As Published In
Oracle Magazine
March/April 2009

COVER FEATURE


Data Center: The Next Generation

By Marta Bright

Master change with Oracle technologies for consolidation, modernization, and virtualization.

Businesses are under constant pressure to reduce waste and improve efficiencies wherever they can. IT organizations must respond to these pressures in their own operations and provide companywide solutions to help make the whole business more efficient.

The data center is the hub of IT organizations, a provider of business efficiencies delivered through mission-critical data and business applications, and a serious consumer of resources, including electricity. Business demands on the performance and availability of all the technology in the data center only increase, and this increasing demand, as well as the need to upgrade and replace hardware and software, means that data centers must find a way to both grow in capacity and generate the operational efficiencies demanded in the modern, sustainability-focused world. 

Server Virtualization and Clustering
Server Virtualization and Clustering
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Today’s technologies, including grid computing and IT modernization, deliver benefits that make the business and the data center more efficient and more powerful while consuming less energy. Oracle solutions also drive these technologies to go beyond incrementally improving data center efficiency and reducing power consumption. The destination—and convergence—of the Oracle solutions is the next-generation data center.


“One key aspect of moving toward a next-generation data center entails identifying and transforming old applications and data that hinder an organization in the areas of agility, cost, and risk,” says Lance Knowlton, vice president of modernization solutions at Oracle. “Not only are these strategies important from a cost standpoint, they also represent a more agile way to conduct business.”

Using a Grid to Gain Efficiencies

Grid computing pools and provisions groups of servers depending on business demands, and it is a key part of the next-generation data center. One company that uses Oracle’s grid computing technologies to run its next-generation data center is Trimble Navigation Limited, a company that has extreme high-availability needs. Trimble provides a wide range of navigation and positioning technologies—including GPS, laser, optical, and inertial technologies and wireless communications—to customers that rely on various methods of transportation to conduct business. Consequently, Trimble is sensitive to the need for improving fuel consumption.

“Our goal is to help businesses improve their fuel consumption by helping them to set and use efficiency standards to track and evaluate fleet performances against predetermined benchmark scores,” says Thomas Joseph, group product manager at Trimble. For some customers, this includes equipping vehicles with devices that communicate with GPS and provide information about the location and condition of the vehicle. For others, such as those in the agriculture industry, it means equipping helicopters with GPS sensors to help pilots distribute seeds and pesticides in precise geographic locations.

Snapshots



Trimble Navigation Limited

 Location: Sunnyvale, California
 Industry: Technology
 Revenue: US$1.1 billion
 Employees: 3,800
 Oracle products and services: Oracle Database, Oracle Real Application Clusters, Oracle’s Agile product lifecycle management applications, Oracle Service, Oracle Field Service
 

Board of Governors, State University System of Florida

 Location: Tallahassee, Florida
 Industry: Education
 Employees: 53
 Oracle products: Oracle Database, Oracle Real Application Clusters, Oracle Application Express, Oracle Enterprise Linux
 

BT Group

 Location: London
 Industry: Telecommunications
 Employees: 104,000
 Oracle products and services: Oracle Database; Oracle Real Application Clusters; Oracle VM; Oracle self-service applications; Oracle’s Siebel eBilling Manager; Oracle Internet Expenses; Oracle Payables; Oracle Procurement; Oracle Web Conferencing; Agile product lifecycle management applications; Oracle Asset Lifecycle Management; Oracle Business Intelligence Standard Edition; Oracle governance, risk, and compliance applications; Oracle Service; Oracle Field Service; Oracle Strategic Network Optimization; Oracle Transportation Management
 

Arcturus Realty

 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Industry: Real estate investment and management
 Employees: 500
 Oracle products and services: Oracle Database; Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne financial management suite of applications; Oracle Fusion Middleware, including Oracle Application Server, Oracle BPEL Process Manager, and Oracle WebCenter; Oracle Business Intelligence Publisher; Oracle Enterprise Linux support; Oracle User Productivity Kit

“We have about a quarter million devices collecting information and sending it back over to our data center,” Joseph says. “We can reduce the downtime for any of these fleet resources with technologies like remote diagnostics and remote prognostics, because we can diagnose problems before they become an issue.”

To ensure that information is always available on demand to any customer, Trimble uses Oracle Real Application Clusters (Oracle RAC), a key component of Oracle Grid Computing. “Oracle is the backbone of our next-generation data center, and it’s making our on-demand software services work effectively at all times,” says Joseph.

And while grid technology in the data center keeps the IT infrastructure running optimally, Joseph believes that it will also keep the planet green. “It is precisely these types of eco-innovations, made possible through a very useful set of [Oracle] technologies and processes, that will ultimately help us do our part in preserving the environment for the coming generations,” he says. “We want to make sure that we can help our customers in their various businesses to do the same.”

Modernizing an Architecture

For some companies, advancing to the next-generation data center involves moving business content out of legacy applications and platforms and into versatile, more-cost-effective IT environments. The goal is to retain existing application assets by transforming them to modern languages, databases, and services. This process of bringing the data center into alignment with contemporary practices is called IT modernization.

“Many of our clients tell us that it is getting virtually impossible to find staff that are truly knowledgeable in such areas as COBOL,” Oracle’s Knowlton says. “Certainly personnel can be trained in these legacy languages, but they may never have the expertise that the previous generation of developers used to craft enterprise-level applications on the mainframe.”

That was the case for the Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida. When Ramon Padilla, assistant vice chancellor of information resource management, took over managing legacy operations three years ago, he faced a big problem. The data center, which serves 11 state universities located throughout Florida, was built around a mainframe/COBOL environment, and all of the legacy system experts were due to retire. If they did so before the system was modernized, no one would have the skills to keep the business systems running.

“Over the years, we had kludged together a legacy system that was state of the art—for data collection processes that were popular 20 years ago,” Padilla says. “We either had to fix the system, or we’d be left in a situation where we’d have nobody left who could operate the legacy equipment and get to the data that we needed—or anybody who understood what was there.”

The legacy system was a collection of edit programs that ran against flat files that were submitted in batch, a process that supported data submissions from all 11 public universities. “The number of users was limited because of security and cost,” Padilla says. “We were charged by CPU cycle, so you had to make sure that whoever was running the jobs knew what they were doing. The mainframe is not a great place for trial and error.”

Oracle Software as a Service



Oracle’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform is an open and integrated set of technologies, including Oracle Database, Oracle Fusion Middleware, Oracle Enterprise Manager, and Oracle VM, that allows independent software vendors to build, deploy, and manage both on-premises and cloud-based applications. The Oracle SaaS platform helps businesses achieve scalability and availability with support for grid computing, virtualization, and integrated management across the platform. In addition, SaaS can save companies time and money by reducing development, integration, and testing cycles.
 

SaaS and cloud computing have made the enterprise IT infrastructure elastic so that it can grow incrementally without any theoretical upper limit. Oracle has partnered with Amazon Web Services to enable companies to deploy Oracle software and back up Oracle Database in the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2).

By moving to a blade server environment, which uses clustering to maximize efficiency; migrating the data to an Oracle database; rewriting the system’s core application in Oracle Application Express; and introducing virtualization with Oracle RAC, Padilla was able to create an IT environment that provides mainframe-level capabilities yet does not require the skills of COBOL experts. “By introducing Oracle RAC and blade servers, in just 12 months we were able to create an environment that we feel is just as robust as—and in some ways gives us much better performance than—we ever had with the mainframe,” Padilla says.

The Board of Governor’s upgrade to a four-node Oracle RAC environment with Oracle Application Express on Oracle Enterprise Linux proceeded quickly and smoothly. “We took on an impossible legacy conversion project and put in place the hardware, trained the staff, and were ready to go live with accepting data into the new system almost 12 months to the day from when we started,” Padilla says. He credits the IT teams at the 11 universities for their assistance. “They knew the monumental task we had in front of us and worked with us every step of the way,” he says. 

In terms of both time and money, the implementation has been a success. “The system we created had to cost no more to operate than what we were spending on mainframe charges,” Padilla says. “We have done just that—with the benefit of having greatly increased capabilities because the data now resides inside an Oracle database.”

Leading by Example

Even as the IT industry adds to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, it has the potential to become one of the change agents that ultimately reduces them by enabling energy efficiencies in data centers and other areas. The IT sector produces between two and three percent of all carbon emissions worldwide, according to Gartner (2007). BT Group wants to make sure that it contributes as little as possible to this total.

“We’re concerned about what we do with our own carbon footprint, including the energy we are responsible for consuming, as well as the ways in which our products help our customers reduce their footprints,” says Kevin Moss, BT Group’s head of corporate social responsibility, BT Americas. (See the sidebar “Leading the Way in Sustainability” to find out what BT Group is doing to save energy and reduce carbon emissions.)

Green Computing



The Oracle Grid Computing architecture can improve energy efficiency and data center productivity, making a “greener” data center. Some of the enabling functionality includes the following:

 

  • Server virtualization and consolidation using Oracle Real Application Clusters, Oracle Application Server clusters, and Oracle VM save energy and lower system management overhead.
  • Storage virtualization consolidation using Oracle Automatic Storage Management and Oracle Advanced Compression can save energy because companies that use fewer disks will consume less power. More-centrally managed storage also means less administrative overhead.
  • Application consolidation using a global single instance implementation of enterprise applications results in energy and hardware savings and a better quality of service, more-accurate and up-to-date information, and reduced systems management overhead.
  • Workload management using Oracle Enterprise Manager allows companies to manage spare capacity to provide more processing power to development, test, and production systems.

The Virtualized Data Center

For some companies, constructing the next-generation data center means investing in an efficient slate of new technologies. This proved to be the right formula for Arcturus Realty, Canada’s leading independent manager of third-party real estate assets, which upgraded its applications and middleware to “green” its operations.

Arcturus manages portfolios of office, retail, and industrial properties, and its client base includes financial services, pension funds, major retailers, and public sector and private investors. “We deliver property, facilities, transaction, and transition management services, as well as reporting and development advisory services, to our clients,” says John Chung, vice president of information technology, Arcturus. 

Providing all these services to such a wide variety of clients across the entire company was challenging. “Every situation has unique reporting requirements, but we struggled with data transparency,” says Chung. “When we conducted a survey of our clients, the No. 1 thing respondents said was that they wanted accurate and timely reporting. Unfortunately, a lot of critical information is in the heads of our property managers and accountants. It isn’t necessarily in our systems.”

Arcturus wanted to automate its operation to make the company more efficient and productive. Taking the data center to the next level meant, as Chung describes it, becoming a poster child for Oracle.

“We’re now using Linux and Oracle Fusion Middleware to integrate and orchestrate our entire end-to-end monthly report generation process,” Chung says. Arcturus can now automatically generate the workflow tasks, coordinate all of the specialists and departments, and then have them report in real time on status. Using Oracle Fusion Middleware and Linux has resulted in fewer transactions, fewer mistakes, and massive scalability in the company’s business model.

Next Steps



READ about
Oracle’s next-generation data center
Oracle Grid Computing
Oracle Modernization
the green data center
Oracle SaaS platform
Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists

 VISIT the Oracle Cloud Computing Center

Chung estimates that Arcturus is running about 7 fewer reports per property, per month. The company manages 587 properties; thus, 4,109 fewer reports are generated each month. This reduction in output generates monetary savings and allows the company to scale the operation without expanding the data center.

“Less server use combined with our virtualization strategy means less power consumption,” Chung says. “The ROI is absolutely clear and very tangible in terms of hard dollars.”

The accountants love the savings—and the business users appreciate the new functionality.

“Now there’s visibility and accountability into the end-to-end process for all the users involved, including the accountants, property managers, leasing people, the vice presidents—even our clients,” Chung says. “We can provide more information than the human-to-human communication ever did.”

As business demands on the data center’s technology increase, companies seek ways to make their operations more efficient. The next-generation data center is the pathway and the goal of companies choosing technologies that deliver results—from higher availability and increased productivity to greater efficiency and green technologies—that streamline the business and make the data center more economical. These companies, in establishing a next-generation data center, have achieved tomorrow’s results today. 

 

Leading the Way in Sustainability



BT Group has taken big steps to save energy and reduce carbon emissions. The company is one of the largest communications service providers in the United Kingdom, operating in more than 170 countries and offering both fixed-line and broadband internet access to hundreds of thousands of customers. BT Group has data centers around the world, and in all its IT efforts, the company relies on Oracle technology. Many of these data centers are pilot projects for sustainability.
 

In 1996 BT Group set a goal to reduce its absolute carbon emissions for its U.K. operations by 80 percent by the year 2016. At the end of 2008, the company had already reached a 60 percent reduction.
 

“We’re reducing water and power usage, recycling, being aware of all of the regulations in each of the countries that we operate in, disposal of electronic equipment—the whole gamut of things,” says Kevin Moss, BT Group’s head of corporate social responsibility, BT Americas.
 

“Excessive energy consumption becomes an issue for a data center in a couple of ways,” says Moss. “It can limit the growth of that data center. There can be enough money, enough physical space, and enough business requirements to grow the data center, but sometimes the actual power availability into the building can become a limitation.”
 

Moss sums up the four ways in which BT Group is reducing its carbon footprint, which he calls the “four dimensions of sustainability”: reducing the energy it consumes, reducing the energy usage of the products and services it sells, selling a product that helps BT Group’s customers reduce their energy usage, and informing others. To that end, Moss blogs on corporate sustainability issues at mosske.blogspot.com. And to set an example, the company has recently established a climate stabilization intensity target based on carbon emissions.
 

“We looked at what the scientific consensus has established as necessary for reducing global carbon emissions, and our target is set by those scientific standards to avoid catastrophic climate change,” Moss says. “Ultimately, that’s what sustainability is about.” (The scientific consensus that BT Group examined was defined in the 2007 Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists . Starting from the consensus that the maximum allowable level of carbon in the atmosphere by 2050 should be no more than 450 parts per million [ppm], the company used a formula that reduces emissions to reach that goal while allowing for gross domestic product to increase.)
 

The greatest consumers of energy in the data center are heating and cooling. The rule of thumb is that about half of the energy going into a data center is for air conditioning to cool the equipment that produces heat. “Only a small proportion of the energy going into a data center produces the data processing that you really want,” Moss says.
 

BT Group has broadened the operating temperature ranges of its equipment so that its network data centers can run at a higher temperature, using less air conditioning and consequently less electricity. The company has also realigned equipment racks into hot and cold aisles so it doesn’t have to cool the entire data center to one uniform temperature. Finally, it employs techniques of virtualization and consolidation to reduce the amount of equipment it uses.
 

“Many servers run at 50 percent or less of their capacity but still have to be kept running,” Moss says. “Virtualization helps us run individual servers at a much higher capacity, which means we don’t need to run nearly as many servers for the same amount of data processing.”
 

BT Group also looks to sources of renewable energy. The company buys about 7 percent of all the U.K.’s renewable electricity, predominantly from wind power. “We’ve made a commitment that by 2016 we will buy 25 percent of our total energy from wind produced on or adjacent to our own locations in the U.K.,” Moss says. “That will make us a significant energy producer.”
 

Elsewhere around the world, BT Group is looking to other sources of renewable energy. “In our head office in El Segundo, California, we have just completed a major solar installation, about 2,300 panels. It is one of the five biggest urban-based solar installations in Southern California,” Moss says. “In addition, we have a data center in Milan, Italy, that uses geothermal energy.”



 



Marta Bright
is a senior editor with Oracle Publishing.

 



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