eBay imparts datacenter knowlege

Bigger than Nasdaq, eBay knows how to manage a datacenter

Imagine creating and managing a datacenter that handles 241 million registered users and sells a car a minute, an auto part every second, and a piece of diamond jewelry every two minutes.

Imagine a datacenter that changes its code every two weeks and executes 20 billion SQL transactions daily.

This was the subject matter of the keynote speech, Examples of Next Generation Data Center Technologies at Work, delivered at the Linux World/Next Generation Data Center conference in San Francisco by Paul Strong, distinguished research scientist at eBay.

Strong led off his address by saying he preferred to talk about the next-generation datacenter in terms of the value it should deliver to the business rather than in terms of technology.

"Datacenters are about running business processes driven by SLAs," said Strong. And, he continued, datacenters can become "value centers" rather than cost centers when IT and business communicate.

To that end, companies must decide what is core to their business and what can be commoditized as a utility served up by a SaaS (software as a service) provider.

Sighting eBay's huge volumes, Strong described how its solutions will help future datacenter users scale their growing infrastructure.

In the case of eBay, it faced its biggest challenge back in 1999 when IT executives realized the database couldn't scale any further.

"The database was approaching the limits of physical growth," said Strong.

The resolution came about when engineers were able to virtualize the database by separating the interface from the implementation. The interface remained constant, but the implementation underneath it could change by decoupling the database.

Another change to the infrastructure came about when eBay was able to program the database in such a manner that it behaved differently depending on what command hit the application.

"It became like a giant field-programmable gate array," Strong said.

The next major challenge that eBay faced was how to track and manage the hundreds of thousands of interdependent relationships within the application services. For example, Service A might be composed of subservices B and C, while C might be composed of two additional elements.

"We are beginning to categorize these relationships," said Strong, and over time, eBay hopes to build in business rules that can automate and manage what can no longer be managed by any single group of IT personnel because of its scale.

Strong ended his talk by telling the audience to think of the datacenter as a machine that runs business processes.

In an interview with InfoWorld following the keynote, Strong was asked if he thought the fact that Linux and open source were never mentioned by either him or the preceding keynoter, Werner Vogel, CTO of Amazon, had anything to do with the diminishing importance of which operating system is used by applications.

Strong did not see that relationship and said Linux continues to be a major component of eBay's infrastructure, but he did admit there are other issues in a datacenter that are taking precedent over which OS to use.

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