As Published In
Oracle Magazine
March/April 2010

FEATURE


Only What You Need

By David A. Kelly

Pool and adjust resources dynamically with application grid.

When companies determine their required resources for optimal performance, they usually consider first what they need. Some companies will find that they have the exact hardware and software configurations for their average processing needs but not their peaks. Thus, on occasion, when user demands on resources exceed capacity, performance times lag, and consistency and accessibility suffer.

But if an application is resourced to handle peak processing loads so that customers never experience slow performance, the result can be unused hardware and software capacity during off-peak periods.

The application grid approach to middleware infrastructure can help address these provisioning problems—either too little or too much computing power—by enabling a set of applications to share resources, adding more when needed and shifting them when demand spikes elsewhere. This infrastructure smooths out performance peaks and valleys and improves performance overall. The application grid allows adjustments to be made automatically and dynamically, which enables greater efficiency, speed, and scalability and a simplified IT environment.

Oracle Application Grid Infrastructure

Oracle application grid infrastructure consists of five technologies from the Oracle Fusion Middleware family of products—Oracle WebLogic Server 11g for Java Platform, Enterprise Edition; Oracle Tuxedo for C, C++, and COBOL; the Oracle Coherence in-memory data grid; the Oracle JRockit Java virtual machine (JVM); and Oracle Enterprise Manager. Together, these products form an application grid solution that helps many companies survive computing peaks and valleys and gives them a solid, dynamic computing infrastructure.

Juliana Button, director of product management for Oracle Fusion Middleware, says that an application grid enables organizations to support requirements for growth and scaling up or out very quickly while delivering high performance and seamless manageability. “The whole purpose of the application grid is to simplify and streamline the ability to provide a platform that can deliver extreme high availability, scalability, and performance while still making it manageable,” she says.

According to Maureen Fleming, program director for business process management at IDC, an independent industry analysis firm, many organizations are trying to improve the speed and timeliness of building and deploying applications while also lowering costs by moving to newer, abstracted middleware strategies.

“There’s a need for companies to get more efficiency from middleware,” Fleming says. “That’s why Oracle’s application grid is so interesting. For example, the Oracle JRockit Real Time JVM is optimized to make applications perform in a more deterministic way, so that application performance becomes very predictable. Once you know how your application performs, then you can manage the deployments more efficiently—typically with fewer instances of the application and fewer servers running the application, because it can be run at a higher level of utilization since the performance is known.”

Agile Payments 

Snapshot


 VocaLink

www.vocalink.com
Location: London, England
Industry: Financial services
Employees: 1,000
Oracle products: Oracle Database, Oracle Real Application Clusters, Oracle WebLogic Server 11g, Oracle Coherence, Oracle JRockit Real Time, Sun servers

VocaLink is a London, England-based provider of transaction services to banks, their corporate customers, and government departments. VocaLink’s automated payment platform enables customers to process domestic and international transactions, and their ATM network connects more than 60,000 ATMs. The company leverages an application grid solution to gain efficiencies in a challenging market.

The payments processing market had been generally static for about 20 years, but rapid changes in recent years have shaken the industry. “We’ve gone from a very slow-moving industry to one that’s seeing a huge amount of change right now because of legislative initiatives both domestically in the U.K. and from Europe,” says Hussein Badakhchani, distinguished technologist at VocaLink.

One of the biggest changes is in the European Union, where the Single European Payments Area (SEPA) has removed the boundaries between markets to allow pan-European money transfers to occur. Consequently, VocaLink faces more competition from other countries and companies, increasing the pressure to reduce costs and improve profitability.

“We have to ensure that whatever IT system we implement is well aligned with business objectives and delivered at very good value,” Badakhchani says. “And we expect a high return on investment on anything that we purchase in terms of IT, services, hardware, and software.”

Oracle technology meets those expectations. “The Oracle application grid products deliver on that,” he says. “Oracle WebLogic Server is at the core of our middleware infrastructure. The application server is probably the best application server on the market in terms of Java and enterprise Java. It’s at the core of our IT infrastructure, and all of our payment services are deployed onto an Oracle WebLogic Server platform.”

In addition to Oracle WebLogic Server, VocaLink leverages the Oracle JRockit JVM for selected application services, Oracle Database, and Oracle Real Application Clusters. The company deploys its software on Sun servers. On a peak day, VocaLink’s service processes more than 90 million payment items, which translates into roughly 200 million JDBC local transactions.

“We selected Oracle WebLogic Server and other Oracle products because our application servers and databases need to be extremely resilient, highly performant, and able to handle a vast number of transactions,” says Badakhchani. “When we originally evaluated products, Oracle WebLogic Server was head and shoulders above the rest in terms of performance and still remains that way today. For us, getting the maximum value out of any infrastructure stack that we deploy is a real key concern. It’s critical to our business.” 

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VocaLink is also planning to expand the rollout of the Oracle JRockit JVM in conjunction with its existing Oracle WebLogic Server instances.

“For us, using Oracle JRockit with Oracle WebLogic Server was an absolute no-brainer,” says Badakhchani. “Simply dropping it in without actually making any configuration changes gives us a performance improvement and reduces resource consumption. Beyond that, Oracle JRockit has enhanced observability tools that give us the potential of reducing the amount of time that we spend troubleshooting. The effort of introducing it is very low, and the potential return on investment is high. That ratio makes it a really attractive option for us.”

Paying Off

For VocaLink, taking the time to rethink its application infrastructure has already paid off. And it’s a strategy that will continue to pay dividends in the future.

“In addition to Oracle JRockit and Oracle WebLogic Server, Oracle Enterprise Manager takes us to the next level in terms of allowing a transaction to be traced from the Java tier all the way into the database,” he says. “We’re achieving stunning transaction rates already. However, with the introduction of Oracle Coherence we expect to further increase our processing capacity without having to provision new hardware.”

Badakhchani says that Oracle Coherence offers VocaLink increased benefits.

“Introducing Oracle Coherence is a strategic option for moving toward a shared infrastructure,” he says. “The more processing we can shift from expensive database machines to lower-cost application servers, the more stable and cost effective our shared infrastructure will become. Ultimately Oracle Fusion Middleware and Oracle Database technologies assist us to pursue our mission to be a valued payments partner.”

 

The Oracle Application Grid


“Oracle application grid is the enterprise-class foundation for running Oracle enterprise applications,” says Juliana Button, director of product management for Oracle Fusion Middleware. “We’re moving beyond just the basic infrastructure of application servers. The application grid architecture is redefining the potential for application deployment.”

The Oracle products that support the application grid approach include

 

  • Oracle WebLogic Server 11g, for core Java application deployment

  • Oracle Coherence, an in-memory data grid for supporting dynamic scale-in and scale-out, high availability, and extreme performance

  • Oracle JRockit Real Time, a Java runtime solution offering the fastest Java runtime along with deterministic responsiveness

  • Oracle Enterprise Manager, for enterprise-class automated management capabilities while enabling dynamic resource allocation

  • Oracle Tuxedo, for legacy transaction processing



Maureen Fleming, program director of IDC’s business process management group, says that companies are using an application grid approach to achieve greater efficiencies. “Organizations are trying to get more for their dollars by improving the ease and speed of development as well as requiring fewer instances of applications,” she says. “By improving the utilization of your application footprint, you’re improving the value delivered.”

Another important part of the equation is how the application grid helps deliver greater efficiency, more agility, and better quality.

“There’s this whole new layer of automation that’s happening in application development environments that lets you code to the next level up,” she says. “You spend far less time developing applications, and you end up with a higher-quality application in less time. It allows organizations to be more agile and change oriented.”

 


David A. Kelly (dkelly@upsideresearch.com) is a business, technology, and travel writer who lives in West Newton, Massachusetts.

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