Oracle Exadata at WorkBy David A. Kelly
Oracle Exadata and the Oracle Database Machine move information faster to make business better.
Faster access to data can certainly help answer questions from business users, but can it fundamentally change the way a business operates? Jonathan Levine thinks so.
Levine is chief operating officer of LinkShare, an online affiliate marketing network based in New York, New York. LinkShare brokers advertising space on internet publisher Websites on a cost-per-action basis, meaning that those publishers get paid when internet users go beyond simply clicking on an ad and actually take an action, such as making a purchase or signing up for a credit card. Publishers in the LinkShare network drive more than 1 million online marketing transactions each day, and its customers include a worldwide Who’s Who of Fortune 500 and other important retail and financial companies. This year, LinkShare migrated 13 years of historical data from a collection of existing systems into a Sun Oracle Database Machine with Oracle Exadata technology and is already benefiting from the results.
Core to LinkShare’s business model is helping its customers and partners design and execute effective online marketing strategies. One way it does this is by enabling them to query and analyze deep historical data on previous marketing campaigns—everything from the creative content to the Websites where the ads ran to the effectiveness of the offers and the products sold.
“The faster you can get data to people and the more freedom you give them in analyzing it, the more interesting the results will be,” says Levine. “Every time we’ve made it easier and faster for people inside or outside of the company to obtain data, they’ve done things that we haven’t expected. I can’t tell you exactly how that will play out once they can get information back 10 times faster, thanks to our deployment of Oracle Exadata, but I know that they’ll be able to make better decisions faster—and that will help them grow.”
Oracle Exadata provides a complete hardware and software solution for high-performance data warehousing, online transaction processing (OLTP), and mixed workloads. It includes a massively parallel architecture and uses a wide InfiniBand network to increase data bandwidth between the database server and storage to deliver extreme performance for all data management applications.
For LinkShare, Oracle Exadata’s extreme performance is paying off.
“With Oracle Exadata we’re finding that data loads much faster and our queries come back much faster than they do from the previous data warehouse,” says Levine. “Our customers will be able to do analytics more effectively because they can do them faster.”
In fact, industry analysts are seeing the same thing—that new technologies like Oracle Exadata can create fundamental changes in the ways that organizations analyze and react to data.
“With Oracle Exadata, organizations can really work with information to enable superior business decision-making by allowing analysts to consider more possibilities and do deeper analysis in the same—or even less—time,” says Merv Adrian, principal at consulting firm IT Market Strategy.
Software. Hardware. A Complete Database Machine.The integration of software and hardware in Oracle Exadata delivers other key benefits.
And according to Adrian, the software and hardware integration of Oracle Exadata also leads to significant savings in resource costs, since organizations can cut down on the number of expensive specialists needed to install and maintain an enterprise database machine.
“From my research, time to value is a big advantage,” says Adrian. “Organizations don’t want to send their personnel off for classes to learn new hardware or spend time installing and tuning all the different components.”
Adrian even sees new opportunities for solutions like Oracle Exadata. “I’m seeing something I call a transaction-processing data warehouse,” says Adrian. “It’s a hybrid combination where OLTP systems reference data warehouse information for assistance in creating customized responses for specific situations. For example, ‘what other products should we offer this customer?’ Or, ‘what type of special deal can we provide to this purchaser?’ These can be called ‘analytic transactions’; they depend on look-aside processing to complete a business process.”
In addition, Adrian describes Oracle Exadata as an extensible database platform. “It’s not a proprietary, closed environment,” he says. “It’s the world’s most widely distributed database, and people know how to build on top of it.”
Finding New Ways to Run a Business
LinkShare has been in business for almost 15 years and has a huge amount of historical data that it relies on to analyze and help customers define effective internet marketing campaigns. That includes information on the types of ads that have run in the past, the creative content of ads themselves, when they were run, what Websites they were placed on, and how consumers responded to them. Most of LinkShare’s advertisers want to be able to analyze three to five years of historical data to help them understand the effectiveness of different internet offers and the performance of particular ads on particular sites.
“We’re talking about huge volumes of historical information on what pieces of creative were put up on the network, what offers got made, which advertisers had relationships with what publishers, which of those things generated customer interest in the form of an impression or click, which of those clicks translated into a transaction, and how much did those transactions make?” says Levine. “Our advertisers and publishers want the ability to analyze this massive amount of data in real time. And for us, the amount of data and the number of people performing analysis will only continue to grow.”
As a result of that growth, LinkShare was continuously challenged to deliver 100 percent uptime as it grew its existing clustered database system. At the same time, the system also needed to accommodate increasing analytic and reporting demands from the business. LinkShare needed increased performance to meet its clients’ ever-increasing requirements for instant access to data and trends. Those factors led Levine and his team to switch to Oracle and to deploy their enterprise data warehouse with Oracle Exadata.
“One of the attributes of Oracle Exadata that was really important to us was the fact that it’s very fault tolerant,” says Levine. “It’s fault tolerant in the way that the system degrades, rather than shuts down, for most kinds of faults that we see in production. We saw very few other systems that were able to do that, especially taking into account price and how much space and power it took to keep the solutions running.”
Another business benefit of selecting Oracle Exadata for LinkShare is that it is based on Oracle Database software and Linux. “Managing Oracle Exadata is quite similar to any other Oracle databases, so I don’t have to have two database management teams and two systems management teams,” says Levine. “It’s very attractive from an operational perspective. We can better manage our operations teams’ workloads, so we can provide our customers better service without increasing our labor costs.”
Laying Down the Rails for a More Efficient and Responsive Business
It takes powerful engines and many miles of track to run a railroad, but doing it well also requires timely and accurate business information. And while Amtrak—America’s only high-speed and intercity passenger railroad—has plenty of rolling stock and track, its management needs more-complete and -timely information to make the train operations safer, greener, and more competitive, and the organization more responsive to customer needs.
Over the years, Amtrak had developed different data marts, but it never had a formal enterprise data warehouse. In 2009, Amtrak decided to build an enterprise data warehouse that would include data from finance, marketing, and operations, among other departments. An enterprise data warehouse would allow Amtrak management to be more proactive, especially in areas such as equipment failures and maintenance.
Specifically, the organization wanted a leading-edge platform that could deliver fast performance. As a result, it selected the Oracle Database Machine.
Amtrak recently rolled out its first Oracle Exadata-based solution, a dashboard for its board of directors that covers nine key performance indicators, including cost recovery ratio, ridership, on-time performance, and safety. It draws on five subject areas and seven large fact tables and provides a 40-second response time scanning 150 million rows of data using the Oracle Database Machine.
“It has very good performance, and we’re very pleased with it,” says Jennifer Kao, manager, enterprise data warehouse, at Amtrak.
In addition to the performance benefits associated with Oracle Exadata, the fact that Amtrak didn’t have to spend time or money integrating different components was very appealing.
“We really liked the idea of the database appliance and the integrated combination of hardware and software,” says Steve Trus, senior director of enterprise services at Amtrak. “That way, we don’t have to worry about upgrading it, or hardware and software mismatches. It’s much easier.”
Amtrak’s team was also attracted to the idea of being able to leverage the existing skill sets of its current DBAs and developers. In addition, Amtrak was already running several Oracle technology-based transactional systems, so its datacenter staff and processes were well suited to support the new Oracle Exadata technology.
With Oracle Exadata, the learning curve is reduced to a minimum. Because Amtrak has been using an Oracle solution, there have been almost no surprises and the deployment and development effort has been a lot smoother. And Oracle Exadata has significantly reduced the amount of DBA effort required in terms of performance tuning, since building lots of indexes and aggregate tables is unnecessary.
Amtrak already has another three subject areas, including ticket issuance, in the testing phase, with plans to add nine others to the Oracle Exadata-based enterprise data warehouse in the future. By the end of 2011, Kao expects that data warehouse will hold up to 3 terabytes of data and support more than 500 concurrent business intelligence users throughout Amtrak.
Scaling to Millions of Calculations
In addition to its data warehousing capabilities, Oracle Exadata’s extreme performance and scalability when handling OLTP workloads has had a big impact on one company for whom vacations are all business—big business. In fact, TUI Netherlands, a division of TUI Travel PLC, is the largest tour operator in the Netherlands, with more than 1 million customers. The company owns more than 200 travel agencies and even has its own airline, but one thing TUI didn’t have was the time to recalculate the prices of hundreds of thousands of vacation packages when the underlying components or source prices changed.
TUI’s travel agents, as well as direct internet customers, design and price holidays from a variety of package components, including air travel, hotel accommodations, and activities. Pricing, availability, dates, and times can change second by second, and overall pricing of all TUI’s “inventory” of packages and products can change hourly or daily depending on fuel prices and other variables. Compounding these challenges is the fact that TUI needs to deliver results night and day, seven days a week, so system performance and availability are critical.
“The speed of our systems is very crucial to our business because availability of individual package components changes so quickly,” says Eli Lysen, CIO, TUI Nederland NV. “If we have one component sell out, such as a flight seat, it can impact all the other components of the package as well as all the other packages. Calculations and availability are the most important things in the travel industry.”
As important as timely calculations are, at one point in 2009 TUI found itself several days behind on calculations it needed to complete.
“We ended up in a position where our systems couldn’t calculate the correct availability in time for our customers,” says Lysen. “That was a big reason for our purchase of Oracle Exadata. We needed much more power in our OLTP systems. Oracle Exadata has given us that power, and our calculations department is running many more calculations than it ever has in the past.”
Oracle Exadata has been very reliable for TUI. “With our old system we had to check it each hour to keep it running stable,” says Lysen. “Now, with Oracle Exadata, we have a stable system. We don’t have to check it all the time. It just works.”
Staying Competitive with the Right Information
Staying competitive these days requires a relevant strategy, great operations, and the right types of information to make the correct business decisions.
Oracle Exadata offers organizations a different way to make those decisions. It can handle the toughest data warehousing and OLTP requirements while simultaneously making it easier than ever before to truly understand and analyze the wide range of data that organizations are collecting. Whether it’s helping to generate internet marketing revenue, making the trains run on time, or ensuring that travelers get the best deal on their vacation package, Oracle Exadata gives organizations the power and flexibility to handle high-performance, high-visibility business challenges.
David A. Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a business, technology, and travel writer who lives in West Newton, Massachusetts.