Step Into WindowsBy David Baum
Oracle technology on the Windows platform pumps up performance and reliability.
Nonstop performance and reliability used to depend on high-end symmetric multiprocessing clusters or expensive mainframe systems. But with today's inexpensive commodity hardware and powerful clustering technologies, large and small companies can have performance and reliability and also be in a position to easily grow their technology as their businesses grow. And the commodity hardware and clustering technologies also come with choice—a company can choose the operating system that fits the company's culture and leverages the company's technology skills.
For example, Fidelity National Information Services relies on Oracle Database 10g on the Microsoft Windows platform to process about 2.5 billion consumer and business banking transactions for more than 1,000 banks. Fidelity deployed Oracle Database in seven data centers, all of which run Oracle Real Application Clusters (Oracle RAC) technology. "We've been using Oracle Database in a Windows environment for about seven years," says Daniel Beuoy, director of database technology, Fidelity. "Initially, our system was designed to handle small amounts of data, but now it handles a very high volume of transactions."
Beuoy is part of a team of 80 people that supports Fidelity's core software applications and IT infrastructure. They find that using a series of small clusters is a good model for Windows. They have 30 production nodes running Oracle RAC software. "There is virtually no downtime for our Windows system—it runs 24/7," he says. "With so many people banking over the internet, we must maintain an around-the-clock operation."
Fidelity's Oracle databases range from a couple of hundred gigabytes to a few terabytes, and the team has not had any scalability problems, despite escalating demand for their transaction processing services. "We've tested a 23-node [Oracle] RAC cluster in a Windows environment without any issues," Beuoy says. "Thanks to Oracle Enterprise Manager Grid Control, one person is able to manage all of the databases in all of the data centers. After some initial configuration and tuning, there really isn't much maintenance to speak of."
Fidelity examined relational database offerings from Microsoft and Oracle before selecting Oracle Database 10g. According to Beuoy, his team determined that the hardware investment required to run Microsoft SQL Server would be considerably more than what they would need for Oracle Database 10g. "The way that our system is designed, Oracle is much better at utilizing commodity hardware, and Oracle's clustering software doesn't require us to rewrite our applications when we move them from single node to multinode environments," he observes. "Oracle Database 10g is the optimal solution for us."
The balance of performance and usability is what attracted emsCharts to an Oracle/Microsoft solution. As an application service provider that delivers electronic data collection systems to the emergency medical industry, emsCharts runs a 24-hour-a-day operation. "We're in the kind of industry that never sleeps," says Peter Goutmann, vice president of technology at emsCharts. "Our users can't tolerate delays accessing medical records—especially at the receiving facilities, where critical care is administered."
emsCharts enables emergency medical technicians to enter patient data through handheld devices while at the scene of an accident or trauma. Data on patients and their conditions is instantly uploaded to an Oracle database at the emsCharts data center. From there, the information is made available to hospital personnel at the patient receiving facilities, as well as to associated billing companies, quality assurance officers, and other authorized users.
Most of emsCharts' customers are ambulance companies; however, the company also has significant market share in the air medical industry. It's a tough business, with IT needs increasing even as medical reimbursements decrease. By delivering its software for a flat monthly fee, emsCharts spares these customers from the need to deploy database servers, network servers, and associated IT infrastructure.
"Before adopting our solution, a lot of our business partners were using manual data collection procedures, and it took four to six weeks to get the paperwork back to the home base and processed," Goutmann says. "Our Oracle-based system speeds that up considerably." emsCharts compared Microsoft SQL Server 2000 and Oracle9i Database before picking Oracle. "What really sold us was the performance and reliability of Oracle RAC software," Goutmann says. "Oracle has a more scalable and reliable database product—and a more-efficient way of managing the memory structure across clustered nodes, which delivers better performance. As a result, we've achieved high-end clustering capabilities for a relatively low cost."
The company runs Oracle Database 10g on a Windows cluster that supports more than 3,000 users. Data is spread across redundant hard drives and is protected against failures using backup servers and networks. Thanks to Oracle RAC, the servers can be taken offline without affecting users and workloads.
"At any given time, we have several hundred concurrent users accessing our database," says Alan Karelitz, database administrator at emsCharts. "We need a very efficient and reliable system to support our customers. The [Oracle] RAC architecture gives us superb uptime due to its ability to add or remove nodes as needed."
For most organizations, the decision about which database to use, and which operating system platform to run, often comes down to cultural issues—namely, staff experience. "All of our support staff have Windows backgrounds, so we have a lot of knowledge and experience with the Windows operating system," says Fidelity's Beuoy. "As a result, we've had very little trouble bringing everybody up to speed." In other cases, operating system deployment decisions are dictated by an organization's familiarity with a particular set of development tools. Fidelity uses the Microsoft Visual Studio development environment, which works well with Oracle Database 10g.
Santanu Datta, Oracle's senior director of Windows development, believes that customers such as Fidelity and emsCharts also select Oracle Database 10g because it is interoperable among multiple platforms. "We've worked hard to ensure that Oracle Database 10g is easy to install, manage, and develop on Windows," he says. "Customers can be up and running in less than 15 minutes. They can use the familiar .NET environment to develop new database applications and then run them on different platforms as their business evolves."
Fidelity finds that reliability is key. Now that the company has an Oracle RAC cluster set up at an offsite disaster recovery facility, its entire transaction processing operation can seamlessly fail over to a protected site in the event of an emergency. "The reliability of our transaction processing service is above and beyond what other companies in our industry can offer," concludes Fidelity's Beuoy. "In conjunction with our Microsoft software assets, Oracle database technology gives us a real competitive advantage."
David Baum (email@example.com) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.