CATEGORY: Data administration, management, modeling and database performance.
REVIEWER: Joe Dennick, director of IS operations for Securities America Financial Corporation.
BACKGROUND: Securities America Financial Corporation is an independent broker/dealer based in Omaha, Nebraska, with more than 300 employees who service more than 1,500 independent brokers.
PLATFORMS: Securities America Financial Corporation runs Emic Application Cluster on Red Hat Enterprise Server (Linux) 2.0 and 3.0 running on Compaq (HP) ProLiant servers. A software solution, Emic Application Cluster offers cost-effective clustering for cornerstone, open source business applications. It gives systems a suite of high availability, performance scalability, load-balancing and single-point manageability services for open source, three-tier applications (database, application server, Web server).
PROBLEM SOLVED: Databases always seem to be the single point of failure as one looks to design redundant, fault-tolerant applications. Emic Network's clustering application enabled Securities America to implement a fault-tolerant, load-balanced database cluster on relatively inexpensive hardware. In fact, the cluster we deployed on three Compaq servers uses Emic Network's Application Cluster for both MySQL and Apache. Initial Web pages are served by the Apache Web Server, and the login requests are all handled by MySQL, which houses all of the users' login IDs, passwords, entitlements, session state, etc. Combining these services on one cluster means that they are always available, scalable and easy to manage.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Many of the large, commercial database engines offer a clustered solution, but it always involves shared disks, meaning there is really only one physical copy of the database being accessed by multiple database servers (nodes). Emic Networks' design encompasses both load balancing (sharing the load between multiple servers or nodes) and also replication. We have three Compaq Servers that cost approximately $5,000 each, with their own local copy of the database and Web root directories. Emic Application Cluster distributes incoming requests evenly across available nodes and replicates the data on a second (heartbeat) network. If a node crashes, the remaining nodes can carry the load. When the failed node comes back online, it replicates the data from the other nodes so that its copy of the active database and Web root directories is current. Shared storage (usually in the form of network attached storage) is expensive to purchase, but still can lead to a single point of failure. Emic Application Cluster eliminates the need for expensive storage as well as the opportunity for a single point of failure.
STRENGTHS: Emic Application Cluster's main strength is its ability to construct a cluster of application and/or database servers that each house their own copy of the data, which is then replicated to all nodes. No other database cluster has this ability.
WEAKNESSES: At this time, Emic Application Cluster only supports MySQL and Apache.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We needed to be able to provide a database engine that could maintain 99.9% uptime and didn't cost a half-million dollars or more to implement. We considered Microsoft SQL Server Clustering and Sybase Clustering (which we use on a different database), but both require shared disk space and extra licensing, making either an expensive proposition.
DELIVERABLES: Emic Networks supplied data queries and Web pages.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Emic Networks has been extremely easy to work with through all processes. They provided us with evaluation copies of their application that we could use to determine if it met our needs and worked in our environment, and then provided us installation and configuration support for the evaluation software, long before we decided to make the purchase. Once we implemented the application into production, we purchased support agreements from Emic Networks and MySQL. To date, we have not had to make very many calls because the implemented applications function as they should, without the need for extra support or administration.
DOCUMENTATION: Emic's documentation on some of the earlier versions was less than perfect, but we were essentially running "beta" versions. The later, full releases have come with excellent documentation that allows us to quickly implement, configure and administer the application cluster.
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