You may not have heard of Ansell, but as a global business with a long-standing history, and revenues of over $1.5 billion, it’s a market leader in selling protection solutions in the healthcare, industrial and consumer sectors. Ansell sells everything from surgical gloves, to chemical sleeves, to aprons.
However, the company recently narrowly avoided a situation whereby its customers and sales people wouldn’t be able to get access to the data they needed, in all of its global markets, because of a flailing and ageing MySQL add-on.
It was able to swap in MariaDB in a very restricted timeframe in order to ensure business continuity and actually reap a number of additional benefits.
I got the chance to sit down with Louis Zircher, director of Ansell Guardian Technology Solutions, and Greg Henderson one of the Ansell’s senior architects, at MariaDB's annual user conference this week in New York to discuss the situation. Henderson explained how the company had been carrying out data replication historically, using MySQL, to provide some context. He said:
We have to support people globally, our customers, our sales people. We need to make sure that they have the best possible speed, application, very quick responses. The only way you can really do that, is to get it close. You can’t have it running from a server in America. We have been for quite some time using a solution based on MySQL, that did the job. It was around for about six years.
It did our global synchronisation - we are talking data centres in Asia Pacific, EMEA and America. We use Azure for our data hosting. We were starting to outgrow it because it’s kind of limited, it’s an SQL driven, high level, data replication.
It was slow - we are talking a day to do a synchronisation and we were running into various issues, because the latency between Asia Pacific and Americas, if the network goes down, we’ve got an issue and now we have to resynchronise the whole thing. That was becoming a real problem.
Ansell began looking for a replacement back in 2015 and was recommended MariaDB Galera as an alternative by one of their outsourcing providers. The other options, according to Henderson and Zircher, would have been expensive and require major changes to be made. As a result, beginning in 2016, the team began some serious testing of MariaDB (which is dubbed as a drop in replacement for MySQL and was created by the original developers of MySQL).
By the time I was done I was confident that this could do the job. If you have a write heavy application, it’s probably not the best for a global solution. But our applications are primarily read intensive, the writes are pretty intermittent. So for our use it has worked really well.
However, in December 2016 and before any switch had been made, the MySQL tool that Ansell had been using to replicate data in its data centres died. It just wouldn’t replicate. Henderson said:
We knew it was going to happen, it was becoming harder and harder to support.
Luckily, the team was able to get MariaDB in pretty quickly to ensure continuity (with Henderson writing scripts to cover the most critical data replication in the meantime). Henderson said:
This saved our bacon, literally. Otherwise we would have had to do rewrites and there would have been major changes to implement something else.
We were in MySQL, so MariaDB was almost binary compatible. There were a few small things, but pretty much.
In terms of the business impact, Zircher said that 42% of conversions, on average, come through from his process. It’s significant to the company’s bottom line and a failing of data replication would have been a huge problem. He said:
Since data couldn’t move back and forth we couldn’t transmit new data. We have someone working on a customer in North America, but then that data needs to get to APAC for a sister company or another plant, and that wasn’t happening. Or we were having reporting issues, where the tools we built allow us to create a report from one source in seventeen different languages. And that wasn’t happening. So there was a lot of business pressure on me, because people couldn’t do their jobs.
However, MariaDB has both sped up the process and also allowed money to be spent on more important areas, rather than on licensing. Zircher said:
When we put this in place it actually changes the whole conversation with our customers, from a product data part, to let me help me improve your business. This part underlying, this MariaDB part, was a little bit more money - but it wasn’t Oracle.
When using MySQL, we would shut the servers down on Friday, work all weekend, and we were sweating on Monday to see if the data was going to replicate. The first time we did it with MariaDB it took three hours and we were done. And it was dependable. We were waiting for something to go wrong and nothing did.