HM Land Registry, which is responsible for registering the ownership of property throughout the UK, is using SPARC T4-4 servers running Oracle's Solaris operating system to improve the availability and performance of its commercial services.
The Land Registry, created in 1862, provides a range of services that support the conveyancing process through its Business e-services platform. Customers use Business e-services to request information from the Land Register, lodge applications and discharge mortgages online.
The organisation also makes a range of core reference data sets available via its Linked Data platform, which enables information to be connected and shared more easily.
In 2011, the Land Registry found itself in a situation where its Sun V890 enterprise servers had not been refreshed in six years, and its Hitachi Data Systems SAN was old, difficult to manage and very expensive.
The direct replacement for Sun's V890 servers at the time was Oracle's SPARC M5000. However, due to the collapse of the housing market a few years earlier, the Land Registry's infrastructure budget had been reduced by 50 percent, and it didn't have the budget to afford M5000s.
"Because the Land Registry is self-funding, raising all its money through the services it offers the conveyancing community, when the housing market was booming we had been able to invest quite heavily in IT and infrastructure," said Steve Taylor, Oracle and Unix systems manager at HM Land Registry.
"The collapse of the housing market meant that in 2008/2009, the Land Registry actually made a loss for the first time in its history. The reality was that all budgets were slashed and some were scrapped altogether. So there was a lot of scrutiny around value for money and we had to be able to demonstrate it on every purchase."
The organisation looked at renewing its existing support contracts for another year, but Taylor said the prices it was quoted from both Oracle and independent support were "ridiculous".
It was therefore faced with four options - continue to run on its existing kit unsupported, join a shared service infrastructure with the Ministry of Justice, move to x86 and Linux, or move onto Oracle's T4-series servers, which had just been released at the time.
"We were very interested in the T4 series, not least because it came with no-cost virtualisation options - that was one of our targets that we had to do, we had to get rid of tin basically - and they were significantly cheaper than the M-series that we had already ruled out purely on cost," said Taylor.
The Land Registry ended up opting for the T4-4 servers, partly because all of the experience in the team had been gained on SPARC processors and Solaris, so this played to its strengths. Taylor was also pleased to have an opportunity to run Oracle on Oracle.
The organisation designed, planned, coordinated and implemented the new infrastructure without any help from an external consultancy, due to the tight budget. The infrastructure was created in parallel by copying the production environment over to the new kit and then creating a new standby.
"There was no system downtime and it really was that simple," said Taylor. "Users were not inconvenienced, and we've met our requirements to use less energy and be greener."
Over the years, Taylor said that the combination of SPARC and Solaris has given the Land Registry very high availability, high performance, and the option of using containers or logical domains. System administrators also like Oracle Solaris DTrace because "it just works".
As a result of the Oracle implantation, the Land Registry has been able to reduce its server farm from 27 to 13, using Oracle VM Server 2.1 for SPARC virtualisation. It has also simplified its software stack by removing a Sun system management cluster that was no longer needed.
Taylor said that RAM is much cheaper on T4-4 machines than it had been on the V890s, so the Land Registry is now able to get a lot more bang for its bucks. The organisation uses a shared storage pool and some flash accelerators, which provides a much more flexible system.
"There have been one or two trade-offs - some of the overnight batch jobs don't run quite as quickly as they did on the big HDS system that we had - but that's really not a problem at all," said Taylor.
"The day we cut over from the big V890s (these were big enterprise boxes at the time) to the T4s, there was a massive performance improvement, and response times were halved."
Taylor added that, had budgets been bigger, the Land Registry would probably would have replaced hardware like-for-like. However, as a result of circumstances, the organisation has managed to do quite a lot more with quite a lot less.
Oracle has now launched a new range of T-series servers based on its SPARC T5 processor, which doubles the core count over the SPARC T4 from eight cores to 16 and boosts the clock-speed, I/O bandwidth and memory bandwidth.
However, Oracle's hardware business has been hit hard by a worldwide decline in server and storage shipments. According to Gartner, Oracle's server revenues declined of 18 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, and storage revenues dropped by 24 percent.
Chris Armes, VP of Engineering for Oracle Hardware Systems, told Techworld that one of the main selling points of its new SPARC T5 processors is their price performance, claiming that an equivalent system from IBM would cost $2 million, compared to $270,000 from Oracle.
"The same old pressures exist on every customer I talk to which is, I've got to do more with less, and it's got to cost less per transaction," he said.
"The beauty of these platforms is the ability to effectively lift and shift, which is take legacy Solaris and legacy database infrastructures and roll them onto the latest generation hardware.
"Everybody's trying to reduce capex and opex. If you can do it on a common operating system with common technology it's going to be cheaper to run, and the Solaris operating system on top makes deployment and management so much easier."