Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) had worked effectively for cloud-based risk-management software company Aon eSolutions in the United States, but when the company wanted to expand to Europe, it looked to shift to the Oracle Database Appliance (ODA). The new appliance offered advantages over its clustered predecessor, and did so at about one-fifth the cost.
For U.S. operations, Aon had employed a standard Oracle RAC deployment stretched across a 12-node cluster, said Scott Wilson, vice president of hosting and technology operations at the Chicago-based company. It ran on commodity x86 servers on multiple racks with multiple storage area networks (SANs) for redundancy. Technologically effective, yes. Cost effective, not so much.
"We were ready to evaluate other options," Wilson said simply.
Aon's IT infrastructure was already large and well established in the U.S., so running RAC wasn't that big a deal. Its RIScloud ("RIS" stands for "risk, insurance and safety") Web-based transaction software hosts more than 6 billion transactions for more than 200,000 users every year.
But when Aon decided to expand to Europe -- something it had talked about for four years -- it sought an alternative that could be set up quickly, with a small footprint, in a "co-lo" center. It also needed to host its European customers' data in Europe to meet data privacy laws there. Oracle RAC was a bit much for that. "[ODA] allowed us to go into a data center and set something up at a minimum cost structure, and offer similar performance and redundancy as a standard data center infrastructure buildout," Wilson said.
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Wilson said that a standard setup would require installing multiple servers, network, SAN fabrics, plus all the configuration. Aon saved "potentially several weeks" by going with ODA, which took one day to set up, he said.
It wasn't just the installation that drew Aon in, however. Just as important was maintenance. According to Wilson, standard patching means having to touch each node in the cluster to complete upgrades and fixes. With ODA, a patching schedule is set up on the device, and the appliance software upgrades and fixes all nodes in the ODA cluster, he said. "It removes a lot of the legwork and reduces a lot of human error and potentially missing a node," he added.
There was some skepticism among the IT staff at Aon, but Wilson said a three-month proof of concept erased much of the trepidation around ODA. Rather than having to maintain multiple racks of servers and storage, IT can focus on what he calls "high-value needs," such as addressing client-side issues.
Aon installed eight ODAs in a European data center last year, and is using the product's capacity-on-demand licensing model to scale as it adds users. Next on the horizon is Asia, where, Wilson said, data privacy challenges will be largely similar to those in Europe. The company plans to buy more ODAs there for production and standby.