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I inherited an old old 9i DB that now needs recovery. It is unstable (disk corruption and performance problems).

I have a backup.

In the interest of time - I have 64-bit VMs all over the place, but 9i was only made for 32-bit according to Oracle support.

Would installing 32 bit packages on the existing 64-bit VM be an option to run Oracle 9.2?

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    Generally, a 32 bit software is able to run on 64 bit OS. But I can not remember a single case when I saw this with Oracle database. I guess it is possible. Oracle 9 was released for 32 bit and 64 bit as well. Even I have the 64 bit 9.2.0.1 installers for Windows and Linux on my NAS. So go back to Oracle support, correct them, and request a download of the 64 bit installer. Mar 4 '19 at 15:54
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It is possible, I had to do it myself once. BUT: It is not enough to just to install 64 bit packages on any new linux distribution. You need a supported version (that is supported by 9.2). just hacking the config file did not work out, due to many issues e.g. Kernel versions.

IIRC I ended using an Oracle Linux 4 install.

If you need a more modern and supported OS you might want to give Solaris x86 a try. Usually old software runs with much less issues. Known good installation: Solaris 10 with 9.2

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