Linux has a prominent role sustaining many if not most online businesses as a Web server. But as the operating system evolves, so do its responsibilities.
Online ticket broker StubHub Inc., for example, has no time for downtime and apparently has no qualms about putting its bottom line in Linux's hands.
The company has been using Linux since February to run not only its production Web site, but its database and application server.
"It's the core of our production system," said Shawn Kernes, vice president of technology.
StubHub has been running two Oracle 9i Real Application Cluster (RAC) nodes on IBM xSeries servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3. For eight months prior to going live, the company had been building and testing the Linux system in preparation for moving out its old Solaris and single-node Oracle 8i RAC combination.
"We moved out a lot of old hardware," Kernes said. "We were looking to replace it, and moving to Intel was less expensive, and we got fast machines at good prices."
StubHub records more than 1 million page views daily, with each of the page views making anywhere from 10 to 100 calls to the database. Many of those are sizeable queries from customers searching for or trying to sell sports or concert tickets.
A longtime Oracle shop, StubHub has found remarkable performance gains with the 9i on Linux systems, Kernes said.
"Our inventory rotates rapidly; every page that is hit on the site interacts heavily with the database," Kernes said. "We've had no issues with memory and CPU utilization. When we were running 8i on Solaris, we were often at 80% utilization. With the two-node 9i RAC (two CPUs, 12 GB RAM each), we're at less than 30% utilization."
The performance gains extend to the front-end system as well, which is written in Cold Fusion. During peak times on the Solaris environment, the front end was often at 100% utilization. That has since dropped to 20%, Kernes said. As a result, they've been able to provision two nodes on the front end as failover boxes, using only six nodes in production.
"Downtime is absolutely unacceptable," Kernes said. "Every component is redundant. That's why we chose RAC. This system has exceeded our expectations."
Scalability, meanwhile, was a must. Kernes wanted a system that would grow simply and inexpensively along with his business. Using kickstart installations, Kernes said StubHub is able to bring new boxes to the production cluster in under a day.
This is StubHub's first experience with Linux in production. Kernes said it was used somewhat as a development platform and some of the company's IT employees had tinkered with it on their own. This limited any training pains StubHub may have had during the transition.
Kernes never hesitated using Red Hat Enterprise Linux, as opposed to other distributions, citing Red Hat's close ties to Oracle, Oracle's commitment to using Linux in-house and Red Hat's solid support offerings via Red Hat Network.
Kernes, however, does keep an eye on the Linux mailing lists for patch updates and was surprised by the speed of patch releases. Getting them streamlined from Red Hat Network does ease any potential pain, he said.
"We don't want to be applying Linux patches every week. That would be too time consuming," Kernes said. "We bring them down to a test server, and once we've tested them we roll them out.
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