Operating in 51 markets and 26 states, Pulte Homes is one of the largest homebuilders in the United States. The Atlanta, Georgia–based company has constructed nearly 500,000 homes during its 57-year history, although its business fluctuated wildly in the last 10 years due to global financial crises and their impact on the US housing market.
“Like most homebuilders, during the downturn our IT department went into the mode of ‘Just keeping the lights on,’” recalls Brian Pawlik, IT manager at Pulte Homes. “That meant doing whatever it took to keep our business systems running with a minimal staff.”
As the recession ended and the housing market picked up speed, Pulte shifted back into growth mode. “And it wasn’t enough to be innovative,” Pawlik continues. “Our CIO wanted us to innovate and create a more stable, sustainable IT environment.”
To meet these mandates, the IT team determined that Pulte needed additional hardware capacity. At the time the company was running a Lawson enterprise resource planning (ERP) system supplemented by hundreds of custom-developed applications on IBM Power servers, and the application data was stored in Oracle Database 11g. Pulte needed additional capacity to support an upgrade of its ERP applications, which had been heavily customized to support the company’s homebuilding needs.
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Industry: Engineering and construction
Revenue: US$5.7 billion
Oracle Products: Oracle Exadata Database Machine, Oracle Database 12c, Oracle Multitenant, Oracle GoldenGate, Oracle Active Data Guard, Oracle Advanced Customer Support Services
“Our system stability was suffering, and we started seeing cracks in our performance infrastructure,” says Pawlik. “As business accelerated, our hardware platform was overwhelmed by the day-to-day demands of these applications. We spent a lot of time monitoring and tweaking our information systems to try to improve performance, but we were constrained by processing power.”
Pawlik and his team were also having trouble keeping up with routine maintenance activities such as patching and cloning copies of their Oracle database. “We evaluated offerings from IBM, Oracle, and other vendors and ultimately decided on the Oracle Exadata platform with Oracle Database 12c and its multitenant architecture,” he says.
Working with Oracle Advanced Customer Support Services, Pulte installed an Exadata Database Machine X3-2 Quarter Rack system at its data center in Arizona and an Exadata Database Machine X3-2 Eighth Rack system at a backup site in Colorado. Pawlik describes these Oracle engineered systems as “the hub of all information sharing within the business” including financials, project accounting, general ledger, and accounts payable. “Oracle Exadata supports almost every home-building operation,” he explains. “We use this platform to help us manage the construction of tens of thousands of homes in a profitable way.”
With the new hardware platform in place, Pawlik and his team migrated the application data. Pulte’s IT team used Oracle GoldenGate to transport data from the Lawson ERP system to a data warehouse, and they implemented Oracle Active Data Guard to improve availability for the application data. Today Pulte relies on Oracle GoldenGate to replicate three pluggable databases from the primary data center in Arizona to the backup site in Colorado.
The multitenant container architecture in Oracle Database 12c enables organizations to set up a private cloud environment with dozens or even hundreds of pluggable databases (PDBs) in each container database (CDB). Collections of PDBs can be easily managed as a single entity, which maximizes consolidation density and simplifies cloud administration.
The same multitenant container architecture in Oracle Database 12c that enables organizations to create private database-as-a-service (DBaaS) deployments is also available on Oracle Cloud (at cloud.oracle.com/database). Oracle Database Cloud Service offers a dedicated Oracle Database instance on a virtual machine, with a choice between hourly and monthly subscriptions.
Oracle Database Cloud Service users can quickly and easily move PDBs from their own on-premises CDBs to Oracle Cloud, as was demonstrated—live and onstage—at Oracle OpenWorld 2014 in San Francisco.
The Oracle Database 12c multitenant architecture allows for the deployment of container databases (CDBs) that can house one or more pluggable databases (PDBs). Pulte leveraged this architecture to consolidate 40 databases into two containers: one for Pulte’s production application environment and one for a nonproduction test environment.
Because a multitenant CDB can hold many PDBs, Pulte’s DBAs now deal with these resources at a macro level, which simplifies maintenance activities. The PDBs share memory and background processes, and rather than patching and upgrading multiple databases, DBAs can patch and upgrade one multitenant CDB. “Patching one CDB patches all of its PDBs,” Pawlik says. “Similarly, rather than backing up multiple databases we can back up one multitenant CDB.”
This “many as one” architecture helps Pulte improve server utilization, increase consolidation density, and provision new database instances more quickly than before. “We require fewer DBAs to support our infrastructure,” Pawlik adds. “It’s very easy for us to manage these databases, and we’ve seen better performance.”
Pulte’s DBAs often have to move production data into the nonproduction environment for testing and quality assurance purposes. Previously it took between 8 and 12 hours to clone the databases for this purpose. Now it takes half an hour. “Rather than following multiple steps to clone a database, you can clone a multitenant database instantly with a couple of simple SQL commands,” says Pawlik. “Our maintenance tasks literally dropped off the map because we can patch, back up, restore, and upgrade 40 databases at a time. The hours we spend on these activities are significantly reduced.”
After many years as an IT professional managing production IT environments, Pawlik sees Oracle Multitenant as an architectural breakthrough. “Oracle Multitenant does to the operating system what virtualization did to the server,” he explains. “You can squeeze more power out of the hardware, and you have fewer operating systems to manage because you don’t have to install them as you do in a virtualized environment. After we went live with Oracle Exadata, we found that we had so much extra processor memory capacity because of Oracle Multitenant that we are now able to support more applications.”
Pulte’s application code has remained intact in the transition from Oracle Database 11g to Oracle Database 12c. Both its custom and packaged apps connect directly to the production CDB, just as they did before, without any changes to the application code. “We were able to re-create the same connection strings with the PDBs plugged into containers,” Pawlik confirms. “The applications just worked.”
According to Pawlik, Pulte saved US$1.7 million in capital expenses by migrating away from the IBM infrastructure and onto the Oracle Exadata platform. “We knew we would lower our licensing costs, but we didn’t expect to double our performance,” he notes. “Key database processing jobs now run as much as 70 percent faster, and all jobs are on average about 45 percent faster.”
Pulte’s National Financial Services and National Purchasing Services groups are the primary users of Pulte’s Oracle-based information systems. There are a wide variety of users, from project managers to area controllers to division vice presidents. “They don’t have to contend with the outages, and they don’t have performance problems,” says Pawlik. “Our end users are a lot happier since we installed Oracle Exadata and Oracle Database 12c.”
DBAs are happier as well, because there is less work involved in maintaining the database environment. Pawlik estimates that this consolidation saved four weeks of one DBA’s time in the first two months following implementation. “I estimate that we will save six person-months per year performing our normal database tasks, which equates to at least a half-time resource,” he concludes. “If these PDBs were standalone databases, we probably would have to hire at least another DBA. But with Oracle Database 12c and Oracle Multitenant, our existing DBAs can spend time focusing on real problems.”
Photography by Luana Azevedo,Unsplash