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Issue Date: May 2007

eBucks moves to Linux

1 May 2007

eBucks recently migrated to new, independent infrastructure powered by the Linux operating system.
Thanks to a Linux operating system and open source solutions from Obsidian Systems, South Africa's leading multipartner rewards programme, eBucks, now has a new independent web and application services system driving its business. Making use of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, custom applications and open source servers in the form of Apache Tomcat and PostgreSQL, eBucks is able to better serve its hundreds of thousands of online users. Furthermore, the solution is saving the company money and time in terms of maintenance.
eBucks CIO, Benjamin Marais explains that the planning for the entire project commenced in 2005 with in-house skills at eBucks. "The first part of our database migration commenced early in 2006 with the move to PostgreSQL and our new application," he says. "In July 2006 we started the three month testing and installation of the new hardware and operating system with the assistance of Obsidian Systems."
"eBucks originally used a shared environment with FNB Internet Banking," explains Marais. "However, as the business grew it became apparent that eBucks would have to move its applications onto separate software platforms and hardware."
He says that the old system made use of Sun hardware and the Solaris operating system. While this got the job done, the system was expensive to maintain with long lead times for getting hardware replacement parts.
Many of the older systems were also no longer supported locally. eBucks uses its own applications which run on top of the Gemstone database with Java components.
"One of the advantages of eBucks' software is that it is built on Java," says Marais. "Java is widely available on many platforms, leaving us with several options to choose from. However, the underlying servers were of a greater concern and we set out to find the best available solutions for our needs."
All roads lead to Linux
eBucks researched optimum platforms and supporting server software. Best practices, especially in the banking industry, were considered and it was decided to follow FNB's lead in using open source solutions wherever possible.
eBucks partnered with Obsidian Systems, the South African Linux and open source experts, to develop a solution. "Obsidian has a good track record and is known to be an expert in open source solutions," says Marais.
Obsidian recommended the use of Red Hat Enterprise Linux as a platform for the eBucks application set and database. "Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a good choice for this kind of deployment because it is extremely well supported, stable and provides a logical update structure with fixed-date release," says Fred Strauss, systems architect at Obsidian Systems.
The power of planning
Marais says that the implications were massive - the change would involve hardware, software and operating system environments. Applications had to be ported from Solaris to Linux and the entire process would require careful planning. eBucks also needed to plan for backups and fail-over systems. Load balancing also had to take place on the live system. This is where Obsidian's Linux skills were put to good use.
Strauss says that Obsidian chose multiple servers to host the website, with support for multiple instances of Tomcat on each server. The same setup was duplicated at an offsite location and data kept in-sync, so that a switch-over could take place in emergencies.
Obsidian worked closely with the eBucks team in planning and implementing the system, under the supervision of an in-house architect, and continues to provide live support. "The system was transitioned overnight," says Strauss. "This took place without any problems and no disruption to eBucks' users."
Marais says the system has been stable with minimum downtime since it went live in October 2006. "However, if were to go down, our back-up systems are up to date and will take over with minimum to no disruptions."
Housed at the FNB datacentre in Johannesburg, eBucks' new systems have more than enough capacity to accommodate the company's growing user base for years to come.
"The new system provides significant cost benefits and can handle three times the load of the old system. The new infrastructure also allows us to slot in extra servers for expansion when necessary in a seamless fashion," says Marais.
With proper planning and an advanced understanding of the deployment of Linux systems, Obsidian Systems and eBucks have created a stable, robust and secure operating environment. The solution serves thousands of users on a daily basis, using open source software that is flexible enough for any application, no matter how demanding.

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