Online ticket vendor StubHub Inc. fits the description of a typical company thats running its Oracle database on Linux: Its cutting-edge, it doesnt want to be married to a single hardware vendor, and it expects to scale like mad.
“Our companys growing extremely fast,” said CEO Jeff Fluhr, in San Francisco. “Theres blockbuster growth demand for our services, especially in the past 12 months. With that type of growth, our requirements to scale and handle thousands and thousands of transactions every day is dependent on a system that can handle that type of scale and availability and scope.”
To address that growth spurt, StubHub migrated from a single-node Oracle 8i database running on Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris boxes to its current setup of two parallel Oracle RAC (Real Application Clusters) nodes running Oracles 9i database on a pair of IBM x445 servers. The migration took three to four months, and the site went live on 9i in February.
Since then, vice president of technology Shawn Kernes estimated that transaction response times are 25 to 50 percent faster. As far as other advantages go, scalability is a pleasant thing to think about—somewhere down the road—but at the moment, its high availability thats the key advantage to running RAC, Kernes said.
“It gives us better ability to roll out changes, in a cautious and more measured way,” he said. “We can roll out changes to one node, take it offline, and test it before rolling it out to both. Or experiment with one node running one set of scenarios at any given time.
“Another thing is it gives us more reliability. If one goes down, we have the site still up. In the old world, we only had one database node. If that node went down, our site was down.”
All of that makes StubHub a prototypical RAC customer, analysts say. Since the launch of Oracle Database 10g, Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison has plugged the use of 10g on RAC to consolidate low-cost commodity equipment into enterprise grids, thereby driving down the overall cost of computing. But high availability is almost invariably what RAC is now being used for.
“I think theres some increase in the use of [RAC] for scalability,” conceded Carl Olofson, an analyst for IDC, in Framingham, Mass. “Certainly more than before. I think 10g makes it easier to do that. [But] with 9i, you have to be very clever with knowledge of networking, connecting storage to server clusters, things like that.”
RACs True Value
Likewise, Charlie Garry, senior program director for database research at The META Group Inc., said hes hearing good things about RAC, but scalability isnt one of them. “The stuff Ive heard about RAC is pretty positive,” he said in Simsbury, Conn.
“In fact, I recommend if youre going with RAC, you might as well go with RAC on Linux, since Linux is [Oracles] strategic platform, so youll get the best support. … You want to leverage the true value of RAC. Scalability is not necessarily its strong point. Its strong point is its a great consolidation platform,” Garry said.
“You can take your existing Oracle instances running on more expensive Sun boxes or IBM or [Hewlett-Packard Co.] boxes and take advantage of more powerful Intel [Inc.] boxes they have nowadays, put it in a single RAC and lower your licensing and hardware costs.”
As it is, although interest is running high, merely running Oracle on Linux is still uncharted territory for most enterprises. According to Gartner Inc., RDBMS revenue was about $7 billion in 2003; Linux RDBMS revenue was a puny $300 million slice of that.
“Its so new, its basically kind of cutting-edge companies across all sorts of different industries” that are running enterprise databases on Linux, according to Colleen Graham, an analyst at Gartner Dataquest, in Tucson, Ariz. In essence, it requires an enterprise to ask itself if its “willing to go where no one has gone before,” she added.
That may change, though, what with changes to the Linux kernel that have been back-ported from the 2.6 kernel, Garry noted. “Theyre doing a lot more with I/O handling, synchronous/asynchronous stuff,” he said.
“A lot of stuff coming is stuff Oracle and IBM themselves have contributed back, initially to the Red Hat [Inc.] edition, but its made its way into the distributions. That makes it easier for databases to run.”
StubHubs with him there. “[Our old] Solaris box was a four-processor box with 4GB of RAM,” Kernes said. “That fell well within the limit of Red Hat Linux 2.1 at the time. We felt we could have similar multitasking performance and so forth.
“While we were experimenting, Red Hat 2.3 was released with memory enhancements and back-ported to older kernels by Red Hat and Oracle, which allows us to grow our database larger than we could on a single Solaris node.”
When the time comes, will StubHub be ready to tackle the addition of more nodes to meet its rampant growth? It will have little choice, CEO Fluhr said—lest other sites scalp its ticket growth bonanza away.
“As a leader in the ticketing space—youve got concerts and college sports, every venue selling 30,000 tickets per show, with 4,000 major venues in the United States—theres a lot of, lot of tickets,” Fluhr said.
“Its a big task for the database and for the whole system. For us, its important that our system is able to handle that, and its related to what technologies we choose.”