The Grill: Gino Pokluda takes control of a cumbersome database system

Gino Pokluda had a problem: The Presbyterian Health Plan’s database system in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Pokluda is responsible for service improvement and innovation, was becoming increasingly expensive and cumbersome, requiring approximately 80 TB of storage for 13 database environments. To take control, Pokluda implemented Delphix software to enable agile data management and eliminate redundant infrastructure. The 2012 project reduced its storage requirements to 35TB, although its team now manages 23 environments. Here, Pokluda, who manages all of the company’s production, test, and development environments, discusses the database system overhaul and shares other information about IT management.

What are your main responsibilities? To take a look at what we’re doing in IT now and for a culture of innovation to take hold here. This is something that has not existed in the past. In addition, I am responsible for implementing ITIL best practices across IT.

How do you define innovation? I can tell you the things that it is not. It’s not about process improvement. Process improvement is where innovation is diverted, and it always revolves around return on investment. Innovation, in my mind, is, “What’s the job to do and what’s the best way to do it?” Innovation does not always involve technology. It could just be looking at something different.

How to cultivate innovation? The best innovation comes from the grassroots. You get the people doing the job and you give them the opportunity to come up with new ideas. We have 100 people in IT, so we have 100 innovators, and I think everyone has innovated at some point and they just don’t realize it.

Was the Delphix project an innovation or a process improvement? It was definitely an innovation. We were a mainframe shop that stepped into the world of diverse processing. It made life so much easier. But in 2005, our payer system [vendor] decided they weren’t going to provide any more upgrades. It was therefore necessary to enter the world of Windows servers and a diversified infrastructure under Facets [a healthcare payer system]. In 2005 we built this Windows architecture by running this product and unfortunately we had a broken architecture. As a result, this became a legacy problem that we carried on until about two years ago, when we realized we couldn’t meet business demand for databases. This prompted us to take a look at how we maintain storage and use our storage.

What ultimately motivated the redesign? Our biggest problem was volume: we had a 1.5 terabyte database for production and a 1.5 terabyte database for development. Multiply that by three or four, then a few setup environments, test environments, and training environments, and 33% growth every year. All of a sudden, the cost of storage for non-production environments increases exponentially. When we got to 13 environments, we said something had to change. In addition, we could not meet the needs of the business. If they had a big project or a big push for a regulatory requirement and they had to test it, we just couldn’t do it.

What sold you this technology? The virtual databases provided by the product acted as the [original] data base. They were quite a database except when you looked at the imprint.

How did you come up with the solution? I did what everyone else does: I googled. I was looking for clues; I was looking for something to see what everyone else was doing, and that’s when I came across a white paper written by Delphix for Boeing on how Boeing was having the same issues in its credit union and how they were using virtualized databases to solve their problem. We were already well advanced in our journey to VMware, virtualizing our servers. And then you realize that if you can virtualize databases, you can virtualize your entire stack. And when you combine these virtual servers and virtual databases, you can clone entire environments very easily. I realized this was the way to go.

What was the biggest challenge? In fact, persuading business leaders to take this route; convince them that this new technology would benefit them. We convinced them through a number of pitches, and we sold it to them by telling them that we are going to try it for a year and see how it works.

Besides reduced storage requirements, what other benefits did you get from this project? Previously, it took around 50 days to develop an insurance product, to get it through configuration, development and testing. This time frame has narrowed. Now we can deliver a product to the customer in about 23 days.

What was the biggest lesson learned from this project? It has nothing to do with the product, but I’ve learned that computer stores, when they’re deeply rooted with their customers, the relationship is more of an ecosystem, because something we do here can affect something on the entire line or at the top of the line. Thus, the relationship between IT and the customer is closer to a symbiotic relationship rather than a collaboration. I have seen how this product has enabled us to help the company.

– Interview by Computer world contributing writer Mary K. Pratt ([email protected])

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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