Linux meets uptime, scalability needs for wholesaler

An automobile wholesaler, facing expiring licenses on aging proprietary servers, makes the move to running its Oracle applications on a Linux-on-Intel system. Linux keeps costs under control and boosts scalability and performance, the company's CIO said.

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AutoTradeCenter is an online business-to-business site that facilitates the wholesale of used vehicles among retailers, financial services institutions and rental companies. With a relatively finite number of users, the site's scalability needs are easy to measure. Its IT needs are all about volume and uptime, said chief information officer Jorge Borbolla.

Borbolla said that 2003 has been a time of transition for the Mesa, Ariz.-based business. With the license for ATC's aging Oracle-on-Solaris platform up, Borbolla needed to find an alternative that would keep costs under control. "We are an operation with less than 100 people; cost is a critical issue," he said.

Borbolla had no intention of migrating off of Oracle, and he decided his corporate culture would adapt well to Linux in its production environment. Linux has had a presence inside the company since its inception in 1999. Running Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) 9.2 on Red Hat Enterprise Linux on a four-node cluster was the option that would give him the uptime, cost savings and performance boost he was looking for.

"We were after scalability. Uptime is important to us, as is availability. That's why we went to Oracle RAC," Borbolla said. "We require 99.99% [uptime] and are trying to aim for 99.999%. Linux is able to meet the four nines for us.

"Also, the skills of our Unix-trained personnel translated well to Linux. We're an open-minded company to open-source and Linux. We're already using Nagios for network monitoring and Tomcat for our application server. The addition of Red Hat gives us the promise of support and stability."

Borbolla estimates the hardware and software costs of the Linux-based system are 60% cheaper than what the site would have incurred had it stayed with Solaris. The Intel-based Hewlett-Packard hardware running open-source software for its application servers, meanwhile, led to a 30% to 40% performance improvement, he said.

"We needed a performance upgrade because our volume was rising. Linux made a lot of sense, especially for Oracle RAC. The hardware costs (Hewlett-Packard Intel servers) were lower for better performance," Borbolla said. "You ride a steeper hardware growth curve with Intel. Intel releases quicker processors all the time. You can switch them on the run."

Sticking with a leading server maker like HP also gave ATC technical support that Borbolla might have otherwise had to rely on Internet message boards for. Still, there is some tinkering that running Linux requires, and that remains an ongoing challenge for Borbolla and his IT staff.

"Linux does get revised. There's a new incarnation of the kernel pretty often, and you need to be on top of it," he said. "You have to tune it, make sure it's stable and safe to use. I recommend other enterprises considering Linux be prepared to test the hell of out it. Go over it, test it, tune [it], and you'll get a lot better performance."

The ATC site serves 10,000 retailers and facilitates the resale of used vehicles. It is also integrated into several remarketing programs with the numerous financial institutions of leading automobile manufacturers.

"[Server] failures are not an option. Scalability is important because it's measurable for us," Borbolla said. "We have a finite number of customers at both ends. We're not a consumer site. Transactions need to be quick. We get many users, so it's more important to be up all the time."

As for the corporate culture, Borbolla said that, as CIO, the decision to bring Linux into the production environment was ultimately his. He admitted, however, some resistance from his co-executives who questioned the risks of moving to a Linux-based platform. "No one has ever been fired for buying IBM," he said.

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