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Overstock saves millions on database replication tool

Users with structured data can expect to see significant savings with specialized replication products like GoldenGate's software.

GoldenGate, from GoldenGate Software Inc., is a product few in the storage space may have heard about. But in the right environment, the software, which replicates structured data between databases, might be a better choice than traditional backup software for storage architects.

Jack M. Garzella, vice president of IT operations for discount online retailer, estimated that the transition from EMC Corp.'s Symmetrix Remote Data Facility (SRDF) migration software to GoldenGate for the company's massive Oracle, SQL and DB2 databases will save him millions on disk and maintenance costs in the years to come.

Overstock stores about 80 terabytes (TB) of data in its data center, keeping the data in TeraData data warehouses, where they can apply analytics to show, for example, a customer's propensity to buy certain products in the future. Garzella said the company made the switch from EMC storage and migration products to the TeraData warehouses and GoldenGate software over the past year when its sales and marketing departments demanded data be available to them instantaneously.

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Garzella said that while the main benefit of GoldenGate's product is its ability to do continuous, up-to-the-moment replication, the fact that it is designed specifically for database data means he can use his storage more efficiently.

"With SRDF to do replication, you're sending over blocks of data every time they're changed," Garzella said. "With GoldenGate, we're not backing up data we don't care about."

That data Garzella doesn't care about is called "non-committed" data and refers to changes in a database not designated by the user to remain "persistent" or permanent.

"SRDF and BCV [Business Continuance Volumes] were sending changed blocks back and forth all the time. We're probably going to save about 4 TB of disk space with GoldenGate, which we can then designate for other areas of our operation.

"In terms of pricing for the product, our licensing cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars," he added. Over the next three to four years, Overstock expects to save $5 million to $10 million by better utilizing the disk it has and not having to buy any more.

This type of product, obviously, is not for everyone. Since GoldenGate's replication process relies heavily on database log files, it can't be used to back up, say, a Word document or e-mail.

According to Donna Scott, vice president and analyst with the Gartner Group, customers with very large numbers of servers will use traditional disk-based replication because there's less complexity in the implementation. With GoldenGate, each application requires its own instance of the software.

"But if you need higher availability, the ability to recover in a short time frame, or most importantly, the ability to report on data from a secondary database, this can work really well," Scott said.

Medical center migrates between databases

Businesses that have both large amounts of structured data and little to no tolerance for downtime are ideal for GoldenGate. One such business is the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, the flagship in a consortium of small hospitals attempting to implement a "paperless" medical records system.

"Everything's automated now. There's no more paper," said Carl Baylis, Montefiore's assistant director. "You can't tell a doctor that for the next couple hours, no system will be available because you're doing backup. It just can't happen."

Montefiore uses GoldenGate to migrate patient records between its databases on a Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) NonStop Tandem system, as well as to replicate them to a duplicate NonStop box at its disaster recovery site.

"GoldenGate is the only one that can take you down to the field level with data," Baylis said. "Some other (database replication) products will replicate records for you, but this has built in routines to change data."

According to Noel Yuhanna, senior analyst with Forrester Research, 85% of data is currently unstructured, meaning GoldenGate has a niche market at best at present. But products like it could grow in the next few years, he said.

"Only 20% of enterprise data is ever changed," Yuhanna said. "This idea that you don't really have to replicate all data in volumes of storage, but you can only replicate a portion and ensure its consistency, is catching on. There's a whole new evolution ready to take off to put currently unstructured data into databases as well."

According to Sami Akbay, senior director of product marketing for GoldenGate, while its product doesn't currently backup e-mail servers or file systems at the moment, it could be coming.

"We think that in the future, an e-mail is going to be treated more like a data transaction and potentially stored in a database," he said.

Other companies selling replication tools include: ITI Shadowbase, Oracle Corp., Quest Software Inc., Sybase Inc. HP, Kashya Inc. and XOsoft Inc. sell products more suited to unstructured files.

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