The Inside Stories of the Innovation Award Winners
June 5, 2006 Mary Lou Roberts
Back at the Spring COMMON user group meeting, IBM announced the second of its annual Innovation Awards. The awards are designed to showcase the achievements of iSeries and System i users who have done–as the name suggests–innovative things with the platform. We promised we would give you the inside stories of the winners, and here they are.
Our intent was to profile the 2006 winners and finalists for each category. We weren’t able to reach everyone (although we tried, repeatedly), so we have had to give a snapshot of some of the companies that IBM deems the most innovative in their use of the System i5.
IBM reports having received more than 50 nominations across the five different award categories of Application Deployment, Business Resiliency, Infrastructure Simplification, i5/OS Leadership, and Education Excellence. A judging committee composed of two COMMON board members, two IBM members, and one industry analyst was then assigned to each category. This committee then ranked and scored each nomination based on the following criteria:
This award is for the innovative deployment of industry or business applications, or custom applications deployments, including RPG, COBOL, Java, and other custom solutions.
The winner in this category is Elie Tahari, a leading designer/retailer of women’s clothing, which runs its sales, warehouse management, and accounting system on the System i5 550. The staff designed a data warehouse system that pulls information from different locations and applications into a single database and uses remote journaling between logical partitions with DB2. This system supports Tahari’s business management and a customized scorecard application, which allows management to report on the business performance in near real-time, letting them see all aspects of their operations around the world.
Russell A. Farrow, a finalist in this category, is the largest, privately-held customs broker in Canada. With more than 500 employees, the company has offices throughout Canada and the U.S., and a presence at most border crossings, helping companies to import goods into Canada and the U.S. by receiving the details of each shipment, rating the goods, calculating the duties and taxes, and forwarding the information to Canadian and U.S. customs agencies to clear the goods. The company also operates parcel logistics, warehousing, and freight forwarding businesses in a few locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Farrow has used a System i5 or one of its predecessor systems since the 1970s, and currently runs two System i5 model 520s, located in different cities, mirrored using ORION software for high-availability from Vision Solutions. The primary system has four logical partitions while the secondary system has three. The operating system is i5/OS V5R3. The company’s application software is home-grown, written mostly in RPG and CL.
Jim Kiss, the company’s director of information technology, reports that until 2004, the only applications resident on Farrow’s systems were traditional 5250 green-screen applications written in RPG. However, brokerage clients had been asking for real-time access to the company’s brokerage system in order to give them visibility to the status of their shipments. The company initiated a project to develop a “track and trace” system to provide clients access to this information. A pilot application was deployed and met with success. It was then enhanced and expanded to become what is now known as its TradeSmart Web system.
Initially deployed on an iSeries 820, which was later replaced by the two i5 520s, TradeSmart Web was written in Java using the J2EE framework. The application resides in a logical partition along with Lotus Notes, and accesses data from the main brokerage system that runs in another logical partition. WebSphere Application Server Express V5.1 serves up the application and the iSeries Apache Web server handles the SSL connection for external users with 24×7 availability.
Farrow says that the TradeSmart application is a key tool when it bids on new business and delivers better customer satisfaction while reducing costs. The cost reduction comes with a TradeSmart add-on: a document repository that replaces millions of sheets of paper with electronic files stored in an image database.
This award is for best practices in the area of business continuity and resiliency that demonstrates high availability, security, and business protection systems.
The winner in this category is Quixtar, a subsidiary of Alticor. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Quixtar is a business opportunity company that offers entrepreneurs the ability to have a Web-based business of their own. Through Quixtar’s Independent Business Ownership Plan, individuals are rewarded for product sales, resulting from their business-building efforts. The company’s Independent Business Owners (IBOs) have generated more than $5.7 billion in sales since 1999, making Quixtar the number one retailer in online health and beauty products, and 14th among all e-commerce sites.
Quixtar uses the System i to support its order management and inventory management systems. The environment consists of two iSeries (primary and backup), both i5 570 9/12 way with 64 GB of base memory, expandable to 96 GB on demand. The i5 570s are located in separate data centers outside Grand Rapids, Michigan. According to Heather Anderson, the company’s chief information officer, these i5 570s are used to store and process data for all of Quixtar’s back-end business applications. The company uses Lakeview Technology‘s MIMIX software for object and data replication, and WebSphere MQ, WebSphere Application Server and Web Services to communicate with the e-commerce site, Quixtar.com.
“Through the use of LPAR, we have consolidated down to two LPAR systems, located in datacenters five miles apart,” explains Anderson. “We leverage our backup system for other workloads (QA testing, Center of Excellence Training environments) to take advantage of the idle capacity. This makes the cost of a second system much more appealing to senior management.”
The backup system is also used to perform backups of the replicated production data, eliminating outages on the primary, she says. “Due to the nature of our business, we have large spikes in demand during the last hours of the month. We successfully utilize CPU and Memory on Demand as well as using WebSphere MQ to relocate inquiry requests from our Web site to be processed by our backup system. This allows us to leverage CPU and memory resources on the backup system for up to 40 percent of our month-end workload. During peak utilization, our backup system is one to two seconds behind our primary.”
Quixtar is on a January/May/September schedule to switch and run the business on the backup system, says Anderson, which is good HA practice. “We have run on the backup system for as short as 24 hours or as long as nine days, depending on the scope of the maintenance being performed. During this period, all applications are available and fully functional on the backup system.” Since June 2001, Quixtar has successfully performed 16 HA switches.
Unibill, a finalist in this category, is a telecommunications billing company, providing billing services to land-line telephone, voice/data/video/wireless, cable TV, long distance, and wireless telephone companies.
With corporate offices in Lake Charles, Louisiana, disaster recovery and high availability are important concerns for Unibill. The company initially set up replication of their two iSeries systems side-by-side to confirm replication and to practice switchovers; this is done with iTera‘s Echo2 software. Once Unibill was comfortable with the process, it moved its target machine off-site to a disaster recovery facility in Dallas, Texas.
During Hurricane Katrina, the Unibill production communication lines for all of its customers became unusable, and their primary source site went down. Because of the system they had put into place, they were able to fail/roll over to its target machine in Dallas and reroute communications for all of its customers across the country, continuing with production. While Unibill continued to run on the backup machine for a number of weeks, its customers never knew they were running on another system. And, once the production site became available again, Unibill was able to roll-swap back in a controlled manner, and continue on with business as usual.
This award is for the company that demonstrates cost-effective server management, application server integration, capacity on demand, and overall IT simplification.
The winner of the 2006 award for Infrastructure Simplification is Trans World Entertainment, one of the largest specialty music and video retailers in the United States, with more than 1,100 locations in all 50 states, and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The company has had an System i5 or one of its predecessor systems for many years, dating back at least to mid-1980s, reports John Hinkle, the company’s chief information officer. Currently they have a System i5 570 with four i5/OS partitions, an AIX partition, and 10 Windows servers–all in a single hardware implementation with 110 GB memory and 23 TB of disk capacity.
Applications running on the System i5 include three different warehouse systems, merchandizing system, corporate financial software, human resources, a large Oracle data warehouse, and, in the Windows environment, several small, independent applications that run the gamut from file sharers to shipping automation systems, says Hinkle.
Previously, the company had been running a mixed environment of Sun, Compaq, and iSeries in three different locations: Los Angeles, California; Canton, Ohio; and Albany, New York. This mix of locations and systems had evolved from company acquisitions that had broadened the company’s portfolio of offerings, but resulted in a mixed bag of technology that was difficult and costly to maintain.
The challenge, says Hinkle, was to fold the three data centers into one at the corporate headquarters location (Albany), and consolidate the multiple operating environments onto one single platform. Hinkle began the analysis and selection process in the fall of 2004 and decided on the iSeries. Equipment began to arrive in January 2005, and by August of that year, the consolidation was complete. The result is that Trans World Entertainment has realized significant reduction in costs and increased their processing capability about fourfold.
GHY International, the winner of this award in 2005, was named as a finalist in this category this year. The company is fourth-generation, family owned business focused on providing international trade services and consulting to importing and exporting businesses in North America. The company runs everything on its i5 550 with 16 GB of memory, just under 1 TB of disk with two 3590 tape subsystems for backup. All four processors on the i5 550 are active. One is dedicated to i5/OS with two LPARs; two are dedicated to AIX with one LPAR; and one is dedicated to Linux with eight LPARs. The i5 550 at GHY also has four IxS co-processor server cards, with three live and one standby. GHY is running i5/OS V5R3M05, with BRMS on i5 and two subsystems of Domino/Sametime. The machine also runs AIX V5R3 and Novell‘s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 on the partitions; Windows Server 2000 runs on the IxS co-processors.
Nigel Fortlage, GHY’s vice president of information technology, says that the company took its award-winning infrastructure from 2003 and, using IBM’s latest i5/OS 550 technology, combined all platforms and operating systems into one physical machine. The result has been reduced costs. As Fortlage says, “On demand processing is instantly noticeable because of the extreme speed and ability the iSeries has when running uncapped. With all servers now in the same physical unit, the new 2 GB backbone (Virtual LAN) in the iSeries is instantly noticeable when doing our Web-based apps query from a Linux-based iSeries LPAR running PHP and MySQL doing a live OBDC call to DB2/400.” The company has also saved money on maintenance costs and use of less floor space.
This award is for the best practice of using the i5/OS as the strategic and primary operating environment for running the entire business.
The winner in this category is the Toronto, Canada division of Bank of America. A long-time user of the IBM midrange platform, dating back to System/36 days, this financial institution has migrated its business applications-all developed in-house–onto a System i5 550 using logical partitioning to consolidate servers. The bank says that the number of transactions processed on i5/OS has more than doubled (an increase of 115 percent) in the past five years. However, at the same time, the company’s IT maintenance staff, including data center operators and user support, has decreased from 18 to 14 in the same time period.
Sticking with i5/OS and consolidating servers is what has enabled the staff costs to go down as transaction loads have gone up. This is something that vendors like IBM never advertise when they talk about integration, automation, and self-healing in the OS/400 platform, but maybe IBM should start.
This award is for the best practice in education excellence for a System i client, college, or university that has demonstrated outstanding commitment for the System i community and provides ongoing education support of System i technology.
Moraine Valley Community College, a community college in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, is the winner in this category. Its Information Management Systems department teaches anything in IT that is software related–primarily programming and applications.
Michelle August, program director, says that the college had been dedicated to the AS/400 platform for more than 18 years and had re-engineered its curriculum several times over the years. A few years ago, however, the department staff re-evaluated the stand-alone midrange program again and, due to low enrollments, the department decided that it again needed to reassess the way in which it offered its System i courses.
Now, says August, the college has acquired a new i5 520, with a Linux partition, and integrated the teaching of the System i into several of its courses rather than having it by a silo by itself. The i5 520 is used in the operating systems course, which covers Windows and Linux in addition to i5/OS; that course also covers e-commerce, and is used to introduce students to e-commerce development tools from BCD Software and LANSA. In addition, August reports that, “We are currently working on incorporating the System i into our database applications course, which will introduce students to DB2, and into our Java course, so that students can see an application they created deployed on the System i. This offers our students a chance to work on a system that isn’t Windows-based, and makes them aware of the fact that not everything is Microsoft grown.”
Lambton College in Ontario, Canada, a finalist in this category, is a community college that has offered a three-year computer education program that includes the AS/400 and iSeries technology since 1990.
Jim Cooper, program director and one of the catalysts for the initial development of the IBM Partners in Education program, reports that, “The System i5 is the platform of choice in our three-year Internet Application Developer (IAD) program. It fits in the center of the program where some aspect of most courses uses the System i5.” These courses include Web Development (XHTML), XML, RPG IV Programming, Java, DB2 Database, and others. The college is currently awaiting delivery of its new System i5 520.
This story has been corrected since it originally ran. We the comments that were made by Quixtar’s chief information officer were mistakenly attributed to a press relations lead who was acting as an intermediary in an email interview. Also, Quixtar’s headquarters was mistakenly placed in London, Ontario, which is indeed the headquarters for its Canadian operations, but not for the entire company. [Corrected 06/05/06]