Flying High with a Private Database Cloud
By David Baum
Sabre consolidates applications on a shared IT platform based on Oracle Database 11g and Oracle Real Application Clusters.
Sabre Holdings built the first passenger reservation system in 1960, and the company has continued to transform airline industry technology. The Southlake, Texas-based company is now the world’s largest software-as-a-service provider to the aviation industry, providing revenue management, pricing, flight scheduling, cargo, flight operations, and crew scheduling to 300 airlines and more than 100 airports around the world. Having blazed the e-commerce trail for the travel industry—pioneering online travel agencies, corporate booking tools, revenue management, and Web and mobile itinerary tools, to name just a few—Sabre continues to develop solutions that define the travel and transportation marketplace.
Today, with its pioneering use of Oracle Real Application Clusters (Oracle RAC), Oracle Database 11g, and Oracle Enterprise Manager, Sabre is building on its history of innovation with a private database cloud that supports more than 100 projects and 700 users.
“It only took a couple of projects to justify the investment in the private cloud,” says Marshall Romberg, an enterprise data architect at Sabre. “As we ramp up to 10, 20, 50, 100 projects, the savings just keep rolling in.”
“Consolidation involves turning large, complex, difficult-to-manage systems into condensed systems,” he explains. “Less hardware and software means fewer moving parts and easier management. Instead of having to back up, troubleshoot, or patch 100 systems, we maintain only one system.”
Consolidating databases onto a private cloud is a proven way to deliver scalable, efficient, and cost-effective database services to a large user base. When properly deployed, a private database cloud enables an IT department to reduce the number of servers and storage devices onto a shared hardware and software platform. The higher the consolidation density, the greater the return on investment.
According to Sohan DeMel, vice president of product strategy and business development at Oracle, a consolidated database on a private database cloud makes the best use of the available resources.
“A consolidated database consists of one or more application schemas that span one or more servers running Oracle Database 11g and Oracle Real Application Clusters,” DeMel explains. “When a new project is provisioned, a new schema is created, with its own set of tablespaces and corresponding service name.”
Each application represents a different schema within a consolidated database, DeMel continues, with its own named database service spanning the available server resources. Resources are isolated at the service level.
Sabre’s private database cloud uses the Automatic Workload Management and Quality of Service Management features of Oracle Database 11g to ensure that sufficient resources are available to meet application needs, even as the workload changes.
In order to keep costs low, Sabre built its private database cloud on standardized, commodity-priced servers, storage pools, and network components. When more processing power is needed, Sabre can add another server without taking users offline. Oracle RAC transparently scales the database across pools of servers, providing fault tolerance from hardware failures. If a node in a server pool fails, Oracle Database 11g continues to run on the remaining servers in the pool.
Currently about 100 projects are running on Sabre’s private database cloud, supporting between 600 and 700 users, who collectively access between 1 and 2 TB of data. The projects mostly involve custom travel applications that support airlines along with rail, hotel, and other travel industry applications.
“We tell people, you can set up your own database servers, which is expensive and takes some effort. Or, if you prefer, you can come to the centralized farm. There’s no cost associated with it. It’s already there. This afternoon I can have your schema ready for you. It is a pretty easy sell,” says Romberg.
Better Utilization, Easier Management
Previously Sabre’s project owners were responsible for their own hardware and software, including the database. Each of them went through the same basic procedures whenever they wanted to deploy a new database application: figuring out which hardware to use and then getting it deployed, tested, and configured.
“In many cases, their standard-issue hardware included 24-core, 64-gigabyte blades, but most projects couldn’t really drive any sizable load on these servers,” recalls Romberg. “We found lots and lots of nearly idle systems, some with 5 percent CPU usage. There were many opportunities to consolidate projects and utilize less hardware.”
Deploying these project databases on a consolidated private cloud enabled Sabre to improve quality-of-service levels—as measured in terms of database performance, availability, and data security—and reduce capital and operating costs in many areas. “Our development farm has been in operation for three years. The certification and production farms have each been in operation for two years. We already have easily recouped the costs—many, many times over,” Romberg contends.
Because it’s all shared, the hardware and operational costs are incrementally very low. It’s much simpler as well, since Sabre now maintains just a couple of servers instead of several dozen.
As Sabre needs more resources, administrators can easily add nodes. However, compared to before, they don’t have to add as much capacity because they aren’t individually scaling every project. Having a big pool of capacity improves service for everyone. Even small applications get to enjoy the added reliability and availability of an Oracle RAC solution—which would be difficult to justify for dozens of individual projects outside of a shared environment.
It’s much faster to ramp up new projects as well. Instead of having to procure, certify, and deploy hardware and software, and then build databases, configure runtime parameters, and so forth, the entire infrastructure is already implemented, tested, and ready to provision. “It’s a simple matter of creating a schema, which takes about half an hour,” Romberg says. “We let people focus on servicing our customers and solving business problems, rather than worrying about the database. If and when we see resource contention, our plan is to put certain services on certain nodes and use the Oracle Database Resource Manager feature to guarantee minimum levels of service to each of the areas.”
Romberg cautions that a shared database cloud isn’t ideal for every project or application.
For example, Sabre’s private database cloud is optimized to provide the best overall performance for every project across the board, rather than being specifically optimized for a single application.
In general, Sabre’s private database cloud is appropriate for any project requiring half a server or less of capacity. If a project needs multiple servers, Sabre will not recommend that it be a part of the shared environment because that application drives enough capacity to efficiently use its own dedicated hardware. One such project is the Air Travel Shopping Engine, which is implemented as a primary master Oracle RAC cluster of four nodes, and a replicated four-node Oracle RAC cluster. Oracle GoldenGate replicates the master data to a “reader farm” of 8 two-node Oracle RAC clusters.
In the past Sabre used large symmetric multiprocessing systems for this type of application—which, according to Romberg, are much more expensive than an equivalent Oracle RAC environment. “The more you need to scale, the quicker the cost curve goes up,” he states. “With Oracle RAC, we have been able to achieve the same levels of performance and reliability. We’re able to scale very easily by adding blades as we need them.”
“When we install Oracle RAC and Oracle Database 11g, we do it the same way every time,” he concludes. “Configuration, monitoring, alerting, backup—it just comes automatically. We have one standard solution that we know how to run really, really well.”
Easy Cloud Management
Sabre uses Oracle Enterprise Manager to monitor its private database cloud, including receiving alerts, scheduling backups, monitoring database activity, and investigating performance problems.
“The Oracle RAC environment is really easy to manage,” Romberg says. “We have used Oracle RAC for a long time and have seen steady improvement from Oracle9i Database to Oracle Database 10g to Oracle Database 11g, especially in the area of self-management. Oracle RAC is much simpler to operate and run with Oracle Database 11g. It’s working really well for us.”
David Baum (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.
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