Apps on Oracle ExadataBy David A. Kelly
Consolidate business applications, lower IT costs, boost performance, and succeed with Oracle Exadata.
Consolidation may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of strategies for managing business growth, but when business growth means that your current business applications platform can no longer support your business, consolidation is certainly worth consideration.
Rather than adding separate hardware and software—configuring, testing, reconfiguring, retesting, and reconfiguring and retesting again to update a business applications platform—organizations are transforming their business technology as they are transforming their businesses. By consolidating business applications with Oracle Exadata, they are simplifying their information technology; lowering costs; and improving system performance, scalability, and reliability as part of that transformation.
Praxair is one company that’s deriving extreme value from the combination of Oracle Applications and Oracle Exadata.
With more than 26,000 employees in 50 countries, the Fortune 300 company, located in Danbury, Connecticut, is one of the largest industrial gases companies in the world and the largest in North and South America. The company has grown from about US$7.5 billion in 2005 to US$11 billion in 2011.
Although the company has different business units around the world, it has deployed a standardized JD Edwards EnterpriseOne configuration across them. Previously, Praxair had deployed an older JD Edwards EnterpriseOne footprint, set largely on top of a Microsoft technology stack. Now, the JD Edwards EnterpriseOne ERP platform is supported by four Oracle Exadata machines: two Exadata Database Machine X2-8 Full Racks for production and disaster recovery, an Exadata Database Machine X2-2 Half Rack for development, and an Exadata Database Machine X2-2 Quarter Rack for testing. All of the company’s global environments are being deployed on those four racks of Oracle Exadata.
“We’ve had a pretty aggressive data center consolidation strategy over the past couple of years,” says Praxair CIO Marc Franciosa. “But the transition to JD Edwards [EnterpriseOne] running on Oracle Exadata has definitely saved us significant time and money.”
Deploying Oracle Applications on Oracle Exadata has also changed the way that Praxair does business. With its previous system, scaling out or up required more infrastructure, with a high-speed switching fabric, and more systems engineering as the system grew.
“Our Oracle Exadata deployment has removed this added burden,” says Franciosa. “With Oracle Exadata, we can spend our time understanding the business processes and on parts of the solution where we need to integrate other systems.”
In addition to its transactional systems, Praxair is consolidating its data warehouse on Oracle Exalytics and Oracle Exadata.
“There are definitely inherent benefits to bringing our transactional systems and data warehouse systems together on Oracle Exalytics and Oracle Exadata,” says Franciosa. “Having real-time and near-real-time access to every type of operational report we need enables us to efficiently drive production, distribution, and route planning processes.”
A few years ago, when Franciosa looked around Praxair’s IT environment, he saw an IT group that was supporting every country with its own set of servers and applications. “We had no way to scale our IT environment to meet the types of business changes we wanted to make,” says Franciosa. “Even if we moved everything into a global data center, we would have ended up with a lot of capacity that was significantly underutilized.”
At full deployment, Franciosa expects to have about 13,000 employees using the JD Edwards EnterpriseOne and Oracle Exadata system, with an additional 6,000 to 10,000 using it indirectly. For example, the drivers in the company’s trucks are connected through onboard computers that interface indirectly into the JD Edwards EnterpriseOne environment so Praxair can calculate things such as the cost of the sale and the cost of the trip. As drivers scan cylinders at customer sites, the data goes into a tracking system and then straight into JD Edwards EnterpriseOne. “Almost every Praxair employee will touch these systems at some point,” notes Franciosa.
Praxair made the transition in steps. Initially, it simply moved a lot of its legacy environments to a more complete Oracle technology stack. But Praxair didn’t focus just on migration: the company made business transformation the goal. “The real opportunity for us as we move to a global environment and deploy the shared services around the world is that ability to enable some pretty big business transformations, which will give us even more benefits,” says Franciosa.
Praxair was an early adopter of Oracle Exadata, and its deployment has been successful. “I don’t think we would have done anything differently, because so far we’ve had a very smooth experience,” he says.
Adventures in Growth
Keeping up with growth is a big part of the business transformation process, and it has been a big part of business and technology at Alliance Data.
“As our company continues in high-growth mode, we have to make sure we can deliver additional IT capacity and keep up with increased application needs,” says Collin Harrison, vice president of finance and IT at Alliance Data. “Running our Oracle Applications on Oracle Exadata enables us to do that. The platform is tried and true, thoroughly tested, and stable.”
Based in Plano, Texas, Alliance Data is a US$3 billion business-to-business company. It operates three independent, high-growth, high-performance Fortune 1000–size companies—Alliance Data Retail Services, Epsilon, and LoyaltyOne—that specialize in loyalty marketing solutions. Across each of the businesses, Alliance Data’s services enable its clients to create deeper and longer-term relationships with their best customers.
Alliance Data’s corporate IT department runs an enterprise stack of applications that are used at the company’s corporate office as well as by many of its 9,000 associates across North America, at Alliance Data Retail Services, Epsilon, and LoyaltyOne. The applications stack is based on Oracle solutions that include Oracle’s PeopleSoft financials and human resources applications as well as Oracle Hyperion Planning for forecasting, budgets, and models; Oracle WebCenter for the corporate portal; and Oracle Data Warehouse and Oracle Business Intelligence analytics solutions.
In 2011, Alliance Data chose to upgrade its existing servers to support the company’s growth—nearly 23 percent over the last three years. The company’s IT team investigated several alternatives, including combinations of distributed systems. However, analysis showed that under traditional approaches, Alliance Data’s data center footprint would continue to grow too rapidly, resulting in higher overhead as well as upfront capital expenditures.
Instead, Alliance Data decided to support its applications with Oracle Exadata. By running its Oracle Applications with Oracle Exadata, the corporate IT team found they could dramatically reduce the amount of hardware they would have to deploy. The solution also increased flexibility and reliability, while reducing the data center footprint. The company soon migrated its PeopleSoft and Oracle WebCenter systems to Oracle Exadata.
“Our time to uptime with our first Oracle Exadata Database Machine was substantially quicker than we had planned because so much of the solution was pre-engineered and preconfigured,” says Harrison. “We had an Oracle database up and running in a very short period of time—compared to weeks of time with other solutions—and we could immediately get to the process of installing our applications on it.”
Ultimately, Alliance Data consolidated seven database servers onto two Oracle Exadata quarter racks, one for development and one for production. Many of the company’s employees took notice. “Things that used to have a little bit of a delay are now much faster,” Harrison says. “For the first few weeks, we received a surprising amount of user feedback, all noting how fast the system was responding.”
Harrison also appreciates Oracle Exadata’s ability to stay ahead of the company’s continued growth. And while increased speed, reduced complexity, and a solid growth path are compelling benefits from Alliance Data’s move to Oracle Exadata, the company is also excited about greater efficiencies as a result of running its applications on Oracle Exadata.
For example, the move to Oracle Exadata delivered increased developer efficiency that reduces the time it takes to deploy updates and new applications. “Running applications on Oracle Exadata saves us significant productivity costs,” says Harrison. “Our development refreshes can be ready over a lunch hour now, instead of taking overnight.”
But that’s not all. “Just the simple fact that everything runs faster allows us to schedule more intelligently—based on business needs, not on IT limitations,” says Harrison. For example, the company previously had to balance scheduling some operations to avoid the company’s month-end close process or other periods where workload exceeded normal capacity. By running Oracle Applications with Oracle Exadata, Alliance Data now is able to schedule system updates and new application rollouts based on business need.
Running applications at Alliance Data with Oracle Exadata, Harrison has also noticed other benefits. “Things are not only running faster, but they’re breaking down less. That means less troubleshooting time, fewer all-hands-on-deck incidents, and more stability.”
Just as important, with applications running with Oracle Exadata, Alliance Data’s corporate developers and other IT teams can remain focused on their strategic goals, such as adding new capabilities to support the company’s continued growth, and providing the highest levels of service and support.
“When we scope out a new project using applications running with Oracle Exadata, we’re already three to four weeks ahead of where we used to be with our old approach,” says Harrison. “Previously, new applications required new hardware, which typically took three to four weeks to requisition, configure, deploy, and test.”
Enabling business transformation requires an agile IT infrastructure—one in which an organization’s hardware and software work together to enable rapid business change. Alliance Data has achieved that with its combination of Oracle Applications and Oracle Exadata.
“One of the big benefits we’ve seen from running Oracle Applications with Oracle Exadata is that it’s much closer to plug-and-play,” says Harrison. “The Oracle hardware and software are engineered to work better together, especially when it comes to running PeopleSoft and many other Oracle Applications with Oracle Exadata.”
David A. Kelly (davidakelly.com) is a business, technology, and travel writer who lives in West Newton, Massachusetts.
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