ePostal, a division of the South African Post Office (SAPO) that is responsible for electronic bill presentment and payment and distributed printing, has for the last four years enjoyed database reliability and uptime as a result of its partnership with RDB Consulting.
The very nature of ePostal’s services enables South African users to gain access to their online services such as electronic bill presentment and payment, traffic fine payments from Post Office branches and Hybrid Mail, which distributes mail to print centres closest to their distribution points.
This means the division needs to have a highly redundant and reliable infrastructure to ensure uptime. Already more than 200 000 users are registered on the ePostal Web site.
The challenge
Upon inception six years ago, ePostal needed to make the choice of running its legacy J2EE applications on Solaris or Microsoft Operating Systems. The challenge was that the company did not know how quickly the business would grow and required a solution that might have to scale rapidly.
Following research and due to budget constraints, ePostal decided to implement Oracle RAC (real application cluster) for high availability and failover on a Windows Server 2000 platform, with the latter enabling the organisation to eventually migrate to Linux in order to establish an Open Source environment.
The decision was made as a Linux-based platform was preferred and would delivery high availability (HA) and failover capabilities out of the box. In addition, the organisation knew that it was an ideal platform for its Oracle database.
“We were aware we lacked the Oracle skills and decided to call on Jaroslav Cerny, MD at RDB Consulting and his team to assist us in establishing our Oracle database. We explained to them that we eventually wanted to go the Open Source route with the incumbent Oracle database,” explains Carl Vorster, GM, business solutions development at SAPO and GM business solutions at ePostal.
“We had done extensive research and found a number of case studies of companies using Oracle environments with relatively cheap hardware to initially save costs and add clusters as their needs or budgets required and allowed. Oracle and Linux (Red Hat), therefore, provided us with the scalability we required without having to spend a great deal of money.”
The approach
RDB Consulting’s consultative approach contributed to success of the project and ongoing service delivery has ensured maximum uptime.
“RDB Consulting gained a good understanding of our business environment in order to deliver the appropriate solution which forms part of their consultative approach,” says Vorster.
“Planning and project management meant the project was tackled in an organised manner with feedback and communication to us, ensuring we were kept informed along the way. In addition, RDB Consulting employed trusted methodologies and best practices, ensuring the project was completed quickly and smoothly.”
ePostal also had an “application” layer that communicates to the Oracle RAC cluster whereby two Linux Virtual Servers were implemented which provided HA, failover and load balancing for the application servers.
This allowed the organisation to scale very quickly without necessitating a forklift upgrade. RDB Consulting implemented this solution and provides the ongoing support and maintenance.
The benefits
As a result, the ePostal was able to scale its ICT environment as the organisation grew. It started out with six servers, two for loadbalancing, two for the database and two for its application servers. All three layers were implemented as a high availability, failover and load balanced environment which  provided no single point of failure.
Ultimately, the company, a few years ago, featured a highly redundant, high failover and scalable environment with multiple servers.
In keeping with ePostal’s vision to move to an Open Source environment, the company moved over to Red Hat, running the Oracle database in 2006.
“Over the last four years we’ve experienced only 30 minutes of downtime on our SAN which fortunately did not impact our operations.  Towards the end of 2009, we have migrated our hardware to a virtualised Blade server environment with VMware software to deliver virtualisation,” says Vorster.
A blade server environment allows ePostal’s data centre to benefit from high-density computing that in turn allows for a smaller footprint without the resultant power compromise.
“In the last six years we’ve endeavoured to manage ePostal’s infrastructure in a manner that would firstly allow them to grow and secondly provide them with the critical reliability they require to meeting the needs of their online users,” explains Cerny at RDB Consulting.
“Our service-level agreement with ePostal sees us providing the necessary backup, maintenance and support required to run their Oracle databases and Linux servers. This means, we have a dedicated person on call 24×7 in the event of a problem as well as committed number of hours each month to maintain and support their application and database environment.”
RDB Consulting implemented a monitoring tool and backup software (open source), as part of their value add, enabling proactive monitoring of the environment and redundancy of data – at no additional cost to ePostal.
Commenting on RDB Consulting’s service over the last four years, Vorster says the company’s response was good and problems were always attended to in a timely fashion.
“The company also ensured that it familiarised itself with our Red Hat environment which was really beneficial when we finally moved over four years ago,” he concludes.
Together, ePostal and RDB Consulting have established an IT environment which features not only a reliable database but also the necessary flexibility and scalability to grow as the division’s needs and business expand. In addition to improving our uptime significantly, we have also achieved cost savings with our database operation and support thereof.