As Published In
Oracle Magazine
July/August 2013

FEATURE

  

Grow Up, Branch Out

By David A. Kelly

 

Oracle Database Appliance provides new ways for organizations to simplify, consolidate, and grow.

With the variety of servers, storage, and networking options available, today’s IT infrastructures can be very complex and expensive to build and maintain. That’s why Oracle created Oracle Database Appliance.

“With Oracle Database Appliance, organizations don’t need to architect high-availability systems, and they don’t need to manage storage—it’s all provided out of the box,” says Sohan DeMel, vice president of product strategy and business development at Oracle. “Oracle Database Appliance enables companies to vastly simplify their IT infrastructures and increase their operational efficiencies.”

Oracle Database Appliance is a single, integrated package of software, server, storage, and networking, and it provides a plug-and-play way for organizations to easily deploy and manage a robust but self-contained IT infrastructure. Oracle Database Appliance is a fully integrated 4U rack-mountable system for midsize businesses, enterprise departments, and remote/distributed deployments.

A unique feature of Oracle Database Appliance is the solution’s “capacity on demand” software licensing. While Oracle Database Appliance comes with 32 high-performance Intel processor cores, organizations can start out by using as few as 2 processor cores and grow to the system’s full capacity as business needs dictate—with no hardware upgrades needed.

“It’s a really great platform for customers to grow into. Organizations can limit their initial cost outlay and better align their IT spending with business growth,” says DeMel.

Aon: International Growth

When it comes to cloud computing, one size may not fit all—at least for companies that want to offer cloud-based solutions internationally. Take the case of Aon eSolutions.

Aon eSolutions is the technology solutions business of Aon, one of the world’s largest risk management, insurance, and reinsurance brokerage providers. Aon eSolutions has more than 1,600 global customers, including many Fortune 100 companies and more than 250,000 distinct users who leverage its systems.

Aon eSolutions offers its customers the ability to manage their own risk exposure. It also provides claims and policy administration that allows companies to manage everything from day-to-day claims entry and healthcare bill review services to paying out insurance claims.

Aon’s applications have to be available 24/7. “Our customers have people all over the world entering data and running reports,” says Scott Wilson, vice president of hosting and IT operations at Aon eSolutions. “Our solutions are critical to the day-to-day business operations for a large number of companies.”

In addition to being available, Aon eSolutions systems have to perform. Customers run reports against 30 or 40 years’ worth of data and expect to have the results very quickly. To make this possible, Aon eSolutions has developed a wide range of cloud-based services that serve the risk management industry. The company’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions have traditionally been delivered through two data centers in the United States.

Yet over the past few years, Aon has encountered a changing regulatory climate. “We started seeing new requirements for data security and privacy,” says Wilson. “Specifically in countries like Canada and in the European Union, there are stringent rules about where data can be stored.”

As a result, Aon needed to be able to provide a solution that could ensure that no financial data, personally identifiable information, or personal health information was stored outside of a country or union.

At the same time, Aon needed to maintain the kind of performance its customers were used to, as well as the availability that its traditional enterprise Oracle deployment provided. Because data privacy is an important concern for Aon eSolutions customers, the system solution also had to be able to encrypt data and meet regulatory requirements.

After evaluating its options, Aon eSolutions selected Oracle Database Appliance as the foundation for servicing key international markets. By using Oracle Database Appliance, Aon is able to continue to sell its services and solutions in Canada and in European Union countries while staying compliant with their laws.

“Oracle Database Appliance fit our needs very well. It’s really quick to set up, the cost of entry is low, and we have the ability to scale fast,” says Wilson. “It met all our performance requirements and even performed better than our existing infrastructure in some cases. So far, we’ve had 100 percent availability since deploying it.”

The solution worked so well that Aon eSolutions purchased eight Oracle Database Appliances. It’s currently running seven in two data centers in Europe and one in its domestic data center. To minimize up-front costs, Aon eSolutions is running a minimum configuration with a single Oracle license per Oracle Database Appliance on some of its appliances.

“The compelling thing about Oracle Database Appliance is the ability to grow into it over a period of time,” says Wilson, “so we’re paying as we go with the capacity on demand.”

Aon eSolutions also appreciates the technical and business agility that Oracle Database Appliance provides. “Our Oracle Database Appliance systems have given us a huge amount of flexibility, from an infrastructure perspective as well as a business perspective,” says Wilson. “Now we can meet customers in their own countries, if their data privacy regulations require that, and maintain the same level of service and cost.”

In addition, the Oracle Database Appliance–based solution was extremely easy and fast to deploy. “It literally took us a day from the time we received Oracle Database Appliance devices to when we had them up and running,” says Wilson. “It didn’t require a DBA, a system administrator, a SAN [storage area network] engineer, and a network engineer, the way a traditional system environment would have.”

In its new European data center, Aon eSolutions runs a primary production database cluster on an Oracle Database Appliance. It also has a local standby appliance and a remote disaster recovery appliance. The deployed Oracle Database Appliance systems provide high availability, local standby, and remote standby capabilities. Aon eSolutions relies on Oracle Real Application Clusters and Oracle Active Data Guard to meet its high-availability and disaster recovery requirements.

The solution has been a huge success. “We’re realizing a 55 percent CapEx savings by using Oracle Database Appliance,” says Wilson. “Oracle Database Appliance also gave us a 70 percent savings in our data center footprint.”

“From a technology stack solution perspective, this is one of the best decisions we’ve made in a long time,” says Wilson. “The cost savings from a business standpoint are very compelling. We can go into a marketplace and quickly stand up our solution while offering the same types of performance, availability, and data privacy that a traditional infrastructure build-out would have.”

Yodlee: Enterprise Growth

With today’s business cycles, it can be hard to estimate future business and IT needs. Underestimating future growth potential can have dramatic—and negative—impact on revenues and business opportunity. On the other hand, overbuilding IT infrastructure can waste money and hinder an organization when it needs agility to address a new business need.

That’s why Yodlee turned to Oracle Database Appliance.

Snapshots


 Aon eSolutions, the technology solutions business of Aon

Location: London, England
Employees: 65,000
Revenue: US$11.5 billion in 2012
Oracle Products: Oracle Database Appliance; Oracle Database, Enterprise Edition; Oracle Real Application Clusters; Oracle Active Data Guard; Oracle Advanced Security

 Yodlee

Location: Redwood City, California
Employees: 700
Revenue: US$18 billion in 2011 (Teva Pharmaceutical)
Oracle Products: Oracle Database Appliance; Oracle Database, Enterprise Edition 11.2.0.3.4; Oracle Real Application Clusters 11.2.0.3.4

 MediSwitch

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Employees: 105
Oracle Products: Oracle Database Appliance; Oracle Database, Enterprise Edition 11.2.0.3.0; Oracle GoldenGate 11.2.1.0.1; Oracle Enterprise Manager

“The great thing about Oracle Database Appliance is that it allows us to have the database, database clustering for high availability, storage, and applications in one single device,” says Jeff Schulte, vice president of scalability and architecture for operations at Yodlee. “In addition, it allows us to use the capacity-on-demand capabilities to enable just one Oracle license to start off with, and then, as the customers in that region grow, we can enable more Oracle licenses to grow as needed. It’s a great model for us.”

Yodlee is a 13-year-old technology company that serves the financial industry. It provides a data platform that powers services and applications for nearly 600 customers and more than 40 million end users, delivering new ways to manage and move money digitally. Yodlee customers are the world’s largest financial institutions, including 7 of the top 10 US banks, as well as hundreds of startups. Yodlee’s solutions integrate directly with banks and financial providers to create comprehensive and personalized financial management solutions.

Yodlee has to be able to support millions of users, including international customers in 10 different countries. Historically, all Yodlee users have been operating out of the company’s US-based data centers. Yet, over the past few years, Yodlee has seen growing privacy regulations and security concerns related to data sovereignty drive requirements for data to stay within its home country. “Since our systems all involve data integration with financial institutions, these new regulations were starting to become a barrier to business,” says Schulte. “We essentially came to the point where we decided we needed to establish a physical data center presence internationally.”

Yodlee needed a platform and architecture that it could put into any country and that would handle the intense security requirements for financial data. The company evaluated more than 15 possible solutions before it decided on Oracle Database Appliance. “The need to support international requirements really drove the selection of Oracle Database Appliance,” says Schulte.

Yodlee’s selection requirements for supporting international deployments boiled down to four considerations: cost, performance and scalability, ease of management, and security. Oracle Database Appliance won out across all four categories.

“From a cost standpoint, we really found no other solution out there that could deploy an infrastructure, software, hardware, database, and storage that was less expensive,” says Schulte. “It also scales really well. You can start out with a small implementation, which for us would be 100,000 users or fewer, and can scale all the way to a large implementation, which for us would be 1 million users. At the same time, the performance was great.”

For Yodlee, another big benefit is Oracle Database Appliance’s ease of management and the fact that all the key components are preintegrated, including high-availability capabilities. “It performs really well. It’s an engineered system—all the pieces are engineered to perform well with each other,” says Schulte. “With an engineered system, you don’t have to design it yourself. You’re getting the whole thing prearchitected for you.”

“Our experience has been that Oracle Database Appliance is a really easy system to implement,” says Schulte. “We haven’t had to do anything to tune the system to make it perform well. In fact, we’ve never tuned it. What we have deployed right now in our international data center is Oracle Database Appliance out of the box. I’m expecting that a single Oracle Database Appliance system for us will scale to well over 1 million users without us having to add additional hardware.”

The savings Yodlee has obtained from using Oracle Database Appliance have been impressive. “We achieved a 50 percent reduction in CapEx by choosing Oracle Database Appliance,” says Schulte. “In addition, our out-of-the-box performance was 10 percent faster than our existing SAN-based infrastructure.”

MediSwitch: Growth on Demand

When you’re processing more than 100 million electronic healthcare transactions a year, high availability and performance are critical. That’s why MediSwitch, South Africa’s leading electronic healthcare transaction servicing company, chose Oracle Database Appliance when it needed to upgrade its key transaction systems.

MediSwitch acts as an intermediary between more than 12,000 hospitals, pharmacies, doctors, dentists, and other medical businesses in South Africa and the more than 60 medical schemes that pay out claims. Effectively, MediSwitch takes electronic medical claims and validates all the information before it is submitted to payment providers.

“Our aim is to provide improved efficiencies for both sides of our value chain,” says Wayne Botha, IT manager at MediSwitch. “We improve efficiencies for healthcare providers by tracking and providing feedback on their claims, and we improve efficiencies for medical schemes by allowing them to cut down on manual intervention and reduce paper claims.”

MediSwitch processes more than 100 million transactions per year—and it needs to do so with very high levels of availability and performance. For example, because of its processing work with pharmacies, MediSwitch is very limited in the amount of downtime it’s allowed to have, with service-level agreements (SLAs) ensuring uptime as high as 99.95 percent.

MediSwitch has two active data centers, with claim processing split between the two. The company’s existing hardware was reaching its end of life, so MediSwitch explored upgrade options.

“We really needed a solution that would deliver excellent uptime, availability, and disaster recovery,” says Botha.

Virtualization


The latest Oracle Database Appliance X3-2 release includes new virtualization capabilities that enable organizations to host application workloads right next to database workloads on the same appliance. Virtualization enables the resources of the appliance to be fully partitioned—the database runs its own operating system and its own virtual machine, while application workloads do the same. For licensing purposes, customers still pay only for what they use. 

“The Oracle Database Appliance Virtualized Platform feature is ideally suited for companies with remote branch offices that need to consolidate applications and database assets onto a converged appliance that does not require local IT staff to manage,” says Sohan DeMel, vice president of product strategy and business development at Oracle. “For SaaS [software as a service] providers and application vendors, the Virtualized Platform provides a simple, standardized way to deliver a complete solution in a box.”

After an extensive investigation, MediSwitch determined that Oracle Database Appliance was the right fit for its business. The company chose Oracle Database Appliance for two main reasons: the solution was the perfect size for MediSwitch and was the right value for the money.

“Oracle Database Appliance cuts down on OpEx because it’s an engineered system, from the applications down to the disk, where we have one vendor to speak to instead of three or four,” says Botha. “From an ongoing maintenance perspective, it’s certainly a lot easier for our infrastructure team to manage an Oracle Database Appliance instead of a custom system.”

MediSwitch also deployed Oracle Enterprise Manager to monitor and manage its Oracle Database Appliance systems. “Oracle Enterprise Manager provides us one portal where we can go and manage the complete stack from one place, instead of using the multiple systems we had to use with our custom solution,” says Botha.

One of the big advantages that MediSwitch sees with Oracle Database Appliance is its built-in upgrade path. “With Oracle Database Appliance, all the future CPUs that we need are already in the server room,” says Botha. “We can simply register the number of CPUs needed with Oracle and later turn on additional CPUs as business demands dictate.”

MediSwitch uses Oracle GoldenGate to replicate data in real time between its two data centers. MediSwitch implemented Oracle GoldenGate in a real-time bidirectional replication, so that even if the network links between the two sites are cut, they will still continue to run independently and resync when they’re reconnected. The use of Oracle GoldenGate also simplifies MediSwitch’s disaster recovery plan: because it has active hardware at both data centers, it doesn’t have to do ongoing disaster recovery testing. MediSwitch also used Oracle GoldenGate to do a zero-downtime migration to the Oracle Database Appliances.

“Our business users were surprised at the speed of the new Oracle Database Appliance–based system,” says Botha. “We were very, very impressed with the performance of the Oracle Database Appliances. Routine monthly billing processes were reduced from four hours to less than 45 minutes. It’s superfast. The general responsiveness of the Oracle Database Appliance system is much, much better than our previous system.”

Next Steps


 READ more about Oracle Database Appliance

 WATCH the Oracle Database Appliance X3-2 launch Webcast

MediSwitch is also realizing benefits from an operational perspective. Instead of running four or five servers for development and testing, MediSwitch has moved development and testing onto its two Oracle Database Appliance systems. “We’re able to run all our databases on the Oracle Database Appliances, so it’s really a one-stop shop for managing the server. It’s a much simpler and cleaner infrastructure,” says Botha.

Simplified Consolidation and Growth

Today’s organizations have to walk a tightrope: they have to plan for growth while at the same time limiting capital expenditures and ongoing costs. This can be especially tricky when it comes to IT investments, and even more so when existing servers or platforms have to be upgraded.

New solutions such as the Oracle Database Appliance engineered system are changing the game. With its integrated and consolidated stack of server, storage, networking, and virtualization, Oracle Database Appliance provides new ways for midsize organizations and departments to simplify IT operations, consolidate IT assets, and grow their IT capabilities and cost structures with their businesses.

“Oracle Database Appliance is a disruptive technology that eliminates the traditional requirement to integrate separate server, storage, and networking components,” says Oracle’s DeMel. “Deploying, managing, consolidating, and scaling business-critical systems is now possible without armies of IT staff or expensive consultants.”


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


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