Oracle's Exadata tapped for automotive analytics

Polk, a provider of auto industry data and analytics, is seeing a tenfold performance boost with Oracle's Exadata system

By Chris Kanaracus

Oracle wants to triple the number of installed Exadata database machines to 3,000 in its current fiscal year, and it could get there by tapping existing customers like automotive analytics vendor Polk.

Polk maintains a massive store of information related to automobiles and uses it to provide a variety of analytics on areas such as brand loyalty and market forecasting. Its customers include auto dealers, part suppliers and insurance companies.

The company had been running Oracle's 10g database on a six-node cluster against an EMC Symmetrix DMX-4 storage system. Using primarily its planned hardware refresh budget, it recently moved to a half-rack Exadata box, and in the process, upgraded to database version 11g. Polk is also rolling out Oracle's BI (business intelligence) suite.

The company's systems experience "rush hours" at certain times of the month, pressured by a spike in complex queries.

"We were running into your typical challenges where consumers were becoming impatient with the technology we were providing," said Kelly Garcia, vice president of global application development and support. "Every one of our customer-facing analytical products now sits on Exadata."

If there's a single product that represents Oracle's future, it may be Exadata, an appliance that combines database software, storage and networking components for processing large amounts of data.

Exadata, along with the Exalogic application server appliance, are the first two efforts by Oracle to reinvent itself following the acquisition of Sun Microsystems with products that combine its strengths while locking down a bigger cut of customers' IT budgets.

Oracle may be basing its aggressive growth forecast for Exadata on the notion that more customers are considering a hardware update after holding off for years during the global recession, and also crave higher performance to deal with growing volumes of data. Both characteristics apply to Polk.

With Exadata, Polk saw a tenfold speed increase on average without any tweaking, and the performance gets better each month as Polk makes further adjustments.

Polk looked at other platforms besides Exadata, including DATAllegro, which was acquired by Microsoft. But Exadata ended up making more sense for a number of reasons, one being cost. Polk was able to move Oracle database licenses it already had over to the Exadata system.

In addition, Polk obtained a "good" discount from Oracle, said Doug Miller, director of database development and support, although he and Garcia declined to provide specifics.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and other executives have also repeatedly touted the easier management and upkeep Exadata's tightly integrated server, networking and storage components provide.

Of course, such integration also means customers get locked into a stack of technologies from one vendor, but Polk sees the benefits.

In the past, a hardware systems upgrade would take several weeks to install and test, and that's after the process of choosing the components, Miller said.

"This thing, they just rolled it in and dropped it off their dolly," he said. "The whole thing's there. Two days later, we were running databases. The footprint is quite striking. It replaces almost a row of equipment."

There are fewer system problems with Exadata, given the compatibility issues with drivers and other components that can crop up in a mixed environment, he said.

In addition, there's no chance for a vendor blame game when things go wrong. With Exadata, "you do have one organization to call," Miller said. "You toss it in their lap. They can't disavow knowledge of it. It's their baby."