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Firm dumps MySQL on Red Hat for Oracle Database on Oracle Linux

MySQL on Red Hat was the wrong prescription for one pharmaceutical software vendor.

When ValueCentric found itself facing a rapidly changing business environment and a need for greater information security, it decided to migrate from MySQL on Red Hat Enterprise Linux to Oracle Database on Oracle Enterprise Linux.

Based in Orchard Park, N.Y., ValueCentric started off in 2002 as a pharmaceutical technology consulting firm running the Software as a Service (SaaS) -- or on-demand -- offering to address a growing industry shift toward fee-for-service business models.

ValueCentric has since evolved into a provider of on-demand data management and performance analytics software for the pharmaceutical industry. Company officials say the move to Oracle Enterprise Linux was crucial to the initiative's success.

ValueCentric uses Oracle Database and Oracle Enterprise Linux as the foundation for its SaaS offering, ValueTrak, a data and services platform that analyzes pharmaceutical manufacturers' sales, inventory, service levels and supply chain information. Company officials say they learned some valuable lessons about mitigating migration risks along the way.

Why Oracle?

ValueCentric developed the first version of ValueTrak on MySQL about four years ago, but as the firm expanded and began taking on bigger clients like AstraZeneca, Roche and P&G Pharmaceuticals, company officials became concerned over MySQL's ability to keep up with rapidly growing data stores and complex quality-of-service requirements.

It eventually became apparent that ValueCentric wouldn't be able to maintain high performance levels for long and that MySQL had become an obstacle to the company's continued success, according to Dave Janca, ValueCentric's founder and CEO.

"We were faced with some pretty big issues around performance, both in processing and on the back end, as well as reporting, where we had problems with queries returning on time and being able to handle the processing of data at night -- or whenever it came in -- in an expedient manner," Janca explained. "We needed to step back and see where we were headed strategically, do an assessment and try to remove some risk that we thought we had in continuing down the path with MySQL."

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ValueCentric had also become disenchanted with MySQL's disaster-recovery capabilities and support services, added John LoFaso, ValueCentric's director of technical operations.

"The support was very sketchy, and we just couldn't rely on it," he said.

The company decided to go forward with an evaluation of other products, focusing mainly on Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server, but Microsoft was cut out of the running rather quickly, Janca said, because of "impersonal" support operations.

"The goal was that we needed a partner, not an 800-number," he said.

ValueCentric ultimately decided to go with Oracle Database because the system exceeded its guidelines around performance, scalability, availability and security. The company completed negotiations with Oracle in October 2006 and went live with Oracle Database six months later.

Around that same time, ValueCentric decided to reevaluate its choice of Red Hat and ultimately decided to standardize on Oracle for both its DBMS and operating system needs.

"What was nice about Oracle during this timeframe announcing their Unbreakable Linux product was that now we had the opportunity to have one source for support regardless of what the issue is," LoFaso said.

When Oracle announced its Unbreakable Linux support program, it pledged to offer the same support that Red Hat users receive at about half the price -- and Janca says Oracle has made good on that promise.

And while many Oracle end users report increasing frustration with Oracle support in the wake of the company's long-running acquisition spree, Janca says he's more than satisfied.

"We were really on an island before and that was for the operating system and the database," he said. "It was pretty frustrating in many cases not to have places to turn to and people to call to get substantial and impact-full feedback."

Mitigating risk in software migrations

Migrating off any mission-critical system can be fraught with peril, and Janca and LoFaso stressed the importance of thorough testing.

On the database side, ValueCentric tested every conceivable query to see how it would react to the new Oracle environment before going live. The company also took pains to examine each module of the ValueTrak implementation to ensure compatibility.

"We were very careful not to flip the switch prematurely," Janca said. "We did a lot of due diligence, homework and a lot of testing because it was a significant move, and I can say that we feel very good about where we are now."

Plans for the future

Looking ahead, ValueCentric plans to implement Oracle Grid and Oracle Real Application Clusters. The company has begun evaluating the technology and expects to begin the implementation at the beginning of the second fiscal quarter.

"With Grid," LoFaso said, "I can basically pull nodes in and out of the mixture at any given time without having any downtime."

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