Data Center: The Next GenerationBy 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.
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.
“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.”
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.)
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.
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.
Marta Bright is a senior editor with Oracle Publishing.