Clustering for Speed

ATC database upgrade supports growth, improves reliability.

The acceleration of e-commerce in general was putting online auto retailer AutoTradeCenter Inc. on a collision course. The greater frequency of hits on its Web sites and the subsequent increase in transaction volumes stressed its IT infrastructure, which comprised Java-based applications with an Oracle Corp. database running on Sun Microsystems Corp. servers.

Interest in selling used vehicles on the Web—like online retailing in general—has been growing. It allows owners to modify the presentation of the vehicles and enables dealers to easily open and maintain new sales channels. And the cars and salespeople do not have to be physically transported to auction sites, said Jorge Borbolla, CIO at ATC.

The Menlo Park, Calif., company facilitates the meeting and online transactions among large-volume sellers of preowned vehicles and prospective dealers and buyers in the United States. Along with serving 24,000 franchise dealerships and 80,000 independent dealers, ATC runs exclusive customizable private-label sites using its wholesale auction trading platform. Its customers include American Honda Finance Corp., Daimler Chrysler Financial Services, Volkswagen Credit Inc., Chase Manhattan Automotive Finance Inc., Audi Financial Services Inc., Subaru of America Inc. and Volvo Finance of North America Inc.

To handle increasing demand while keeping software costs relatively low, ATC last summer began to redesign its three-tier system using the Oracle 9i database Real Application Clusters, known as RAC, on Linux. The goal was to enable a level of support for customers that would persuade them to move away from traditional physical auction houses.

Noting that his companys sales have quadrupled over the last four years, Borbolla said the move to embrace Oracle RAC on Linux and jettison its single-node Oracle database on the Solaris platform proved to be a watershed for the companys expansion.

"We were expecting quite a bit of growth, so our database systems needed upgrading as far as hardware is concerned," Borbolla said. "We had also become an integral part of our customers marketing, so we couldnt afford to go down. ... Thats not just acceptable.

"The Intel [Corp.-based] hardware [we are using] is on a rapid-growth cycle, and that was one of the main reasons we went over to it. [Using RAC on Linux,] you can be at the cutting edge of leading speed, and that helps you in growth and headroom," Borbolla said.

The technology overhaul at ATC was not simple. The Linux proposition was complex as questions lingered about whether the open-source technology would be mature enough to run ATCs applications without hiccups. Borbolla said his organization was able to take the risk because of the overwhelming cost benefits.

"We had the need, and we werent swimming in cash, so for us the cost component was very critical. If I was a bigger shop and I had a lot of money, I dont know if I would take that risk," Borbolla said.

ATC increased its system performance fourfold by running on Linux and spreading its database servers across a two-node cluster.

Since online retailing is often geared toward high-volume transaction processing and requires the availability of mission-critical database applications, experts said that customers must be able to virtually scale and grow their retail environments at their own pace, node by node.

"The real advantage [of Oracle RAC] is that as you grow, you can add additional nodes in a cluster without having to pay for a large SMP [symmetric multiprocessing] server or databases licenses, so its a very good model for customers that are expanding their applications and their business," said Noel Yuhanna, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. "RAC has come a long way to becoming a mature product and helping customers [scale] in the right direction."

Yuhanna said RAC, which combines availability and scalability features, is well-suited for areas such as online trading and selling, airline reservations, and health care applications, to name a few.

Although ATC wont implement the next version of the Oracle database, Oracle 10G, until next year, the upgrade will hold a number of distinct advantages for his company, Borbolla said. Among the areas that intrigue him is the way Oracle 10G simplifies database manageability—from easier installs to the capabilities of Oracle Automatic Storage Management.