Atlanta-based hosted services provider Cbeyond Inc. is combating Oracle-Siebel CRM performance problems with data replication tools from Oracle-GoldenGate, company officials said in an interview.
Cbeyond, which uses a private IP network to provide IT and communications services to small businesses throughout the United States, says its decision to go with GoldenGate resulted from a lengthy product evaluation and proof-of-concept process that pitted several data replication and data integration software providers against one another.
While Oracle could stand to improve the management capabilities associated with GoldenGate, Cbeyond ultimately chose the product for its “intelligent” replication capabilities and support for heterogeneous data sources, said Minaz Vastani, Cbeyond’s vice president of IT. He added that the product evaluation process began before Oracle acquired GoldenGate in 2009.
“We looked at Radiant Logic, we looked at IBM, we looked at Attunity and we looked at GoldenGate,” Vastani said. “GoldenGate came out to be the most superior product and we ended up going with them and implementing it in our ecosystem.”
Cbeyond realizes a need for data replication tools
Cbeyond provides hosted productivity applications as well as broadband, voice, mobile and data services to small businesses with anywhere from five to 249 employees. The publicly traded firm, which generates about $450 million in annual revenue, supports its growing operations primarily with Oracle and MySQL databases, Oracle-BEA middleware, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition and a highly mission-critical Oracle-Siebel CRM implementation.
The company allows its customers to manage services or create trouble tickets by calling into one of Cbeyond’s customer contact centers or by logging on to Cbeyond Online, a self-service portal where users can also add or remove services, manage invoices and pay or dispute bills.
According to Vastani, Cbeyond first recognized the need for data replication tools about two years ago, when latency problems began threatening Siebel CRM performance, and the firm realized that it had simply been asking too much of the application.
“Cbeyond Online basically provides the umbrella which integrates with 13 systems in the back end to actually complete and execute transactions,” Vastani explained. “As the volume of online transactions on Cbeyond Online started increasing, it was putting an unnecessarily large strain on Siebel, which was adversely impacting the performance of the various customer-facing functions [including] the call center, dispatch crew and so forth.”
Vastani said the problem boiled down to a design flaw in Cbeyond’s IT architecture. Cbeyond Online, and every other customer-facing function at the company, resided directly on top of the Siebel CRM implementation and the Oracle database that supported it.
“We found that when one system went down, the customer lost complete visibility into interacting with Cbeyond because the portal was rendered ineffective,” Vastani said. “That kind of an experience was not acceptable [and the] time had come to engineer a solution.”
A data replication tools showdown
The IT team at Cbeyond came up with a fairly straightforward solution to their Siebel performance woes: Create a replica of the Siebel application and the database that supports it and then copy pertinent incoming data over to the new Siebel installation in near real time. Vastani said the idea was to reduce the strain on the original Siebel implementation by using the Siebel replica to handle any incoming transactions from Cbeyond Online and other customer-facing functions that did not originate in the call center.
But Cbeyond first had to choose the right data replication tools vendor. The team began looking at products and narrowed the choices down to Radiant Logic, Attunity, IBM and GoldenGate.
Vastani found that Radiant Logic and Attunity had solid products, but he felt that they lacked highly “intelligent” replication capabilities, which allow the system to follow pre-programmed rules and avoid unnecessary redundancy when data is replicated.
“IBM had much more intelligence on that side, but what they did not have was the multi-database support,” he said. “They could not support Oracle-to-MySQL or MySQL-to-Oracle and on our platform, we did not want to get locked into any one technology.”
Cbeyond ended up going live with Oracle-GoldenGate earlier this year and has been successfully using it to help combat the Siebel performance problems. One thing Cbeyond liked about GoldenGate was the ease of the installation process. Oracle technicians planned out an incremental installation path for the Siebel replica and the GoldenGate software, which took about three months to complete but did not result in any Siebel downtime.
But there are some things that Oracle could do to improve Cbeyond’s experience with GoldenGate. Looking ahead, Vastani said he would like Oracle to enhance its flagship management console, Oracle Enterprise Manager (OEM), so that it can serve as a central management console for GoldenGate.
“You can manage Siebel using OEM,” Vastani said. “It would be nice to have GoldenGate management also from within OEM. It would simplify the management of the platform.”
Closing advice from a data replication veteran
One of the key lessons that Vastani learned as a result of his experience with data replication tools is that organizations should do whatever it takes to protect the performance of CRM systems. If he could go back in time, Vastani said he would have done more to ensure that there were not too many demands on Cbeyond’s initial Siebel implementation.
“You have to protect your CRM system,” he said. “That is what we came to realize.”