Popular Digital Media Site Has Oracle Working Behind Scenes

Interactive One hopes to expand its Web sites next year by adding one for each of its radio stations, while consolidating physical servers from 260 down to 120.
As Interactive One adds Web sites and accumulates page views, one of the results is to find itself relying on more and more Oracle products.

Interactive One is the digital arm of a chain of 52 radio stations, Radio One. As its Internet arm, Interactive One hosts Black Planet, the busiest African-American Web site and fifth-largest social networking site in the United States, according to Nicholas Tang, VP of technical operations.

Together the 10 Interactive One Web sites generate 25 million registered users and 650 million page views. The company is planning to expand its Web sites next year by adding one for each of its radio stations, which means expanding further the ranks of 200 Web servers and 70 to 80 database servers.

Consequently, it was crucial for Interactive One to upgrade to Oracle 11g and gain the benefit of its database-based connection pooling. Before that feature became available, Interactive One had to load up on hardware as connections stayed open and followed a user as he or she moved about a site. Now the connection can be closed and network resources handed to another user until the first user calls for another server response.

"If you were surfing your favorite Web site for five minutes, that connection was held open for you. Each connection takes 5 MB of RAM," which meant Interactive One was throwing hardware resources at the user traffic in the form of 50 connection brokers, Tang said in an interview. With the efficiencies of connection pooling, it's been able to cut that number to five.

Over the last year, Interactive One has made additional server and energy savings through Oracle's Xen-based hypervisor, Oracle VM. So far, it's consolidated 50 data center servers at a ratio of four VMs per physical server. Thirty production servers and 20 development servers have been shrunk down to 12 machines, running four or more VMs each.

Interactive One first experimented with VMware on the Windows desktop and open source Xen under Red Hat Enterprise Linux. But Tang decided he liked the combination of Oracle VM running under Oracle Unbreakable Linux better and switched to it. The move concentrated support in the hands of a single vendor with whom he was already familiar.

The move to Unbreakable Linux was another cost-cutting move, in Tang's view, since Oracle charges less for technical support than Red Hat. "We like Oracle VM better than Xen. The biggest thing is that it works. Red Hat management tools [for Xen] didn't do what they were supposed to do," he said.

He also said Oracle can configure its database with Linux better than a staff of two DBAs at Interactive One can. "With Oracle on Unbreakable Linux, it's very simple to build a database. It automatically pulls in the dependencies and does the database configuration," he said.

As he buys more powerful Intel servers, he's finding a two-way quad-core server works efficiently with the Oracle VM virtualization, thanks to Intel's putting virtualization hooks into its latest generation of chips. Between virtual machines and multicore servers, he expects he can increase his ratio of VMs per physical server from four to eight, or even 10. He has to load up the servers with memory in order to accommodate so many VMs, sometimes 16 or 32 GB.

If he can do that, he'll cut 260 physical servers down to 100, he predicted, and cut electricity use somewhere between one-third and one-half.

Prior to adopting a more uniform Oracle product set, Tang notes his staff "had to build a lot of tools ourselves -- hacks we put together. That made it a challenge to get to 25 million visitors a month," on the strength of six system administrators, six developers, and two database administrators. Now his staff can concentrate its skills around a narrower product set that has more built-in automation features.

"We have a collaborative relationship with Oracle, and cost savings is one of the important benefits," Tang said.

This article was edited on 10/30 to clarify statements by Interactive One.