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Harvard cuts IT footprint with FlexPod, Oracle Database Appliance

Harvard Business Publishing needed to upgrade its aging Dell server infrastructure, and decided on two separate integrated approaches to get it done.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Harvard Business Publishing knew it wanted to pick some kind of integrated system to upgrade its aging infrastructure. As it turned out, it ended up picking two.

Earlier this year, Harvard Business Publishing decided that much of its software and hardware was out of date, according to Ed Carnes, an infrastructure architect with the organization.

The publishing outfit was running Oracle Database 10g and wanted to upgrade to 11g. It was also running older Dell x86 servers with Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the operating system, and EMC Symmetrix as the storage infrastructure. The Oracle Database infrastructure included four Real Application Clusters (RACs), but the company came to feel it had too many vendors to juggle whenever system maintenance questions came up.

"We were just looking for one neck to choke," said Carnes during an interview at this week's Oracle OpenWorld 2012 conference.

A not-for-profit subsidiary of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Harvard Business Publishing was founded in 1994 and has three business units: one for corporate learning, another for higher education materials, and a third for the well-known Harvard Business Review.

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After deciding to make a change, the company started looking around at different offerings. In particular, Harvard Business Publishing wanted to take its eight racks of aging hardware and consolidate them into fewer racks.

The publisher first decided to go with FlexPod, an integrated system that includes Cisco UCS blades, NetApp storage and VMware virtualization software. The new integrated package would eventually shrink the configuration down to two racks. After making that purchase, the Harvard subsidiary then started looking at what to do about its database infrastructure.

"We were considering building our own homegrown RAC cluster where we would take blades and storage and network and build it ourselves," Carnes said.

But after consulting with Pythian Group, Harvard Business Publishing decided to look at the Oracle Database Appliance. The company then decided that a $50,000 Oracle Database Appliance could replace about $500,000 worth of infrastructure at each data center.

"It's just ready out of the box and integrated," Carnes said. "You can rack it up and power it up probably in about four hours."

For some, the Oracle Database Appliance might seem limiting, according to Pythian Chief Technology Officer Alex Gorbachev. The product comes preassembled and preconfigured, he explained, and as a result, there are few options for customization. But for people like Carnes, that aspect can be a positive rather than a negative. In the end, it depends on what a company is looking for.

"Another big advantage is that you are not depending on all of these different operational teams in your organization," Gorbachev said. "One team owns and supports this appliance."

One of the challenges Harvard Business Publishing faced during the project centered on efforts to move the company's Oracle Database 10g instances over to the Oracle Database Appliance, which only supports Oracle Database 11g, Gorbachev said. The company ultimately moved the information by restoring the 10g database instances using 11g software on the Oracle Database Appliance, a process that Oracle has explained in a support note.

The savings associated with the initiative were also significant. Carnes estimated that it would have cost Harvard Business Publishing about $750,000 more to solve its IT problems by installing additional Cisco UCS blades and the storage to go with them.

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