The Switching

By eweek  |  Posted 2006-01-29 Print this article Print

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How did the switching over process—to the cheaper hardware and Linux—go?
What we did was, we forked the code, and so the Linux was on a branch, and instead of trying to do the whole stack, we decided to put one box in production. There was a lot of activity at the time when we were rebranding the company, if I remember correctly, from E-Trade to E-Trade Financial, and releasing a new Web site and spending a lot of marketing dollars on a Super Bowl ad. And so heres this architecture department working on a new platform, and there was a lot of concern about disrupting the major push for a new look and feel on the Web site, so what we did is we forked the code. We were constantly merging the changes that were going on for the new Web site into the other branch. The GCC [GNU Compiler Collection] version that we were using was catching a lot of syntax problems in C code that the Sun compiler was not using—anytime you put C code into a new compiler, it seems like syntax always gets caught differently, and so we were fixing all these little things. We went through a whole test cycle, and we put one box in production [in December 2001]. The market opened, and I think all the rows of Sun 4500s were warming up, and I think they hit about 25 percent CPU utilization because we take our customer load and spray it across these load balancers and partition the load up so all the machines are working in tandem. [The Linux box] was running about 4 to 5 percent CPU—I mean, almost nothing. Constantly, almost everybody youll talk to in financial services overdeploys hardware, just because you dont take any risks with that, everything about our technology is risk-avoidance, risk-mitigation. And so, heres this little $4,000 box, playing, literally, with the big boys of computing, and doing very, very well. Everybody was pretty floored by this—a lot of the systems engineers who do our production operation were all going over to the box and couldnt believe how well this little machine was doing. Again, I think a lot of the timing was almost perfect—one, there was the investment in open source that IBM was doing; two, the emergence of the 32-bit IPC stack in Linux, and also the support for SMP in the Linux kernel; and, three, our precipitous drop in revenue. It just was one of these projects that, from conception to production, took really only about 12 to 13 weeks. Next Page: Hardware.


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