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In the not-too-distant past, the middleware IT team at Idexx Laboratories Inc. had a big problem: pinpointing technical problems in the systems it supports -- including Oracle Database, Oracle's Exadata Database Machine appliances and a homegrown customer relationship management system called Beacon CRM -- and figuring out how to fix them. "When I first came here, I used to sit in war room meetings for six hours the day after something happened," said Brett Curtis, principal systems administrator for middleware at the maker of health diagnostic tools and testing services for pets and farm animals. But Curtis added that after Idexx began using Oracle Enterprise Manager (EM), the war room meetings came to an end.
Curtis downloaded a trial version of Oracle EM after it was announced at Oracle OpenWorld in 2011 that the suite was now available for Oracle Fusion Middleware. Curtis, who started working at Idexx that year, began using the software without any top-down direction from his supervisors at the Westbrook, Maine company. The EM deployment "was never really planned," he said, but "I was able to show the company value."
He started doing so by using EM to monitor Idexx's Oracle applications and middleware, as well as its development and quality assurance systems. For example, one of the tasks Curtis had to perform early on at Idexx was to migrate one of idexx's products, the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), from running on software from third-party developer Encore to a virtual system. He ran into problems with troubleshooting. But by running EM on top of Oracle's Exalytics appliance, Curtis was able to isolate which problems with the LIMS were part of the Encore environment and which ones still cropped up on Exalytics, and thus would be a problem after migration to the virtual system.
From monitoring to provisioning
In other circumstances, not only did Curtis find performance issues on Idexx's Oracle middleware, he had difficulty locating the source of those issues. But he said that was before he deployed EM's beacons and service tests in different places throughout the system to determine response time and availability. He can now pinpoint a single problem on the server in one to 30 seconds.
Now 50 members of the IT staff at Idexx are using Oracle EM. Having successfully proven the benefits of EM as a monitoring tool, the next step for Curtis is to use it for provisioning. His goal, he said, is to be able to "instantly code, plug and debug with the click of a button."
The plan is to eventually provision all of Idexx's middleware and databases via EM. The first step, for Curtis, is enabling self-service provisioning for the company's development teams through EM's cloud management capabilities. He said he's looking to have the Oracle EM's self-service provisioning include Oracle WebLogic Server, Oracle SOA Suite and Oracle Service Bus in order to have "full environments that development can deploy, run, monitor, manage and diagnose."
The biggest challenge
Curtis wants to provision PaaS and DBaaS from EM as well, providing monitoring, management and diagnostics. "How good is fast provisioning if setting up monitoring, management and diagnostics takes people weeks of time?" he asked. In answer, he intends to create a plan and build and run his processes around this plan to keep all of the different EM projects in line with each other. He wants to not have to break the standards created during the development stage.
While Oracle EM has been helpful in many ways, it did cause some difficulties for Idexx early. Over the past three years, Oracle has dealt with a large number of bugs in EM and improved its technical support, Curtis said. However, bugs were never the largest hurdle for EM users, according to Curtis. "The biggest challenge," he said, "is the breadth of the system. It's massive, and people should understand that before they dig in. Define some small goals, meet those goals and move on."
Despite its size and complexity, the virtue of EM, for Curtis, is its ability to simplify managing Oracle Fusion Middleware. He can handle more work with fewer employees, though Idexx has not reduced its IT staff, and cut down on the number of layers needed in Idexx's server architecture.
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