Australian energy business switches on Oracle

Despite a few initial hiccups, Australia's largest energy operator and administrator has successfully deployed Oracle's 9i application server, and is already reaping the rewards. The National Electricity Market Management Company (NEMMCO), signed on with Oracle at the beginning of last year and deployed Oracle9iAS version 1.

Despite a few initial hiccups, Australia's largest energy operator and administrator has successfully deployed Oracle's 9i application server, and is already reaping the rewards.

The National Electricity Market Management Company (NEMMCO), signed on with Oracle at the beginning of last year and deployed Oracle9iAS version 1.0.22 for its application server processes.

Management and IT consultancy, Cap Gemini Ernst and Young (CGEY), provided support and consulting for the NEMMCO/Oracle roll-out in Australia. According to CGEY's SVP of technology consulting, Diana Billingham, this was a "great step...that NEMMCO took".

The organisation selected Oracle's products so it could source the products required from a "single software vendor" and therefore "reduce project risk", according to Bruce McClenahan, NEMMCO's head of technology services.

NEMMCO was established under the National Electricity Code as the body corporate responsible for the day-to-day operation and administration of both the power system and the wholesale electricity spot market.

Operating the energy market means balancing supply and demand based on the generating capacity available to meet the total demand for electricity. The balancing of the short-term supply and demand for electricity occurs through a centrally coordinated dispatch process, which is the basic component of the electricity pool.

With such a complex project in place, NEMMCO needed an application server that could support complex applications such as the monitoring of consumer energy usage and the transferring of electricity between utilities. As Billingham explains, the implementation itself involved a "high degree of complexity, with a high number of users and also...needed to have scale and be truly extensible".

The need for scalability and extensibility, Billingham believes, is driven by the emergence of increased focus on Web services as well as business processes.

"I think you will see a shift where companies will no longer own their IT access, they will be looking at buying and selling services. Infrastructure becomes absolutely key to this because there is no way you can build your own Web services, there's no way you can build business processes unless you have a scalable, secure, extensible platform," says Billingham.

Oracle9iAS fits the bill, according to Billingham.

"We are seeing that because it [Oracle9iAS] is totally open standards compliant, using XML, UDDI, SOAP, it really is a product we believe can provide that connectivity to different applications, databases and can be a very solid foundation on which to build," says Billingham.

Taking the plunge into Oracle9iAS
The deployment of Oracle9iAS was an involved process for NEMMCO and consultants CGEY. "Completely new platforms were installed, dedicated to this system and the bandwidth of the access network was increased to accommodate additional transaction traffic," says McClenahan.

To cope with additional traffic, NEMMCO provisioned an additional 2Mbit bandwidth--in the core network--for database-replication and an additional 2Mbit for client access traffic in a 12Mbit bearer.

NEMMCO did not release actual expense figures, instead citing the expected return on investment as the important figure.

According to McClenahan, NEMMCO saw initial returns in a reduction of purchase, and has also seen some gains in the installation of newer, more efficient tools.

"In financial terms, NEMMCO was able to negotiate more strongly with Oracle on the basis of a single large purchase. Resource-wise, we have seen potential gains in newer tools offset by having to resolve problems with immature technology", says McClenahan.

"Immature technology" referred to components of the 9iAS environment, specifically, the Java environment supplied as part of 9iAS which was "not able to meet the performance requirements of the solution," according to McClenahan.

To address these performance issues, Oracle provided access to a more recent 'Oracle Containers for Java' environment, according to McClenahan. While this resolved the performance issues, it "created a number of configuration issues which took time to resolve due to the newness of the technology and the few experts available", says McClenahan.

Despite the initial hiccups, McClenahan expects the rewards to outweigh any deployment issues. He believes that the organisation will see future returns from the Oracle9iAS deployment in that NEMMCO will be "able to reuse the experience and knowledge to build future systems in a web services architecture".

Not even rumours of software vulnerabilities swayed NEMMCO from its deployment of Oracle9iAS. While the market has been rife with rumour, speculation, and censure following Oracle's 9i concerning the security of Oracle's 9i products, NEMMCO doesn't appear to have any complaints, at this time.

"NEMMCO has undertaken it own security reviews and we are satisfied that the software is fit for purpose", says McClenahan.