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Booz Allen Hamilton - 2008 Red Hat Innovation Award Winner
June 25, 2008
Customer: Booz Allen Hamilton
Booz Allen Hamilton, a strategy and technology consulting firm with more than 18,000 employees serving government clients from more than 80 offices and has been recognized by major publications as a best place to work. Integrating the full range of consulting capabilities, Booz Allen is the one firm that helps government clients solve their toughest problems with services in strategy, operations, organization and change, and information technology. Booz Allen is committed to delivering results that endure
In 2004, Booz Allen Hamilton was asked by a federal government agency to develop a Microsoft Windows-based proof of concept for a document management system. The initial prototype consisted of both hardware infrastructure design and software development, but as the system’s user community grew, the newly promoted operational proof of concept quickly proved inadequate for handling the increasing volumes of data. After a budget for a “technology refresh” was approved, the Booz Allen Hamilton team decided to redesign the software architecture using JBoss Application Platform, Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Platform, Oracle 10G Real Application Clusters (RAC), and enterprise integration best practices. The system was transformed from a two-tier architecture to an event-driven Message-Oriented-Middleware (MOM) approach, but although the software redesign greatly improved the system’s ability to handle the increasing volumes of data, the physical infrastructure was still a bottleneck that prevented the system to scale as needed. Simply adding servers was not a viable solution because of space and energy constraints. The solution needed to be exceptionally efficient in terms of floor space, power, cooling and total cost. It also had to be easily leveraged for use in other Booz Hamilton consulting engagements.
“It wouldn’t be enough to just show that we had high server utilization,” said Christopher Dale, an associate at Booz Allen. “We had to get a ton of work out of our investment, with enough spare resources to be able to respond to new mission demands at a moments notice.” To do this, Booz Allen Hamilton needed a solution that would allow it to scale its CPU and memory resources independently of its network resources. In turn, network resources would have to scale independently of system storage capacity and throughput. “Finally, we needed to be able to dynamically allocate all available resources to the task du jour without jeopardizing the ongoing mission,” said Dale.
For the proof of concept, Booz Allen Hamilton needed to configure both an Oracle 9i meta data database and an Oracle 9i Text Index database. As it turned out, the federal agency client already possessed an Oracle site license. Additionally, Booz Allen Hamilton was able to “harvest” several Red Hat Enterprise Linux entitlements from a previous client project. “The icing on the cake was that I had experience installing Oracle on Red Hat Linux as a hobby,” said Dale. Once Red Hat Enterprise Linux passed security tests, it was viewed as the clear first choice for the project.
The solution consisted of Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Platform, Red Hat Global File System (GFS) and Red Hat Cluster Suite, Red Hat Network Satellite and soon Red Hat Directory Server, JBoss Application Server, JBoss Enterprise Service Bus, JBoss Operations Network, and, most recently, Metamatrix. The deployed environment consist of a seven-node Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) grid (five Dell 2950s and two Dell 6850s all with maxed-out memory running Red Hat Enterprise Linux housing multiple Oracle RAC databases that performed data warehousing functions, online transaction processing (OLTP) functions and multi-language text indexing functions. There also is an eight-node (Dell 2950s with varying amounts of memory) services grid that acts as a clustered Xen host. The Xen machines on the services grid include a clustered JBoss application server, a Metamatrix node, and many other Xen machines that perform various mission-specific tasks. Both the database grid and the services grid can leverage the storage on the Fiber Channel fabric backed with multiple storage area networks (SANs).
One of the best value decisions Booz Allen Hamilton made was to establish a subcontract for its government client with Red Hat Global Professional Services group. “Through that subcontracting arrangement, we were able to use a full-time employee slot to bring in a number of highly skilled Red Hat, JBoss, and Metamatrix professionals who accelerated our work at critical junctures,” said Dale. Additionally, as a result of the successes the team experienced in terms of capability delivery, many team members sought out Red Hat, JBoss and Metamatrix training and certification on their own, which further benefited the client in terms of day-to-day value enhancement.
By implementing the new hardware and software architecture, Booz Allen Hamilton was able to transition its client from the initial proof of concept system-which had grown to a five-lab, two-building deployment that housed a single system, to an ultra-compact, highly available, high performance environment that enables three complete systems to reside in 1.5 labs. “We now have the capability to use spare capacity for the evaluation and hosting of new commercial off-the-shelf software, government off-the-shelf software, or custom software that previously would have been too expensive to implement even if the software was free,” said Dale. Additionally, using GFS to pool storage resources, Xen and Cluster Suite to pool processing and memory resources and using a bonded, link aggregated, VLANed, Xen-bridged network configuration to pool network resources, “we had successfully delivered to our client an environment that surpassed our goals in compute resource and software development agility,” he said. “In the Federal space, ROI doesn’t really have meaning, but our client was getting a lot of bang for the buck.”
Additionally, the enterprise-class system was capable of handling data volumes that commercial enterprises rarely see. “We can add new capabilities without the purchase of additional hardware, and, because we are using Red Hat Enterprise Linux, we leverage unlimited virtualization for Red Hat Enterprise Linux virtual machines. Indeed, many capabilities can be made available in hours instead of weeks or months. “This is how we delivered 10 pounds of capability in a two pound bag,” said Dale.
Be aware of all the possibilities. “Looking back to the beginning of the effort to re-engineer our legacy environment, I still cannot get my head around all that has been accomplished,” said Dale, who said that if he had been told a year ago, “This is the list of things your team needs to get done in the next year,” it would have been “soul crushing.” But now, having been through it, he is now finding it difficult not to look at any opportunity without thinking, “No problem, we have an answer for you and it isn’t going to cost you half of what you think. It’s also going to take less time, fewer people and be more capable and agile than you can imagine.”