REVIEWER: Gary Ablan, VP of technology at CaringBridge.
BACKGROUND: CaringBridge is a 501(c)3 nonprofit social network that provides free websites to people experiencing significant health challenges. The websites offer a personal and private space to communicate and show support, saving time and emotional energy when health matters most. Authors add journals to post health updates and upload photos to share their stories, while visitors leave messages of love, hope and compassion in their guestbooks.
PLATFORMS: Our platform is based on MySQL and InfiniDB is at the center of our enterprise data warehouse. We use Pentaho BI Suite for data integration (data cleansing and ETL) and business intelligence capabilities that include reporting and interactive analytics. The tools run on Linux servers.
PROBLEM SOLVED: With more than 12 million users and a quarter million websites, CaringBridge faced a critical data loading and BI platform challenge: our MySQL database could not keep up with the need to track hundreds of millions of rows of data, and the large data loads were timing out. In addition, our legacy reporting system required the regular running of 14 stored procedures that impacted performance of our reporting systems and replicated database.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: First, InfiniDB has a high-speed loader that has really helped CaringBridge during the ETL process. We get 10 to 50 million rows of data loaded to the Pentaho BI Reporting platform in less than 30 seconds. This process used to take 30 to 45 minutes. Also, the familiar MySQL syntax of InfiniDB makes it easy to work with our data in different ways. For example, data stored in other sources, such as the ODS, can be easily moved into the InfiniDB tables for quick access for reporting.
STRENGTHS: The biggest strengths of InfiniDB are speed, performance and scalability through multicore processors and the distribution of workloads. Its MySQL core makes it easy to work with other software like Pentaho, and it is compatible with the standard JDBC ODBC driver. We are ready to grow and scale to meet the increasing demand for our websites and the social media tools being used by our communities. From an operations perspective, all levels of CaringBridge staff have access to the information they need to enable business decisions and support users. InfiniDB gives us the flexibility to make system changes when necessary that can arise from usage trends or new business requests.
WEAKNESSES: At times, we ran into error messages that were undocumented and frustrating to diagnose. We created workarounds by splitting up queries or attacking the problem in a whole different way. The lack of certain MySQL features and behaviors was beneficial in performance but could be painful during integration. Ultimately, the support channels helped us through the rough patches, and today we have a good understanding of what we can and can’t do with the system.
SELECTION CRITERIA: InfiniDB was our choice over other analytic enterprise data warehouses because it provided a full-functioning open source version of the product versus a scaled back one. InfiniDB outperformed other EDWs in table loading by sharing the workload across processors. The MySQL foundation was a natural fit, and the open source connections enabled additional opportunities to obtain support and avoid vendor lock-in.
DELIVERABLES: The solution allows CaringBridge staff to analyze author and visitor usage trends and to determine what features work best or need improvement. This insight allows us to optimize the website workflows to maximize the user experience. The scalable architecture is empowering CaringBridge to launch new features like optimizing websites for mobile devices. CaringBridge can look at usage patterns for websites visited through mobile devices versus traditional computers to determine channel contribution toward our usage goals. CaringBridge can then focus development to the platform by understanding how features are being utilized in each environment.
VENDOR SUPPORT: InfiniDB has a large following of loyal users that are active in the InfiniDB community forums, so we checked the forums first. In the few cases when the forum didn’t have the answer, a support ticket was sent to Calpont support. Calpont response was timely and helpful. In addition, having community-based forums provides some transparency into InfiniDB where we can see the current issues that are being worked on.
DOCUMENTATION: The product is intuitive and ready to use. We were up and running in less than an hour on our Linux server and then went into production the next day. When documentation is needed, Calpont provides a good amount of technical white papers, which cover the product and syntax extensively.