The Might of Oracle: A TLC Customer Interview

The Might of Oracle: A TLC Customer Interview

“Putting on the pressure!” jokes Lynn Hoffman, Director of Operations at the Somerset County Library System of New Jersey (SCLSNJ) as Digital Engagement Manager for The Library Corporation (TLC), Rhia Stark, presses record on the virtual meeting platform. Lynn reports from her bedroom-turned-office in New Jersey, Rhia reports off-camera from her home-office in Colorado, and they are joined by TLC’s Director of Marketing Strategy, Jamison Reynolds, from his dining-room-office in West Virginia because his deck-office was being rained on.

It’s the middle of July 2020, and the three have gathered remotely for an interview in the time of COVID-19. Six months prior, the library had the distinction of being TLC’s first hosted library on the newly re-envisioned TLCCloud Services hosting platform, powered by Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI).

As the first TLC customer to migrate onto the OCI platform, Lynn Hoffman discusses the benefits of switching from an on-premise solution, how the support of the CARLX integrated library system team made a difference in migration, and what libraries can expect if they make the transition to TLCCloud Services.

Some content has been edited for clarity and consistency.

Where SCLSNJ Likes To Be

Let’s start first with your history in libraries and how you have come to be so well-versed in both the administrative and the technical aspects of this project.

I’m a librarian by trade and everything I know about technology has been learned on the job. I love technology though. I started my career as a children’s librarian, but I was tinkering around with the children’s department website back in 1996. So, I’ve had a long history of using technology and kind of exploiting it for the things it can do. And in my current role it very specifically falls under my umbrella.

We’ve gone through a lot of change in the five years that I’ve been at Somerset County, and a lot of that has been a learning process for everybody. And I am a big nerd, so I loved learning new things. I love having a question of like, “I wonder if this can do this…” and then seeing if it can do that — finding documentation, or digging stuff up online, or whatever the case may be.

And I think as a whole, that’s the approach that our technology staff tend to take. I would put our tech team toe-to-toe with IT professionals in a heartbeat.

Somerset County Library System was the first TLC customer to migrate onto the new TLCCloud Services platform. Can you talk to us about the timeline of the project?

This year’s TLCU will be virtual – check it out at LSCommunity or CARLCommunity

We heard about TLC’s desire to move everything over to OCI at TLCU [TLC’s annual user conference] in October 2019. I sat in on Justin Duewel-Zahniser’s [Chief Technology Officer] session about tech updates and he spelled that out. Don West [Director of Operations, TLC Denver] reached out to me probably a couple weeks later and said, “You know we’re moving forward, do you want to go?” And I of course said, “Sure, we’ll do anything!” From there it really turned around pretty quickly. We made the transition mid-January.

What was that like?

We were the first of CARL customers to move and so there were some growing pains, but that’s kind of par for the course. And that’s actually where Somerset County Library really likes to live: “We’ll try it. We’ll try anything!”

I think from our perspective, one of the reasons that we, as an institution, like being a guinea pig is because we a) like playing with new things and figuring things out but also b) if what we are able to find out as part of that process helps build kind of a structure for that transition for other libraries, we’re happy to contribute to that from a greater good kind of perspective. So, I know that lessons were learned from the process of our migration that absolutely will have come into play down the road as other customers have migrated

That’s a great perspective, and we do very much appreciate that philosophy. I’m sure many of our customers appreciate that you can share what you’ve learned.

Migrating from On-Premise to Hosted

So let’s back up a moment. SCLSNJ migrated to TLC’s CARLX integrated library system about two and a half years ago from a locally hosted, on-premise solution, right?

Yes, that was on-premise. We made the decision to go hosted as part of our migration; that was one of the requirements of the successful solution. And I say this often about our migration process: it was project-managed like nobody’s business. It was extremely successful and smooth, and a lot of it comes down to the project management on the TLC end.

Thank you! How did you feel about moving to a hosted environment?

The entire concept of having a hosted ILS makes me very happy. I do not enjoy being in the business of the care and feeding of servers, so having gone live with CARL two and a half years ago as a hosted system was awesome.

Prior to implementing CARL, who on your staff was responsible for maintaining the server?

So that would be Wendy Clarkson, she’s our Automation Manager. She is, for all intents and purposes, our official sysadmin for CARL; although there’s a team of us who really contribute to that. But she’s been in the ILS sysadmin business for, I want to say, twenty five years. That’s been her career.

From your perspective, how has her role evolved in the library, having gone from maintaining a server to a hosted platform? How has her work-life changed?

Moving from an on-premise to a hosted solution, it made really a very big difference.

I know that in the back of Wendy’s mind all of the time was, “Is our server ok?” We had it in our server room; the room has a UPS [Universal Power Supply] and all that kind of good stuff, but there’s always that sort of nagging feeling.

Like if there was randomly a leak in the ceiling because of air conditioning condensing problems, then our server may have been at risk. Or if someone was fiddling in there who shouldn’t be and unplugged something — because we had other vendors coming in and doing stuff with our equipment with other things that plug into it — that’s something she didn’t necessarily always have control over.

So just from a peace of mind standpoint, I think it’s huge for her. That’s a big thing that kind of took up more mental space than I think she might have realized until it was taken off her plate and wasn’t there anymore.

That sounds like a lot of anxiety.

Yeah. Well, I don’t think it was ever really like active anxiety. I think three years ago she wouldn’t have said, “You know, I love my job but I’m really anxious about maintaining an ILS server.” After we moved to a hosted solution, she’s like, “Oh! That’s a big thing I don’t have to think about any more.” 

Editor’s Note: During the review process, Wendy shared, “You’re totally right, it’s just a weight I don’t have to carry anymore and that’s been great!”

What does that look like for her now?

Things like backups and OS updates on the server all used to have to be carefully timed and scheduled by our sysadmin. Knowing that’s happening out there somewhere that we don’t have to worry about, and that TLC’s taking care of all of the scheduling and making sure that we’re up-to-date on OS means that those tasks are now off our sysadmin’s lap, and that’s really huge.

And one of the things that that’s done is it’s freed up some time for her and she has been boning up on her SQL skills. So instead of spending that time on a server that didn’t necessarily add much in terms of value to patrons or to staff — like, they don’t care — instead she’s been able to do some poking around in ad hoc [CARL Ad Hoc Reports] and come up with things that actually do have a useful basis.

It’s a skillset that she didn’t have before, and I know she was a little anxious coming into it, but she’s getting pretty good with SQL.

Can you quantify that? How many hours a week were freed up?

I’m going to say, probably as much as two or three hours a week, which isn’t a ton. But when it’s suddenly empty, you can do something with that amount of time.

From Host to Host

So you originally migrated to a hosted platform as part of your ILS migration to TLC. Can you talk to us more about what the migration process was like going from one hosted platform to another?

Moving to a new host is a more straight-forward procedure than if you’re on-premise and moving to hosted. We did have some technical details to work out and part of that is just a function of making that shift.

Our state library is heavily involved in providing our connectivity, and so they were very helpful in making sure that all of the third party connections worked correctly. But there were a couple of things there where it took some tinkering and poking at settings and stuff to figure out why the connection wasn’t working in the way we expected it to right up front. It was great: the network team in the CARL office was happy to talk directly with the JerseyConnect team, so I know they put their heads together and solved a lot of those problems really, really quickly.

When we did go live, really we didn’t have any issues to speak of. We decided to sort of NAT some of our third parties’ stuff through our existing VPN tunnel, and then migrate them slowly sort of after-the-fact. And that seemed to work out really well. We didn’t cut everybody off and say, “Ok, everything has to work going through this new IP immediately,” which I think was a big help.

The data transition was fine. We didn’t see any issues with that at all. And then there were a few things on our end just in implementation that we overlooked because we’d never done this before. Like we have a bunch of internally built scripts that make fancy things happen for staff. And a couple of them broke and —  oh yeah, no doubt — it’s because we have to change the way that we are hitting the Ad Hoc server in that script.

We were all in brand new territory. I fully expected that there would be things like that, so it didn’t come as any particular surprise to me and it certainly didn’t provoke any anxiety on my part. It was just, “Ok these are the things that happened, so we’ll figure them out, and everything will be fine.” Once we got it working though, everything’s great. It’s humming along like nothing.

That’s excellent news!

I will say, I have a tremendous amount of confidence in the expertise in the CARL office. You know, if something didn’t work with our first attempt to solve a problem, I had no worries at all about whether TLC would keep digging at it until we figured out what the solution would be. They were fantastic!

And knowing that the mighty weight of Oracle is behind our hosted site makes me feel extremely confident in the uptime and security of the system. Having the might of Oracle behind this whole solution gives it a lot of credibility in terms of being able to scale as needed, being able to redirect traffic as needed from one data location to another, and in terms of uptime and delivering on those promises.

Advice for Other Libraries

You’ve shared that SCLSNJ is keen on trying new things, and everything you just said is from your library’s experience. What do you think could be a hesitancy for other libraries going hosted?

I’m sure that some of it is about control. That you always know what’s happening if your server is in your server closet. It may be nothing happening or it may be something bad happening, but you always know what’s happening. You have that control over it. And I think that’s part of it.

I also think latency is another potential issue. That data traffic is inherently going to be faster on a local area network than it is coming across a VPN or somewhere else outside of the world.

Is that perception? Or is that reality?

It’s perception. I would say it’s perception, for sure. That may have been an issue five or ten years ago, but we’re not seeing it. We’re not hearing it from staff that, “This takes too long. I have to wait forever for x to happen.” It’s just not happening.

What would you tell libraries that are thinking about migrating?

From the perspective of migrating from an on-premise solution to hosting through OCI, just do it. Don’t wait. I think it will be amazing how much kind of hidden time you spend on server-related stuff that you don’t realize you’re spending that time on until all of a sudden it goes away. There’s no downside in my opinion to making the switch to hosted. And there are lots and lots of benefits.



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Justin Larsen Larsen