Optimize an Oracle network configuration

Sharing Oracle databases across networks is standard procedure in many enterprises. Use the Transparent Network Substrate to optimize the distributed communications between databases, and find out which parameters to configure for better performance.

Oracle databases are often shared across geographical areas, so it's imperative that the Oracle professional understand how database performance is affected by network communications. The Transparent Network Substrate (TNS), provided by Oracle, allows distributed communications between databases.

The TNS serves as an insulator between Oracle’s logical data request and the physical communications between the remote servers. As such, the network administrator is able to control much of the network performance tuning. The Oracle administrator, then, has little control over the network settings that can affect overall database performance.

The performance of distributed transactions can be improved using some important settings that I'll illustrate below. These include parameters within the sqlnet.ora, tnsnames.ora, and protocol.ora files. These parameters can be used to change the configuration and size of TCP packets, and adjusting these parameters can have a profound impact on the underlying network transport layer to improve the throughput of all Oracle transactions.

Additional information
Previous Builder articles on Oracle optimization include:
"Track CPU and I/O cost with Oracle9i"
"Optimize SQL query speed with the Oracle clustering_factor attribute"
"Achieve faster SQL performance with dbms_stats"

As I noted, Oracle Net does not allow the Oracle professional the ability to tune the underlying network layer, and the majority of network traffic cannot be tuned from within the Oracle environment. Remember, Oracle Net is a layer in the OSI model that resides above the network-specific protocol stack.

The frequency and size of network packets, however, can be controlled by the Oracle DBA. Oracle has a wealth of tools to change packet frequency and size. A simple example involves changing the refresh interval for a snapshot to ship larger amounts at less frequent intervals.

Oracle Net connections between servers can be tuned using several parameters. Keep in mind, however, that network tuning is outside the scope of Oracle, and a qualified network administrator should be consulted for tuning the network. The frequency and size of packet shipping across the network can be affected by using settings contained in the following parameter files:
  • The sqlnet.ora server file—The automatic_ipc parameter
  • The sqlnet.ora client file—The break_poll_skip parameter
  • The tnsnames.ora and listener.ora files—The SDU and TDU parameters
  • The protocol.ora file—The tcp.nodelay parameter

These tuning parameters will affect only the performance of the Oracle Net layer. Let's examine them in detail and see how they can be adjusted to improve Oracle Net throughput.

The tcp.nodelay parameter in the protocol.ora file
Oracle Net, by default, waits until the buffer is filled before transmitting data. Therefore, requests aren't always sent immediately to their destinations. This is most common when large amounts of data are streamed from one end to another, and Oracle Net does not transmit the packet until the buffer is full. Adding a protocol.ora file, and specifying a tcp.nodelay to stop buffer flushing delays, can remedy this problem.

The protocol.ora file can be specified to indicate no data buffering for all TCP/IP implementations. The parameter can be used on both the client and server. The protocol.ora statement is:
tcp.nodelay = yes

Specifying this parameter causes TCP buffering to be skipped so that every request is sent immediately. Keep in mind, however, that network traffic can increase due to smaller and more frequent packet transmission, causing slowdowns in the network.

The tcp.nodelay parameter should be used only if TCP timeouts are encountered. Setting tcp.nodelay can cause a huge improvement in performance when there is high-volume traffic between database servers.

The automatic_ipc parameter of the sqlnet.ora file
The automatic_ipc parameter bypasses the network layer, thereby speeding local connections to the database. When automatic_ipc=on, Oracle Net checks to see if a local database is defined by the same alias. If so, network layers are bypassed as the connection is translated directly to the local IPC connections. This is useful on database servers, but it's absolutely useless for Oracle Net clients.

The automatic_ipc parameter should be used only on the database server when an Oracle Net connection must be made to the local database. If local connections are not needed or required, set this parameter to off; with this setting, all Oracle Net clients can improve performance.

The SDU and TDU parameters in the tnsnames.ora file
The session data unit (SDU) and transport date unit (TDU) parameters are located in the tnsnames.ora and listener.ora files. SDU specifies the size of the packets to send over the network. Ideally, SDU should not surpass the size of the maximum transmission unit (MTU). MTU is a fixed value that depends on the actual network implementation used. Oracle recommends that SDU be set equal to MTU.

The TDU is the default packet size used within Oracle Net to group data together. The TDU parameter should ideally be a multiple of the SDU parameter. The default value for both SDU and TDU is 2,048, and the maximum value is 32,767 bytes.

The following guidelines apply to SDU and TDU:
  • The SDU should never be set greater than TDU because you'll waste network resources by shipping wasted space in each packet.
  • If your users are connecting via modem lines, you may want to set SDU and TDU to smaller values because of the frequent resends that occur over modem lines.
  • On fast network connections (T1 or T3 lines), you should set SDU and TDU equal to the MTU for your network. On standard Ethernet networks, the default MTU size is set to 1,514 bytes. On standard token ring networks, the default MTU size is 4,202.
  • If the Multi-Threaded Server (MTS) is used, you must also set the mts_dispatchers with the proper MTU TDU configuration.

The SDU and TDU settings are a direct function of the connection speed between the hosts. For fast T1 lines, set SDU=TDU=MTU. For slower modem lines, experiment with smaller values of SDU and TDU.

The queuesize parameter in the listener.ora file
The number of requests the listener can store while Oracle is working to establish a connection is determined by the undocumented queuesize parameter. This parameter is used only for very high-volume databases, where the listener spawns thousands of connections per hour. The number of expected simultaneous connections should be equal to the size of the queuesize parameter. Here's an example of this parameter in the listener.ora file:
           (ADDRESS =
             (PROTOCOL = TCP)
             (HOST = marvin)
             (PORT = 1521)
            (QUEUESIZE = 32)

A disadvantage of this parameter is that it preallocates resources for anticipated requests, therefore using more system memory and resources. You may want to consider using MTS and prespawned Oracle connections if you have high-volume connections into a dedicated listener. Also, note that some versions of UNIX do not allow queues greater than five, and there are some restrictions of the MTS queue size.

While most of the network packet traffic is tuned at the network level, proper settings for Oracle Net parameters can have a great impact on the performance of distributed systems. It's the job of the Oracle professional to fully understand and optimize these important parameters.

More information
For more information on these parameters, consult the online Oracle documentation.


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