Rise of the MachinesBy David Baum
PHH Corporation lays a foundation for shared services with Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud and Oracle Exadata Database Machine.
Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud is the world’s first engineered system specifically designed for implementing a private cloud computing environment that can host everything from small-scale departmental applications to large-scale enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Announced in September 2010 at Oracle OpenWorld, Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud is changing datacenter strategy conversations as organizations plan to take advantage of the benefits of this one-of-a-kind middleware machine.
Among the companies positioning themselves to transform their information strategy with Oracle Exalogic is PHH Corporation, based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. PHH delivers business solutions to its clients through two subsidiaries: PHH Mortgage and PHH Arval. PHH Mortgage provides private-label mortgage solutions to clients nationwide including financial institutions, real estate companies, credit unions, corporations, and government agencies. PHH Arval provides fleet management services for corporate clients and government agencies throughout the United States and Canada.
Each PHH subsidiary has spent years innovating and expanding its information systems, resulting in separate and diverse IT infrastructures.
“Imagine two full platforms with completely distinct solutions up and down the stack,” says Chris Brewer, vice president of platform technologies at PHH. “Both of our divisions have grown organically through acquisitions, resulting in silos of individual solutions.”
To consolidate these disparate technology stacks and lay a foundation for new applications, PHH is implementing a shared services environment called the Common Technology Platform—anchored by a half-rack Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud and a half-rack Oracle Exadata Database Machine, which provide extreme performance for both data warehousing and online transaction processing (OLTP) applications.
“Having our databases, infrastructure, and applications in the same place will greatly simplify our datacenter topology and hardware footprint,” Brewer explains. “This consolidated Oracle platform will also allow for standards-based implementation and integration between different application tiers.”
Foundation for Scalability and Performance
Consolidation on Oracle Exalogic is possible because of the optimizations in the product’s engineered system design. According to Adam Messinger, vice president of development in the Oracle Fusion Middleware group, while Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud is optimized for enterprise Java, Oracle Fusion Middleware, and Oracle Fusion Applications, it also runs third-party and custom applications.
In addition, each Oracle Exalogic configuration is balanced for compute-intensive workloads. “These Oracle Exalogic engineered systems contain hot-swappable compute nodes; a clustered, high-performance disk storage subsystem; and an InfiniBand switching fabric to connect the internal components as well as to externally connect additional Oracle Exalogic or Oracle Exadata Database Machine racks via high-bandwidth interfaces,” Messinger notes. “It’s all engineered as a cohesive system.”
Like Oracle Exadata, Oracle Exalogic is built from industry-standard server and storage building blocks. In addition, Oracle software technology enables Oracle Exalogic applications to share data efficiently and transparently— extending Oracle’s application grid technology, which enables multiple application server instances to share a dynamically allocated pool of resources.
“Oracle customers used to assemble application grids and database grids themselves,” says PHH’s Brewer. “Now, with the Oracle Exalogic and Oracle Exadata systems, Oracle has pre-engineered these solutions in advance, with all of the components integrated, tuned, and tested at the factory.”
Organizations can start with a quarter rack, grow to a half rack or full rack, and connect as many as eight full racks of Oracle Exalogic hardware (or any combination of Oracle Exalogic and Oracle Exadata configurations) without any external switches. This extensible architecture provides nearly unlimited horizontal scalability and eliminates the need for an ongoing purchase, configure, test, and deploy cycle for unique configurations of hardware and software.
“All of the hardware and software comes from Oracle, so we can make sure that there are no single points of failure and that all of the various scenarios are well tested,” Oracle’s Messinger points out.
In February 2010, the Oracle Consulting Enterprise Architecture team led several discussions with PHH about how to best realize the company’s goal of a Common Technology Platform.
“Oracle helped us develop a reference architecture that became a blueprint for our Common Technology Platform,” says Nathan Smith, director of enterprise architecture and chief architect at PHH. “Oracle took the time to understand our business and technological challenges. They helped us develop a roadmap for achieving our transformational goals.”
“We couldn’t have made as clear a business case without the Oracle Consulting teams, including the Oracle Enterprise Architecture development program, Oracle Advanced Customer Services, and the Oracle Insight program,” adds Brewer. “They determined what we had and how to reframe it in our new reference architecture.”
This reference architecture now serves as a blueprint for developing individual business solutions and deploying new applications, whether packaged or built from scratch. According to Smith, PHH used to be a big advocate of acquiring best-of-breed software from many different vendors, which led to its current predicament.
“We always sought to find the best product for each set of business needs, which meant we would have to spend a substantial amount of time and effort to integrate those products into our IT environment,” Smith says. “When we laid out our vision for a Common Technology Platform, we knew that we wanted to strategically align ourselves with a technology provider that could offer us the entire technology stack. Rather than manually piecing together our Common Technology Platform, and then dealing with all of the vendor finger-pointing when something goes wrong, we decided to standardize on Oracle Exalogic, Oracle Exadata, and the entire Oracle technology stack. Oracle leads the industry in multiple categories, so it was a logical move to forge an Oracle partnership.”
Rolling Out the Apps
PHH took possession of its Oracle Exalogic and Oracle Exadata engineered systems in April 2011 and is currently executing its plan to create a shared services environment. Ultimately, PHH’s new Oracle Exalogic system will host the entire Oracle Fusion Middleware stack including Oracle WebLogic Server, Oracle SOA Suite, Oracle Coherence, Oracle Business Process Management, Oracle Application Integration Architecture Foundation Packs, Oracle Tuxedo, Oracle Enterprise Content Management Suite, Oracle WebCenter, and Oracle Data Integration Suite. PHH also plans to run OLAP analytics against its Oracle Essbase database and to deploy Oracle Hyperion forecasting and planning applications in this new environment.
Although the Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud implementation is still in its early stages, Brewer believes that Oracle Exalogic will enable PHH to deliver a more cohesive experience for customers by eliminating demand for high-end desktop systems and offering self-service capabilities via thin clients, mobile devices, and standards-based Web portals.
For example, for PHH Mortgage customers, the company handles daily reporting on the status of each loan and manages the steps in the loan review and approval process. Brewer’s team is developing mobile applications in conjunction with Oracle WebCenter that will let clients access this information through smartphones and tablets. “Financial advisors often interact with their clients after hours or in the field, and it will be helpful to be able to grab this information from any location,” he notes.
For PHH Arval customers, the company is developing analytic applications to predict when it is time for vehicle maintenance and to automatically send alerts to each driver via e-mail or instant messaging. Customers can use Oracle WebCenter Real-Time Collaboration to open channels of communication through instant messaging clients, mobile devices, and standard Web browsers.
“One of the tenets of our technology strategy is not only to combine our two divisions but to create a consistent look and feel for users, both internal and external,” Brewer concludes. “Standardizing on Oracle Exalogic and many other Oracle products will enable us to build consistency within the middleware tier, giving us a common look and feel for reporting, ad hoc analysis, scorecards, and many other functions.”
David Baum (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.
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