Travel Site Reserves a Seat on Oracle, Linux

Case study: MLT Vacations migrated to Oracle RAC and Linux just in time to save its servers from the seasonal blizzard of snowbirds seeking to evacuate.

Ahhh, winter in Minnesota.

On Thursday afternoon in St. Cloud it was 0 degrees with the windchill, and Michael Kress can assure you that throughout the Midwest people are very busily booking vacations to get the *&^% away from this misery.

Kress is director of enterprise technology services at MLT Vacations Inc., a provider of vacation packages whose reservation systems traditionally get trampled by the victims of cabin fever around about this time. MLT is based in Edina, Minn.—snowbird central.

At this time last year, MLT suffered the classic signs of growing pains: its reservations system was running on a Sun Microsystems Inc. E4500 server that was flat-out maxed, running at 90 percent capacity.

Had the company been using the same setup this year, it not only would have run at 100 percent, but the performance time would have been so slow, it would have degraded to the point of having transactions time out, according to Kress.

MLT took its own vacation away from that mess, recently moving to Oracle Corp. Database and RAC (Real Application Clusters) on Red Hat Inc.s Enterprise Linux, along with Oracle Data Warehouse, ditching expensive, proprietary Unix servers and replacing them with IBM servers along the way.

Since the Christmas weekend migration, clusters have handled peak utilization without breaking a sweat, according to Chris Corona, manager of system services.

/zimages/3/28571.gifTo read how another travel site fared with Oracles RAC technology, click here.

"Theyre running with capacity to spare, versus the system we replaced, which ran at 90 percent on peak days," he said.

"Weve got a five- to six-to-one increase in performance," Kress said. "Were at much less utilization but with much less degradation and response time. We have room to spare, where we would have been overcommitted on that E4500."

One of the sweetest parts: MLT is on track to save about $1 million in costs over the next five years as a result of the move. Corona said that some $200,000 will be saved in equipment and operating system maintenance, and some $100,000 or so will be in adjunct items such as training costs.

"Maintaining [the E4500s] and enterprise-class machines for PeopleSoft [Inc. applications] … were looking at stuff thats continually getting more expensive to maintain," Kress said. "Just [based on] the performance of Intel processors, coupled with Linux, coupled with Oracle, plus the maturity [of Linux], and how vendors are supporting it now, we realized we could trim hardware and software maintenance costs a great deal," he said.

But the real kicker is licensing costs: Some 50 percent of savings, or about $500,000, is going to be whittled out of Oracle license and maintenance costs over the next five years.

A number of years ago, MLT was buying two-year Oracle licenses, as opposed to perpetual licenses. Those licenses were due to expire now, right in the middle of peak travel season. They knew they couldnt change anything now, so they set about studying the Linux/Oracle/Intel/IBM option about 18 months ago.

They found that they could reduce the number of CPUs and collapse the number of named users, Corona said. They were able to collapse 12 CPUs down to seven, and they were able to collapse 550 named users down to between 200 and 250.

"To Oracles credit, they understood where we were going and didnt blanch at all," Corona said—contrary to Oracles reputation as being tough as nails on licensing matters.

Another plus was the redundancy MLT picked up. Last year, if a machine went down, "we were dead," Kress said. Now MLT has three servers, soon to be four, to support its reservations system.

As far as scalability goes, last year, if Kress had to add CPUs to the Sun machine, hed have to add two to a board—a "tremendously expensive" option, he said. Now he can add one, and the costs are substantially less.

/zimages/3/28571.gifTo read how Sun is using grid computing globally, click here.

Indeed, the cost of maintaining Sun equipment for less than one year paid for all the brand-new Intel equipment. The Intel equipment came with three years of prepaid maintenance, as well—"a tremendous deal," Kress said.

Another thing MLT realized along the way was that, since the machines are attached to an Ethernet network, but theyre single, distinct machines, they could be split up and placed in different buildings, thus providing disaster backup.

Disasters, as in, say, blizzards that dump a few feet of snow and murder your electricity.

Reservations for Bermuda, anyone?

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