IT Innovation

Engineering as a Service

Deploy a world-class private cloud with Oracle Exadata.

By David A. Kelly

November/December 2013

Oracle Exadata Database Machine is known for great compute performance, and over the past few years, it has also become known as a great platform for any type of Oracle Database workload, from data warehousing to online transaction processing (OLTP). But now organizations are turning to Oracle Exadata for business efficiencies and private cloud solutions—for consolidation and database as a service (DBaaS).

“DBaaS is essentially the evolution of database consolidation, as organizations reduce the number of different database servers they have deployed,” says Oracle’s Tim Shetler, vice president of product management for Oracle Database.

DBaaS goes beyond database consolidation, by enabling many databases to share a common platform, so organizations can get much-more-effective utilization of hardware resources while also enabling database self-service capabilities.

“We see DBaaS as a journey. After organizations consolidate on the Oracle Exadata platform, they can reduce costs further by deploying a DBaaS self-service infrastructure on top of the Oracle Exadata platform,” says Shetler.

Checking Into the University of Minnesota’s Database Hotel For an inside look at how DBaaS works in the real world, it’s worth checking into the University of Minnesota’s database hotel. “We call our implementation of DBaaS a database hotel,” says Andy Wattenhofer, DBA manager at the University of Minnesota. “It’s just a nicer-sounding way of saying hosted database services.”

Regardless of what it’s called, the university’s DBaaS implementation is having a big and positive effect on both IT and the University of Minnesota’s users.

We can do backups more quickly. We can back up the entire stack in about an hour. Now, instead of just managing backups, we’re working on projects that add value to the university.”–Andy Wattenhofer,
DBA Manager, University of Minnesota

With more than 50,000 students, the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis is one of the largest universities in the United States. The university’s centralized IT group not only has to support all those students but also must provide support and services to more than 40 departments and colleges within the university. In the past, each of those departments had its own collection of applications, systems, and databases, many of which the centralized IT group needed to support.

That’s why over the past few years, Wattenhofer’s team developed its database hotel as a way of providing faster, more flexible, and more efficient database services to all the university departments. Specifically, his organization built an Oracle technology-based infrastructure that consolidated the databases and many servers from the various departments down to two Oracle Exadata systems.

The University of Minnesota currently has two Exadata Database Machine X2-2 half-rack systems from Oracle, with four database nodes each and roughly 30 terabytes of usable disk space for each of the Oracle Exadata systems. The university is using Oracle Real Application Clusters (Oracle RAC) for high availability and the Data Guard feature of Oracle Database, Enterprise Edition, for disaster recovery capabilities. The deployment has been live in production since May 2011.

To create the database hotel, Wattenhofer’s team took the individual databases required for different applications and turned them into schemas in a shared Oracle Database instance.

“The database hotel model takes the Oracle Database concept of a schema and positions it more like a database,” says Wattenhofer. “We’ve taken one large shared instance and created a model where people can create one or more schemas to build their applications. They can have roles, login credentials, security, and all of the standard infrastructure they would expect.”

The university’s database hotel enables each database schema to share temp spaces, undo spaces, system tablespaces, and the other resources across multiple databases instead of duplicating those resources across many servers and databases. “Now we just have everything in one place, so we’re sharing resources and administrative overhead,” says Wattenhofer. “We’ve also reduced resource utilization by not having to build all these memory structures across all the different servers.”

Another big benefit for the university is that the centralized IT team is now able to efficiently manage all the database-related back-end operations.

University of Minnesota
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Students: 50,000+
Oracle Products: Oracle Database 11g Release 2, Oracle Exadata Database Machine, Oracle Enterprise Manager, Oracle Real Application Clusters, PeopleSoft product family

Overhead Door
Location: Lewisville, Texas
Employees: 3,500+
Oracle Products: Oracle E-Business Suite, Demantra demand management applications, Oracle Transportation Management, Oracle CRM On Demand, Oracle Governance Risk and Compliance, Oracle Identity Management, Oracle Business Intelligence, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition, Oracle VM, Oracle Exadata Database Machine, x86 servers, Oracle Fusion Middleware, Oracle Database

“You can go from one database to the next, and it works exactly the same way, so we’ve really reduced administrative overhead,” says Wattenhofer. “And we can do things a lot more quickly. We can patch quickly. We can do backups more quickly. We can back up the entire stack in about an hour.”

But saving on administrative overhead is only one benefit. An important value proposition for the university’s Oracle Exadata–based solution was that it would free up valuable IT personnel for more-productive activities, such as creating new applications or working with the users and departments on projects. “Now, instead of just managing backups, we’re working on projects that add value to the university,” says Wattenhofer. “I wanted to move our staff into more-valuable work that really contributes value to the mission of the university.”

Compression and Performance

Wattenhofer has also found the capabilities of Oracle Exadata’s Exadata Hybrid Columnar Compression feature useful. “We identified one database that had around 350 gigabytes of data, and the Oracle Exadata compression brought it down to around 30 gigabytes. On top of that, you can also get a bit of performance gain,” says Wattenhofer. “Not only did our performance not degrade because of compression, but we also found that some queries were running faster as a result of compression.”

Other key benefits, says Wattenhofer, are Oracle Exadata’s Exadata Smart Scan feature and storage capabilities. As one might expect, a university’s applications get pummeled during fall and spring registration, when thousands (or tens of thousands) of students are scheduling classes. During the student registration process, the university has a goal of returning results within a few seconds. Although the university has always striven to make the process as efficient as possible, the first time it ever achieved its multisecond goal for returning results was after the university’s database was moved to the database hotel running on Oracle Exadata.

Increased Efficiency and Standardization

Another big benefit of DBaaS for the University of Minnesota is that it provides an efficient way for the centralized IT group to make it easier for individual departments to manage their own databases yet remove maintenance requirements such as backups and patching. In effect, by using the centralized DBaaS service, departments get a free DBA looking over their shoulder, backing up systems as needed, ensuring that the appropriate patches are installed, and maintaining appropriate security measures. And with database services provided through Oracle Exadata, everyone on the new DBaaS platform automatically inherits benefits such as security standards compliance. “They don’t even have to think about it. It’s a free add-on for them,” says Wattenhofer.

Providing DBaaS also means that the university’s departments can create and deploy solutions much faster than in the past, which means that “checking into” the university’s database hotel doesn’t take a lot of time. “It’s pretty easy for us to create a new schema in the database and give credentials to the users. They can just point their application at the new schema,” says Wattenhofer. “It takes us about five minutes to spin up a new database.”

At a high level, Oracle’s engineered system approach has assisted Wattenhofer’s work. “One of the biggest benefits to me is that we didn’t have to go through the pain of implementing all the technology that’s in Oracle Exadata,” says Wattenhofer. “It was already done for us, so we were able to give our users a highly available system over the course of two months, from delivery to production.”

Using Oracle Exadata to Open Doors to Customers

When it comes to overhead, revolving, sliding, or other specialty residential and commercial doors, Overhead Door is the worldwide leader. But when Overhead Door needed to open doors with its customers through a better, faster, and more agile IT infrastructure, the company turned to Oracle and Oracle Exadata.

Based in Lewisville, Texas, Overhead Door is a 92-year-old, nearly US$1 billion company focused on manufacturing, distributing, installing, and servicing a wide range of openers and doors, from residential and commercial garage doors and revolving, automatic sliding, and pedestrian doors to truck doors and ramps. The company manufactures, installs, and services the doors, and the company’s products are sold through OEMs; dealers; distributors; and retailers such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Amazon. Overhead Door is owned by Sanwa Holdings Corporation of Japan and has more than 3,500 employees; 17 manufacturing locations across the United States, Mexico, and the United Kingdom; and about 100 company-owned sales and service centers across North America.

I think our ability to manage databases within this single engineered environment really gives us a leg up on our competition. ”–Larry Freed,
CIO, Overhead Door

In 2009 Overhead Door acquired its largest competitor, Wayne-Dalton, which meant a significantly larger combined company as well as a more complex IT footprint. The organizations used different legacy ERP systems, and after a strategic business assessment the following year, the leadership of Overhead Door realized that to continue optimizing business processes, it would need to invest in a new IT platform.

“It became evident that our existing technology platforms were not going to get us where we needed to go,” says Larry Freed, CIO at Overhead Door.

In 2011 the company embarked on an evaluation and selection process for a best-in-class solution that would support the requirements of the business and align with the strategic initiatives it had committed to. By the end of 2011, the company decided to rip and replace all of its legacy environments with a new Oracle technology–based platform.

“We made a strategic decision to commit to Oracle,” says Freed. Specifically, the company decided to implement the full Oracle stack, from hardware up to Oracle Applications. Overhead Door kicked off its “replatform” effort (known internally as Project Everest) in January 2012, with a global blueprinting process, and started implementation in October 2012. The company’s first business unit went live on the new Oracle platform in September 2013, and the company is continuing rollouts to the rest of its business units over the next two years.

“Since the company has grown, and continues to grow, through acquisition, we’d like this to become the platform that enables us to grow,” says Freed. “Now, whether we grow through acquisition or organically, we have a very robust set of capabilities we can deploy.”

Oracle Exadata Database Machine plays an important part in Overhead Door’s new IT and business strategy. The organization has two Exadata Database Machine X2-2s deployed, one in production and one in development and testing. “Because it’s an engineered system, Oracle Exadata gives us a leg up on speed, performance, and service to our employees and customers,” says Freed. “With Oracle Exadata and Oracle technologies, we’ve built a private cloud that we can scale and adjust very quickly as business conditions change.”

For Overhead Door, an important part of the transformation was enabling closer relationships with its customers, across all its channels. “One of the drivers for us was customer intimacy. We didn’t want our infrastructure plumbing to be a problem in achieving that,” says Freed. “The Oracle Exadata platform gives us the ability to have really good speed and performance that enables us to be much easier to do business with.”

In addition, by upgrading to an Oracle Exadata platform, Overhead Door now has the power to analyze and understand its business and customers in ways it never could before. “This was really a business transformation enabled by a technology platform,” says Freed. “And we felt that Oracle Exadata was going to bring that capability to the table for us by enabling us to manage huge amounts of data effectively as well as provide new services and integration capabilities through a customer portal.”

In addition to transforming the business, Oracle Exadata has transformed database management operations. “I think our ability to manage databases within this single engineered environment really gives us a leg up on our competition,” says Freed. “It also gives our team the flexibility to be able to manage a very complex database environment without nearly the amount of effort it would have taken with our previous solutions.”

In the end, Overhead Door’s new Oracle technology–based architecture is less about technology and more about achieving business objectives. “Our Oracle Exadata–based environment is very powerful,” says Freed. “Using Oracle Exadata as our database platform brings us the power and capability we need in order to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace.”

Database Services for the Future

As competition continues to increase and the available time to market decreases, organizations have to find new ways to stay ahead. One way to do that is to focus on IT solutions, such as DBaaS, that provide users with more control and the ability to respond more quickly to business change while enabling IT personnel to focus on projects that truly add value to the business.

Staying ahead of the competition also requires being ready for company acquisitions, organic business growth, the continuing explosion of data, and the new business questions that will follow that new data.

“From the growth and scale perspective, Oracle Exadata can meet our needs,” concludes Freed. “With the Oracle stack and Oracle Exadata, we now have a single, unified platform that should be able to fit just about anything we bring on board.”

Oracle Enterprise DBaaS Architecture

Organizations already using Oracle Database can implement a database-as-a-service (DBaaS) solution by using a schema consolidation approach with Oracle Database 11g, or they can step up to the Oracle enterprise DBaaS architecture, which is composed of three core components: Oracle Exadata Database Machine, Oracle Database 12c, and Oracle Enterprise Manager Cloud Control 12c.

“Oracle Database 12c is ideal for DBaaS, because of its multitenant architecture,” says Oracle’s Tim Shetler, vice president of product management for Oracle Database. “The Oracle Database 12c multitenant architecture provides ‘pluggable databases,’ which means that organizations can have many databases plugged into the same database container, sharing system resources so that overall resource requirements are significantly lower.”

Oracle Database 12c’s multitenant architecture is also a great enabler for providing more-efficient DBaaS. In addition to consolidating databases, Oracle Database 12c’s multitenant architecture can consolidate many database resource requirements into one common pool of resources. With the multitenant architecture, everything from memory and background processes to backups, patching, and upgrades can be shared and consolidated, all while database isolation is maintained.

Oracle Enterprise Manager Cloud Control 12c also provides robust support for DBaaS. The tool includes a service module that enables organizations to easily provision databases without involving the IT department as well as to set up chargeback plans that allocate cost according to what’s used.

“The combination of Oracle Exadata as a platform; Oracle Database 12c, with its multitenant architecture; and Oracle Enterprise Manager Cloud Control 12c creates a complete solution that’s ideal for providing DBaaS,” says Shetler.

Next Steps

LEARN more about  Oracle Exadata

 Oracle Database

 Oracle Private Database Cloud

 Oracle Enterprise Manager 12c

Photography bySebastian Kanczok,Unsplash