattern (though you don’t necessarily have to follow these exact steps), or else you will never really be able to show how your tuning efforts have showed results. Furthermore, make sure you sure you never make more than one change at any given time, because if you do, how will you know what really alleviated your problem (or what made your system behave even worse)! This is not always easy when you are responsible for a production environment and you have the business breathing down your neck during an open ticket. Sometimes you just want to change five different things at once to make the problems go away, but to be an effective administrator you will need to be structured and patient.

There are so many different facets of tuning so let’s jump into the ones that most impact Oracle and AIX as we look at your subsystems: memory, I/O and CPU.


Paging Space is a key factor to consider. On the Power Systems platform, you can dynmaically add paging space to your raw partitions. The amount of the space depends on the paging requirements. When you don’t provide adequate paging space, this can cause your system to behave very poorly. The recommendation is to set the paging space usually to a value larger than the amount of RAM. However, paging space is not allocated until required and the system will only use swap space if it runs out of memory. If the system had been originally been sized correctly, than the paging space can be small. As a best practice, your initial starter setting should be ½ the size of your RAM, plus an additional 4 GB—up to the size of a single internal disk. I would continue to monitor your settings, using the lsps – a command, to make sure that there are no issues. Your output show should less than 25 percent utilization. It should also be noted, that the recommended values vary on the amount of RAM that you may have installed.

For example, if you have a small LPAR that has between 1 and 2GB of RAM, you should make your swap 1.5 times the size of RAM. If you’re RAM is between 2 and 16 GB, than the initial swap should be equal to the size of your RAM. If your RAM is larger than 16 GB, your starting point should equal no larger than 16 GB.

Part of your role should also be checking routinely to make sure that your real memory is not over-utilized. Check your paging stats using vmstat and sar.

You should also allocate your RAM to where it can be most beneficial to your system resources. There are always trade-offs, so you should understand your workloads. Where RAM is tight, build a priority list of where it is needed most and assign the memory to LPARs accordingly. This includes areas like your RDBMS kernels to ensure the SGA and its components, such as the buffer cache and shared pool, are well provided for.


The Oracle Database block size should be configured appropriately for I/O throughput. I would set the value of my DB_BLOCK_SIZE initialization parameter to between 2 and 32KB, with a default of 4 KB. It’s also important to understand that your parameters can change, depending on if your database was installed on a raw partition or a Journaled File System. If your DB is installed on JFS, then the block size should be a multiple of the file system block size—4 KB on JFS, and 16KB to 1 MB on GPFS. For raw partitions, the block size is a multiple of the OS block size, which is 512 bytes on AIX. The Oracle recommendation is to use smaller Oracle Block sizes (2 or 4 KB) for online transaction processing and larger block sizes (8-32 KB) for decision support system workloads.

Another parameter that’s important to set properly is the LOG_BUFFER size. You should be able to significantly increase the speed of archiving your database by increasing this buffer. Monitor your log files that relate to the I/O activity and the system throughput, which will help you determine the appropriate setting. The recommendation is to create separate filesystems for redo logs and control files, with an agblksize of 512 bytes, instead of the default of 4 KB.

What about if you have high speed data loading requirements? If you are using the SQL*Loaders direct path option, in addition to loading your data in parallel, it’s important to note that your CPU will spend much of its time waiting for I/O to complete. If you increase the amount of your buffers, you can maximize the CPU utilization and increase your throughput. The amount of buffers depends on the amount of available RAM available and how much you want to maximize this usage. You can set this by utilizing the SQL*Loader BUFFERS parameter. At the end of the day, your performance gains will depend on your CPU usage and the amount of a parallelism that’s being used when loading the data.

Commands that will help you monitor your I/O include filemon, iostat and sar.

Oracle also takes advantage of asynchronous I/O, which provides for faster database access.

The kernel DB processes (aioservers) will control the requests from the time a request is taken until it’s completed. In earlier versions of AIX, we used to have to play around with the numbers, but with the newer versions we no longer need to adjust these AIO tunables, as the defaults have been increased appropriately.

One of the more popular debates that you’ll have is whether to use filesystems or raw logical volumes. As systems administer, I can personally attest that it’s simpler to administrate a system that has filesystems than raw logical volumes, so I would ask yourself how important optimum performance is for your particular systems. While Direct IO and Concurrent I/O may improve file system performance to levels comparable to raw logical volumes, it will never match it. Also know that with Oracle RAC, JFS is not an option, as you will need to put your data on either an Oracle ASM disk group or use GPFS.

While we’re on this subject, if you are using JFS2, make sure you use CIO, as this is a better setting to use the DIO. You should also know that CIO, should only be used with Oracle data files, control files and log files. You can’t mount your Oracle home directory with the CIO option and you will have errors if you try.

CPU and Thread Tuning

There is much less to tune here than the other subsystems, but you still need to look at your CPU scheduling and process priorities. This is especially true where the system has multiple CPUs and you are running in an SMP environment. Oracle recommends that you set the AIXTHREAD_SCOPE variable to S (1:1). User threads provide independent flow of control within your processes. The default was actually changed to this value starting with AIX 6.1.

Some multi-threaded processes will use the malloc subsystem heavily. You can obtain better performance here by exporting the MALLOCMULTIHEAP=1 variable before you start the application. The performance improvement can be high, especially for systems that use multi-threaded C++ programs. which really make use of the malloc subsystem.

CPU tuning, is also much more than looking at kernel parameters. Manage your cronjobs and your routine Oracle jobs effectively, to minimize how much is going on during production cycles. Try not to run too many jobs concurrently and if you have a large nightly batch cycle, make sure that is managed correctly.

Tuning is an ongoing process and is part of your job as a systems administrator. Looking back at our first section, when we review a tuning methodology our last step is repeat, not end. You can only improve your systems performance by monitoring your systems and analyzing the data accordingly. Make sure you use the right tools in which to do so, including both AIX and Oracle tools. The better your data is, the better you’ll be able to tune your system most effectively.

Ken Milberg, CATE, PMP, is a diverse IT Professional with 20+ years of experience. Ken is a technology writer and site expert for techtarget and has also been a frequent contributor of content for IBM developerWorks. Ken has also been a freelance writer for IBM Systems Magazine and is a former technical editor. He can be reached at

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