Building on a Solid FoundationBy David A. Kelly
Companies rely on an Oracle grid infrastructure to provide a solid yet flexible base for their applications.
Building a house directly on top of soft, shifting earth won’t give you the same result as building a house with a solid concrete foundation, poured over an iron rebar grid. It’s the same with your enterprise applications.
Building the most-effective business application solution requires a solid, scalable foundation that includes enterprise databases, efficient middleware, and a grid computing infrastructure that can support dynamic growth, unexpected changes, and robust services. In short, applications work better when they have the right infrastructure underneath them.
“Applications rely on infrastructure to run, so when you’re deploying applications it’s important to have an IT architecture with the right levels of reliability, scalability, manageability, and flexibility,” says Gene Phifer, managing vice president, Gartner. “For example, reliability is a critical aspect for application infrastructure, and if you want an application with a high level of reliability, the underlying infrastructure needs to have an even higher level of reliability.”
It may seem counterintuitive, but the flexibility of a computing grid can be the key to reliability, high availability, and scalability. “By running applications on a grid, an organization has increased flexibility, which enables it to increase performance on an as-needed basis,” says Erik Peterson, technical manager, Oracle.
“In a grid environment, as you add more machines, you get a higher level of availability, because for each machine you lose due to a failure, you lose only that portion of availability,” he adds. “And from a scalability perspective, when an organization needs to keep expanding its grid environment, a solution like Oracle Real Application Clusters [Oracle RAC] provides increased flexibility and foundation for continued growth.”
In addition, Oracle Database features such as Oracle Automatic Storage Management provide similar storage flexibility, so organizations can add storage to their environments when they need additional I/O capacity, without interrupting the online operation of the database.
“Today many companies are taking a best-of-suite approach that allows organizations to buy an integrated collection of infrastructure components from a single vendor for a particular purpose and plug that into their broader infrastructure,” says Gartner’s Phifer, “so typically you’ll see the best level of integration across the components of a stack from a single vendor, rather than taking a best-of-breed approach.”
Consolidation for Better Communication
A good example of how the right enterprise infrastructure can benefit business applications is the experience of Embarq, a large telecommunications provider offering local and long-distance home phone service, high-speed internet, and satellite TV.
Embarq had an IT infrastructure designed so that many applications had their own set of application, development, and test servers. As a result, the company had hundreds of servers that, on average, were not highly used. At close to 2,500 servers, the company has been transitioning to a consolidated server infrastructure, including Oracle Database 10g and Oracle Database 11g, Oracle RAC, and Oracle Automatic Storage Management, for most of its consolidated database servers.
“We’ve been on an aggressive path over the last year to consolidate our database servers into an Oracle RAC environment, as well as consolidate our applications,” says Don Eyberg, manager of mainframe and midrange database services at Embarq. “We’ve already had significant success in our development environment, where in just one project, we’ve reduced 40 servers to 4 in an Oracle grid environment. We’ll continue to drive our server count down by 50 percent over the next few years as we consolidate them in grids.”
Embarq also has an aggressive application rationalization program, which entails reducing the number of applications that it needs to run the business. As Embarq rationalizes its applications, it moves them into one of its Oracle RAC/grid environments so they will be on a single hardware and software platform. “By consolidating onto a single hardware and software infrastructure, we gain tremendous productivity benefits,” says Eyberg. “Our people can specialize in a narrower technology stack, and we don’t have to dilute our resources by being a ‘jack of all trades.’”
Since starting down the grid computing road in July 2007, Embarq has also made better use of its storage area network (SAN). “One of the things we’re finding with Oracle Automatic Storage Management is that when we tie these servers together in a grid, we also tie the storage together in a much larger pool, so we can better manage the use of storage between applications almost in real time—allocating or de-allocating space across applications based on who needs it at any specific time. It’s turned out to provide some tremendous storage savings,” says Eyberg.
Keeping Potential Open
Flexibility, high availability, and integrated management are three goals for Chesapeake Energy, a Fortune 500 company and the largest producer of natural gas in the United States, focusing on domestic gas and oil exploration.
Chesapeake is the country’s foremost driller, with approximately 145 rigs currently operating throughout the U.S. The company accounts for about 15 percent of all daily drilling information generated in the nation.
To support multiple corporate subsidiaries and business groups, Chesapeake Energy’s IT group delivers packaged and custom solutions tailored to the needs of a fast-growing enterprise. In addition, Chesapeake’s IT operations group provides consistent back-end centralization for many IT needs, including server support, database support, and common networking infrastructure.
Because of the diverse needs of the different business units, Chesapeake’s IT group tailors IT solutions based on business need and value. “We focus on delivering the right solution for our business as opposed to forcing a technology architecture. We want to find the right fit for a particular business need, and then we will integrate it on the back end,” says Stephen Taylor, Chesapeake’s director of infrastructure.
The company has been running Oracle RAC for close to three years. Over that time, Chesapeake has experienced accelerated growth, expanding from roughly 2,500 employees three years ago to 7,500 employees today.
“Our company is built to be flexible to quickly capitalize on opportunities and respond to changing market conditions,” says Taylor. “That’s where running our applications on an Oracle RAC clustered environment really helps. It gives us a lot of flexibility in how we manage the back-end systems and how we grow them.”
The company uses an Oracle Database back end for many of its custom and packaged applications and deploys several of those applications, including Oracle’s PeopleSoft applications, on an Oracle RAC 10g environment for scalability and availability. “One of the biggest benefits we’ve gotten on the PeopleSoft side from running our infrastructure on Oracle RAC has been high availability,” says Taylor. “PeopleSoft deals with Oracle RAC high-availability processes really well, so that if a particular hardware component fails, PeopleSoft can continue operating seamlessly. That’s critical for some of our business processes, such as payroll.”
Another benefit for Chesapeake is integrated management. The company has a number of development and test environments for its PeopleSoft applications, and by using Oracle RAC and Oracle Enterprise Manager Grid Control, it has an integrated management infrastructure to manage all instances in a common environment.
“We can balance our development, testing, and production environments on demand across the whole infrastructure,” Taylor says, “without the necessity of adding hardware to accommodate fluctuations in resource needs.”
Chesapeake has already realized business benefits from running its applications on an Oracle infrastructure—benefits that enable the company to meet its growth objectives effectively. “Being able to increase our flexibility without a lot of overhead is very critical for us since we’re continuing to grow and expand rapidly,” Taylor says. “We need the ability to react quickly, and running our applications on a clustered environment gives us greater flexibility to react to business changes.”
Building an Available Company
Responsiveness and availability aren’t just critical IT attributes—they can also be critical attributes of business success. Nowhere is this more true than in the insurance industry, where customers often judge their insurance companies on their availability and responsiveness after a disaster hits.
That’s why Allstate Insurance has been rearchitecting its traditional mainframe-based solutions to run on a highly available Oracle-based architecture. For example, Allstate recently rolled out a new enterprise document management system based on Oracle RAC, to enable the company to help its customers faster and more efficiently.
“We’ve moved pretty far down the path of making Oracle our primary database for mission-critical applications,” says Nick Giannakopoulos, director of Allstate’s architecture services/information architecture. “We’re migrating many of our applications onto an Oracle RAC environment for availability and scalability benefits, and we’re very pleased with the way they’ve been scaling.”
Not only has the Oracle RAC environment enabled Allstate’s enterprise document management system to keep up with user requirements, but it’s also helped increase application availability.
“We’ve already had a situation with one of our Oracle RAC-based applications where we had a hardware problem, and one of the four nodes went down,” says Giannakopoulos. “The other three nodes kept the application up and running, so we know that Oracle RAC delivers on higher availability.”
For a service-oriented company like Allstate, availability is critical. “One of the most-important business processes we have at Allstate is to make sure we’re here for the customer,” says Giannakopoulos. “So it’s extremely critical for us to make sure that our applications are up and running. That’s why Oracle RAC is an important part of our application infrastructure.”
The Users Will Judge
While business applications are what users see, the IT infrastructure determines if the application stays up and can grow as demand increases. Designing the right IT infrastructure is an important part of ensuring overall application availability and performance. As Chesapeake Energy’s Taylor says, “Running our business applications on Oracle RAC gives us much better availability than we would otherwise have.”
Embarq’s Eyberg agrees. “Oracle RAC allows us to provide built-in high availability, where we can take our applications and define them on multiple servers in the cluster,” he says. “That really opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of enhanced application uptime, rolling patch upgrades, and other maintenance activities. It’s pretty exciting for our business, because with the Oracle RAC infrastructure, the applications will be up more.”
David A. Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a business, technology, and travel writer who lives in West Newton, Massachusetts.