ATT.com eyes hybrid Oracle cloud computing

ATT.com is considering a hybrid public-private Oracle cloud computing model so it can handle highly variable traffic without having to build to peak capacity.

AT&T is now accustomed to the bursts of traffic it gets on its site when, say, a new iPhone is announced. Problem is, its Oracle infrastructure isn’t flexible enough to scale up and down to accompany the peaks and valleys. So the company is considering partially moving its Oracle environment to cloud computing.

“Cloud is a lot of different things to different people,” said Harry Bennett, assistant vice president of ATT.com. “The way we’ve been looking at it is the ability to dynamically scale applications workloads and shift resources accordingly.”

ATT.com is considering moving toward a hybrid cloud model. The issue now is how hybrid it wants to be. Bennett said the struggle and the discussion will happen at a very high level. That discussion is likely similar to many others around cloud computing. The more public your cloud, the more worried some executives could be about data security. The more private it is, the more Bennett wonders whether AT&T can work with partners to “spin capacity up and down.”

Currently, ATT.com supports about 5 million page views per hour and 120,000 transactions per second within three different data centers. It runs Oracle Database Real Application Clusters (RAC) 10g and 11g and WebLogic 10.3.3 as well as Apache and Java for the front-end Web servers. Server hardware includes Sparc-based Oracle-Sun servers -- both T-Series and M-Series -- running Solaris.

“Whenever our partner announces a large device, we get a big burst,” Bennett said. “But most of the site level is much lower than spikes. Because I’m not cloud per se; I have to build to peak.”

If ATT.com goes to the cloud, scaling will need to be quick. Bennett’s department is not measured on traditional IT metrics such as uptime or return on capital. Instead, it is measured in business terms. And so his Unix systems engineers talk about losing $1 million a minute by not having online sales up and running. If a cloud infrastructure can’t scale fast enough to handle bursts, that’s lost revenue.

One thing Bennett is looking at is moving away from what he called the proprietary Sparc/Solaris architecture and instead adopting x86 servers running Oracle Linux and Oracle VM. Bennett said that may give his organization more flexibility in terms of using virtualization to maximize server utilization. There is a hiccup there, however. AT&T has a lot of Unix engineers who have worked on Sparc and Solaris for years. So if IT moves to x86 and Linux, there may be some training involved.

Though nothing is set in stone, the plan would likely be to scale out Web and application tiers in the public cloud and keep the database tier internal for security purposes.

“The application isn’t I/O bound, so we could probably get away with a LAN connection to the database, thereby keeping that aspect of the architecture private,” Bennett said.

Bennett added that AT&T is also planning on testing out Oracle Exalogic, the engineered system Oracle has called a “cloud in a box.” AT&T was scheduled to start a trial with Exalogic this fall, but that’s on hold due to other priorities, according to Bennett.

“What we want to do is get out of this heavy fixed-cost model and get to variable cost,” Bennett said. “We want greater elasticity to handle some of those spikes.”

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