World Class ITBy Alan Joch
Oracle supports the Linux enterprise with technology, products, and Oracle Unbreakable Linux.
Bradley Maue's frustration level spiked when a software glitch at his cost management firm blocked the flow of data from an array of hard drives to a core backup system. Maue, the CIO for Stuart Maue Mitchell & James (Stuart Maue), relies on a Linux-based backup application to protect multiple terabytes of data essential to providing professional liability insurance for the company's corporate clients. "This system has become mission critical," Maue says. Like most enterprises, Stuart Maue has an IT infrastructure that runs technologies from a mix of vendors, including Red Hat, Oracle, and various independent software vendors. In the past, solving problems like this one meant calls to multiple vendors, each of which may have had a different idea about whose products were to blame. But this time Maue took advantage of a new support service called Oracle Unbreakable Linux, which uses Oracle's technical support team to troubleshoot the entire technology stack, including non-Oracle products.
The Oracle team identified and quickly corrected a minor configuration problem to get the backup application running again. "Oracle tech support didn't say, 'Oh, this is somebody else's software; they'll have to handle it,'" Maue says. "Instead, Oracle Support stepped us through every inch of the process. At half the price of Red Hat support, and with twice the service, we saw a very good ROI [return on investment] with Oracle Unbreakable Linux."
Enterprise-class service and support are becoming increasingly important as companies like Stuart Maue turn to Linux for mission-critical data center applications. Even though Linux has long been a cost-effective and flexible alternative to Windows and proprietary UNIX operating systems, some enterprises have balked at the prospect of support growing pains.
"There's a general lack of understanding and resources among Linux vendors of what it takes to support a mission-critical environment," says Monica Kumar, senior director of product marketing for Linux and open source at Oracle. "We've had customers tell us that their system was crashing once a week, but their Linux vendor's response was, 'What's the big deal? It's only once a week.'"
In addition to finding support providers who appreciate enterprise uptime requirements, Linux users also look for a single point of contact to speed troubleshooting in mixed environments. "There certainly is a valid argument for a deeper level of support that addresses the whole technology stack," says Al Gillen, research vice president for system software at market research firm IDC.
"The benefit is that you wind up with a tighter integration of the various technologies, and you're going to end up with a better support infrastructure," Gillen says. "Certainly for customers running an Oracle database or Oracle applications, [Oracle Unbreakable Linux] is an interesting scenario for getting all that support from one company."
Oracle supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Oracle Enterprise Linux through its Oracle Unbreakable Linux program. Oracle Enterprise Linux is fully compatible—both source and binary—with Red Hat Linux, and anyone can download it free of charge—no support subscription is required.
The most basic Oracle Unbreakable Linux support package gives companies access to new software patches and updates for a one- or three-year term. Other support levels add 24-hour phone or Web access to the Oracle technical support staff, as well as backporting, which lets organizations selectively apply some or all of the 40 to 50 patches that update releases typically deliver every four to five months.
"That's important for many companies that want to stabilize their mission-critical environment," Kumar says. "They don't want to apply 50 patches if they have only one problem area. They'd rather fix just that one area."
Oracle Unbreakable Linux has become an important tool in the IT re-engineering strategy that IHOP began five years ago. The 49-year-old family-dining business overhauled its entire IT infrastructure, including the hardware, operating systems, and many of the critical applications running in its data center. The goal: to collect consistent daily sales information from point-of-sale systems across the company's 1,308 restaurants in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. "We wanted a leg up in getting a rich supply of information for making decisions on products, menu items, and other important business decisions," says Patrick Piccininno, IHOP's CIO.
The new architecture included Red Hat Linux, Oracle Application Server, Oracle Database, and Oracle E-Business Suite. "We've had Linux running since the first day of our re-engineering effort, and it's not only proved to be cost-effective, it's also very scalable," Piccininno says. "This shows how important and enterprise-worthy the Linux operating system has become."
But in the past, Linux support was "very inconsistent," says Piccininno. "Considering the amount of money we were paying, it was disappointing. So when we saw an opportunity to have a single point of contact not only for our mission-critical database applications but also for the operating system, [Oracle] Unbreakable Linux offered a wonderful next step forward in the evolution of our environment. It provides tremendous efficiency."
Oracle's support for Linux builds customer confidence, Piccininno says. "We know that Oracle is not only committed to its applications and its database but also to the operating system in which we have made a significant investment, both in terms of dollars and resources. Those things work hand in hand to bring Linux to an enterprise level, like it had never been treated before," he says.
Piccininno believes that relying on one vendor to support the whole IT stack boosts the overall reliability of the IT infrastructure. Oracle Unbreakable Linux also means bottom-line benefits. IHOP reduced its Linux support costs by 20 percent compared to its old contract. "For an IT guy who's always looking to leverage every piece of his investments, the lower costs for Linux support meant all of the stars lined up perfectly for us," he says.
Stuart Maue's biggest business challenge comes from the tight deadlines it faces when it reviews its clients' insurance claims for billing irregularities. "Some of these cases involve US$400 or US$500 million in fees, and they want answers yesterday," Maue says. "That's why we've chosen Oracle to help us organize all that information into our data warehouse."
The company uses Oracle Database 10g and Oracle Real Application Clusters running on Linux to support a mixed workload of transaction processing and business intelligence reporting systems. The operating system for both implementations is Oracle Enterprise Linux.
Maue says Oracle's track record in creating and maintaining enterprise-class technology was a key factor in his company's buying decisions. In addition to ending vendor finger-pointing, the single support source for Oracle applications, middleware, database, and the operating system helps Stuart Maue secure client information.
"All of the data we deal with is very sensitive," Maue says. "With the support I get from Oracle, I can just call up [the support team] if a hack attempt ever appears to be going on, and they'd be right there to help me through it."
Oracle's support expertise also makes Linux "a real alternative" to Windows Server 2003. "I've realized a real return on investment, and it wasn't a quantum leap to get my Windows Server 2003 technicians to flip over to Linux. So if anybody is scared to make the move because they don't think they'll find adequate IT staffing, that's not the case," Maue says. "Oracle is bringing support prices down, and getting real enterprise-level support is a positive development for the entire Linux community."
Moreover, Maue says, the level of support Oracle has shown Stuart Maue will influence and extend to other areas of their operation. "As we use more [Oracle Fusion] Middleware and Oracle Applications, our [Oracle] Unbreakable Linux environment will just grow from this point on," he says. "Everybody can pick it up easily. And when there's something they can't do, they can call Oracle for support."
Alan Joch ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is a technology writer based in New England who specializes in enterprise, Web, and high-performance-computing applications.