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At Cox Automotive, we have successfully moved Oracle EBS to the Cloud! That sounds impressive. But who really cares and what does that even mean?
Well, let’s start with the basics. Oracle EBS, or E-Business Suite, is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform that we use extensively across all of the Cox divisions to manage our finances, accounting and customer billing.
If you’re an aspiring technology professional, this may be the part where you yawn and glance toward your accounting major friends. But while finance functions may not sound exciting, they are critical to most every business. And at Manheim, where our auctions broker the sale of over 4 million vehicles every year, the technology to support these functions becomes strategic. When you account for the price of the vehicles, the purchased services, transportation, etc., we invoice for over $100 billion every year.
To make this even more interesting from a technology perspective, the dealer is often physically present at the auction site, with check in hand, waiting to pay for their car so they can drive it back to their lot immediately. This means our billing systems must integrate with our auction systems, title management and dealer financing systems all in real-time. Unlike typical billing processes which batch up their processing and send invoices overnight, our financial systems must be responsive and reliable throughout the day in order to meet the critical demands of our customers.
Enter the cloud.
As our infrastructure has aged and the need for an upgrade has arisen, we made the decision to migrate our Oracle finance, billing and business intelligence applications to the cloud for all the standard reasons (e.g., cost, flexibility, speed, etc.). However, while most companies migrate their ERP applications to the cloud via a pure “lift and shift,” we took a much more strategic outlook. This means that instead of simply replicating the existing infrastructure components with cloud-based counterparts and re-installing the packaged application, we refreshed and automated our entire infrastructure approach.
By leveraging the experience that we had gained from moving some of our custom applications to the cloud (e.g., Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book) we completely reinvented our ERP infrastructure team and adopted an infrastructure-as-code mentality. And just like that, our stodgy old ERPs joined the ranks of the hip, modern technologies generally associated with web applications. Instead of tweaking an infrastructure configuration any time we implemented a fix, installed a patch or added capacity, we modified our infrastructure code. Now we leverage modern tools like Ansible, Jenkins and FlexDeploy to make every software and hardware change an automated and easily repeatable process. When one of our many environments needs to be updated, we simply shut it down and recreate a new, updated version with the push of a button. When our applications are under heavy loads during the day, our scripts automatically increase computing power and I/O speed, and then reduce levels when demand drops.
Why is this cloud migration important?
The ability to rapidly recreate our hardware and software configurations provides a whole new level of resiliency and redundancy that hadn’t existed with our traditional infrastructure. Instead of spending weeks purchasing a new server or additional disk space while manually planning for additional demand, we can react almost immediately as our needs arise. This allows us to instantly meet business demand without significantly overpaying for unused contingency.
As our expertise continues to mature, we are taking advantage of more and more cloud features. Our disaster-recovery approach now relies on virtual compute power, which only needs to be spun up in the event of a disaster. In the near future, we will achieve a state where we hot swap between cloud regions during every bi-weekly release, further reducing risk by decreasing deployment time, simplifying release rollbacks and exercising our disaster-recovery capability every two weeks instead of once a year.
In other words, while most companies are driving their ERPs around in the equivalent of a wood-paneled station wagon, we are cruising ours in a self-driving sports car.