Balancing Oracle and open source at Orbitz

IT is a complicated thing in large companies like Orbitz (s oww), where open source doesn’t mean free and where NoSQL really means not only SQL. When Orbitz decided to move major portions of its infrastructure off Oracle’s (s orcl) in-memory Coherence database and onto the NoSQL Couchbase Server, it drastically increased its performance while savings millions of dollars a year. But that doesn’t mean Oracle doesn’t still have a seat at Orbitz’s IT table.

Steven Young, a site reliability engineer at Orbitz, is presenting at CouchConf on Friday afternoon about making the switch from Coherence to Couchbase, and he shared some details with me in advance of his presentation. Essentially, Orbitz moved some very important systems — including its Hotel Rate Cluster, which caches all the relevant information on hotels and rooms and delivers it to customers — over to Couchbase and was able to achieve serious improvements in cost and performance while slashing its footprint:

  • Four hundred nodes have been reduced to 70 nodes that handles about 250 million objects and 1.2TB of data.
  • In-memory cache size reduced to 55GB from 620GB.
  • The company is saving more than $2 million a year in licensing, maintenance and operations costs.
  • Orbitz can now reliably scale clusters across data centers.
  • Latency has improved significantly, and multiple-times-per-week failures have ended.
  • Orbitz can now roll out changes to its web applications without bringing them down.

All told, Young said, Couchbase is just faster, easier, more efficient and more scalable. “We have not encountered any kind of negative tradeoff, everything has been positive at this point,” he said.

The point-of-sale cluster went form 32 nodes (outside) to 10 (inside). Orbitz is testing a reduction to six nodes.

But like Disney (s dis), which also recently made the switch to a collection of open source technologies, Orbitz isn’t playing around when it comes to making sure its systems are running optimially. While a handful of lower-value web applications are still running Membase or memcached, most are now running Couchbase’s Enterprise Edition, Young said. Free versions of open source products work for areas such as testing and development — heck, Orbitz even built and open sourced its own reporting tool called Graphite — but big companies have to choose carefully where to use them.

Because hotels are the key to any travel business, Orbitz is perfectly willing to pay if it means those systems are displaying fast, accurate information to customers. “We like to make sure we’re getting the most for our cache in every sense of the word,” Young joked (bonus points for spotting the pun).

In fact, Oracle’s top-of-the-line and very expensive Exadata appliance still handles some very important work for Orbitz. Whereas Couchbase stores what’s relevant at any given time, Exadata stores a year’s worth of hotel rate data that the company needs to keep for compliance and historical analysis reasons. “It’s not feasible for us to store all of that in Couchbase,” Young said. “… It really depends on the strategy we have.”

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user concept w.