AutoTrader's pioneering switch to 64-bit grid computing pays off

Horizontal expansion saves AutoTrader £1m in capital investment.

Horizontal expansion saves AutoTrader £1m in capital investment.

AutoTrader has used 64-bit grid computing to support a rapid expansion of its online motor exchange operations without the need for major capital investment in new enterprise servers.

AutoTrader's car search and transaction site receives 200 million hits and 50 million car searches a month, and is experiencing 40% annual growth in use.

Without investing in grid technologies, AutoTrader would have been forced into a Unix server upgrade, which would have meant a capital investment of more than £1m, said Shahid Mohammed, data operations manager at AutoTrader.

With grid computing, AutoTrader can add new servers to meet demand incrementally, without having to over-invest in capacity, Mohammed said.

"For us the only two options were buying bigger and bigger servers to cope with the extra load, or look at grid computing and expand horizontally rather than vertically. We have been able to expand on demand and it also means you spread out the capital investment over one or two years, plus it costs less," Mohammed said.

Trader Media, which owns AutoTrader, is using Oracle Database 10g and Real Application Clusters on Sun v40z Opteron servers running Red Hat 3AS. It aims to generate a return on investment of approximately 70%, the company said.

Grid computing has also allowed AutoTrader to avoid the duplicated costs of running failover sites, Mohammed said.

AutoTrader was one of the first large-scale business implementations of this kind in the UK, according to David Mitchell, software practice leader at analyst firm Ovum.

However, he said the technology had already been well tried in scientific computing and the chipsets were not new, so the risks were reduced. "This is leading edge rather than bleeding edge," he said

Since AutoTrader also invested in 64-bit Intel Itanium systems, it has taken on two technologies relatively untried in business. However, Mohammed said AutoTrader received extensive free consultancy and support from suppliers including Oracle, Dell, HP, Intel and Sun Microsystems. 

Mohammed said the IT department did need to invest in its skills in order to support the new technology. "It is more complicated than standalone technology and you have to take into account the time it takes to get staff up to speed."

Because grid computing uses a network of servers to support a variety of applications in a flexible way, AutoTrader is able to use its system to support its batch processing during the night, as well as website transactions, which peak during the day.

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