Serve It Up!By David Baum
Oracle WebLogic Server delivers an open platform for integrating applications and building relationships.
Different lines of business require different applications, and the applications that define lines of business can become barriers to providing consistent service across the company. Overcoming those barriers and serving a variety of applications to both internal users and customers requires an integration strategy and a powerful application server platform.
FedEx, the global shipping and business solutions giant, was having growing pains. As the company added to its operational network, integrating everything from order processing and shipment tracking to billing and customer support became time-consuming and labor-intensive.
“We wanted a single way of doing shipping; we wanted a single customer number across application codes; and we wanted a single invoice,” says Tim Robertson, IT manager at FedEx. “FedEx felt that it was imperative from both a competitive and an operational standpoint to eliminate the lines separating each operating company wherever those lines impacted customer satisfaction or employee productivity.”
Robertson knew that aligning this project with prevailing standards, unified by an open application server platform, would make this massive development project much easier. It’s a familiar realization. According to Tony Baer, a senior analyst at Ovum, an application server creates a common middle-tier layer that makes it easier to integrate applications, services, and business processes and expose them on the Web.
“Middleware assets embodied in today’s application server platforms are critical because applications are increasingly being composed rather than developed,” Baer says. “It’s all about extending and integrating, rather than developing.”
The result was a group of applications called FedEx Unified Strategic Information Optimization Network, or FUSION. Its three entities are Shipment FUSION, Customer FUSION, and Revenue FUSION. The solution ties together the shipment systems of each business unit to provide internal and external users with a single resource for all shipment tracking and account reporting. These applications depend on Oracle WebLogic Server Enterprise Edition, a core foundational component of Oracle Fusion Middleware.
Oracle WebLogic Server helps FedEx developers by simplifying and removing some of the programming effort and lets them concentrate on solving business problems rather than managing infrastructure. It brings consistency to how developers interface their core business applications with the databases, eliminating the concern of how many connections they have to make or how they retrieve information.
“We’ve been a WebLogic shop for many years,” Robertson says. “This software gives us the performance and reliability that we need to manage millions of transactions daily. It also provides the scalability we need to grow with our business and is based on open standards to help us maintain flexibility.”
Robertson appreciates the continued relationship with Oracle. “I’m very encouraged by the technical direction that I’ve seen from Oracle,” Robertson notes. “Our companies have a history together, and we look forward to that relationship strengthening.”
Driving Better Relationships
While FedEx must move packages with precision, speed, and reliability, online matchmaker eHarmony deals in a more abstract commodity: love. Based in Pasadena, California, the online company was launched in 2000 and is now the internet’s No. 1 trusted relationship services provider. Combining science and psychology, eHarmony’s patented Compatibility Matching System matches eHarmony members with similar people with whom they are likely to enjoy a long-term relationship. Every day an average of 236 U.S. couples marry as a result of being matched on eHarmony.
Enabling these couples to find each other depends on a Web site that is fast and available. “Our company is driven by technology,” says Gary Rudolph, director of engineering at eHarmony. “It’s paramount to the future of eHarmony. Everything hinges on our IT presence.”
The company’s Web traffic is very heavy, ranking in the top 1 percent of U.S. companies. The eHarmony Web site guides members through the process of finding compatible matches and building lasting relationships. The company’s custom questionnaire application collects data on members, analyzes that data, performs calculations, and applies the data to a model for compatibility. An additional service provides secure calling, so that members can go beyond online discussions and talk with other members through secure partners without giving up their privacy.
However, as the company expanded, its Web site initially failed to keep up. Exponential growth in membership and usage of the Web site over the last several years threatened to overwhelm eHarmony’s IT infrastructure.
“We had to take a close look at our existing platform and consider our long-term needs and how we were going to scale,” says Rudolph. “We needed to scale 10 times or beyond.” A rewrite of the company’s custom application a few years ago required a new application server that could support Java Message Service and Enterprise JavaBeans. The company also needed a more sophisticated infrastructure and a reliable system that could manage an escalating load with automated failover and fault tolerance.
Oracle makes this possible. The company’s custom application set is based on Oracle Database 10g with Oracle Real Application Clusters (Oracle RAC) and Oracle WebLogic Server.
According to Rudolph, eHarmony had compelling reasons for selecting Oracle. Oracle RAC supports eHarmony’s 64-CPU database cluster, giving the company plenty of room to support its rapid growth. In conjunction with this database cluster, Oracle WebLogic Server provides automatic failover. If one server fails, another can pick up the processing load with complete consistency of session states—so a customer won’t get cut off just before finding the match of his or her dreams.
“Installed on 120 servers, [Oracle] WebLogic Server has become the fundamental building block of our business,” says Rudolph. “This Oracle software connects our customers with each other and with the historic thread of their interactions.”
eHarmony saw an instant 20 percent performance boost after implementing Oracle WebLogic Server. This helped postpone a planned hardware build-out for six to nine months, providing more working capital for other IT projects. Today, with Oracle WebLogic Server firmly in place, eHarmony is experiencing superior uptime for its relationship services.
“What really distinguished Oracle WebLogic Server for us was its reliability, fault tolerance, and failover support,” says Rudolph. “Every minute of downtime represents a monetary value, so that’s extraordinarily important to us. Thanks to the hot-swap capabilities of this application server software, we can bring up new releases of our software about 10 times faster.”
Rudolph foresees even greater synergy between Oracle WebLogic Server and Oracle Database 10g. “We can handle failovers more effectively and interact with the database more efficiently,” he says. “We see a huge benefit to the tight integration that you get when two essential products are under the same corporate umbrella and developed by a single vendor.”
David Baum (email@example.com) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.