When Dun & Bradstreet Inc. discovered that a rigid IT infrastructure had begun to erode its market share, the $1.7 billion, Short Hills, N.J.-based business credit corporation decided to implement a service-oriented architecture (SOA) running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Its goals: to reduce costly IT outsourcing and speed time to market for new product applications.
D&B sells financial reports for different purposes to different verticals. But "the existing architecture and organization was siloed by product line, and there was no sharing of resources … so they were not agile enough to bring products to market quickly," explained Max Yankelevich, the chief architect at Freedom Open Source Solutions Inc., a professional services organization in Newtown, Pa., that consulted with D&B.
The fundamental problem was that IT was burdened with a mix of client/server and legacy mainframe architectures, multiple hardware platforms and databases with more than 130 million records. As a result, lots of information was locked in individual product applications, but the company had no mechanism to re-use data to create new products and build revenue. Product launches were too slow, typically taking eight to 12 months, And the hefty annual $85 million cost of outsourced IT services consumed the revenue needed for new opportunities.
To create greater product development agility and reduce IT costs, Freedom OSS pitched conversion to SOA and open source software, Yankelevich said. Although D&B already used some open source software, Freedom OSS had to convince management that open source wasn't risky and was well supported, he said.On board with open source and SOA
Launched in 2005 and now 60% complete, the project is on track to achieve both its five-year goals: a $90 million reduction in IT spending and $20 million in new product revenue, both by 2010, Yankelevich said.
Freedom OSS began by recommending conversion of the client/server and legacy architectures to SOA because the latter uses modular software components and shared business services as re-usable building blocks that can be re-combined for different product applications throughout an enterprise. Freedom OSS recommended open source because it is constructed with modular plug-and-play components to enable D&B to replace its product applications gradually and add users and capacity incrementally, Yankelevich said. D&B had considered two proprietary alternatives, IBM WebSphere Business Integration products and Oracle's SOA Suite, but they are available only as complete packages and would have been far more expensive, he said. By contrast open source requires payment only for support, not licensing, he added.
After opting for open source, RHEL became the obvious choice: It's the No. 1 vendor, and it has the most complete SOA offerings, from the Red Hat Enterprise Linux OS to JBoss middleware to tools, he said. To boot, workers with Red Hat skills are readily available, he added.Migration begins
The migration task itself was daunting. D&B had 1,100 servers running a mix of OSes and application stacks on multiple hardware platforms. Other than a few in-house enterprise architects, D&B's entire IT department was outsourced to Computer Sciences Corp.
With a staff of 30 Freedom OSS engineers, five to 10 D&B architects and some 50 offshore workers, the re-architecture and consolidation project was unusually challenging because it wasn't a straightforward build-out but a selective conversion based on business functionality and timing, Yankelevich said.
"It was very opportunistic," he said. "We took advanced projects in flight and built components for them. It was like a moving train."
But an incremental approach ultimately proved itself. Freedom OSS built the new infrastructure, added some services and then kept adding more in iterative fashion, dropping legacy applications as the SOA services went live, he said. And Freedom used a "golden image" -- a master image of an entire environment that can be replicated at will -- to replicate its SOA image throughout the network, thus ensuring that every node had the same software and components, which facilitates management as well, he said.
The most challenging part of the migration was not the creation of the new SOA architecture but the dismantling of the old one. Unlike SOA's straightforward, point-to-point connections, altering legacy applications can be like working with spaghetti. Due to unknown user and/or technical dependencies, the business impact of turning off a conventional application isn't always clear in advance, he said.
Because the focus of the project is to bolster revenue-generating new products, Freedom OSS focused the first half of its conversion to SOA and RHEL on new business applications. Back-office functions such as customer relationship management and Oracle financials will follow in a later stage of the project, he said.
The results have been positive, Yankelevich said. The number of servers has been reduced to a mere fifth -- from 1,100 to 200 -- the systems now have faster response times and less downtime and the project is on target for achieving its five-year goals of IT savings and new revenue, he said.
Kevin Zackman, D&B's director of global architecture, said together Red Hat products and Freedom OSS have enabled D&B to move "leap years ahead of the competition" in enterprise SOA implementation. Together, they've provided D&B with a solid, scalable platform for years to come, he said.