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A Fujitsu Server in the Trenches

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As IT drives ever more business operations, downtime is no longer an option.

“Because of the nature of our business, we were looking at alternatives for high availability,” said Chris Nowak, chief technology officer for Anthony Marano Company of Chicago. “Our objective was to get the most reliable SQL Server environment that we could.”

There are many high availability options for Linux, Unix and mainframe applications, but Windows choices are more limited. Last year, the company moved its primary business applications to a Fujitsu PrimeQuest server and Eternus SAN to ensure the necessary uptime.

“With PrimeQuest, we could keep the same SQL Server edition we had been using, get the Itanium processor performance, and get high availability close to what you can get with clustering,” he said.

Round-the-Clock Operations

The Anthony Marano Company has been supplying stores and restaurants with fresh produce since 1950. Operating out of a 340,000 square foot warehouse near downtown Chicago, the family-owned company stocks more than 1,400 products and ships more than 1 million cases of fresh produce monthly. To manage the 2,000 to 3,000 orders it processes daily, Anthony Marano replaced its paper-based invoice system with a real-time inventory system based on Microsoft SQL Server.

In selecting such a system, reliability and uptime were of paramount importance. The company is open seven days a week, with only a handful of holidays each year.

“We open for business at 2 A.M. to service the food service industry and grocery stores, then our normal office hours end 7:00 P.M. because we have customers who are based in California,” said Nowak. “We are not quite a 24-hour operation, but the only time the system isn’t doing much is a pretty short window.”

Factor in the need to instantly fill customer orders and Nowak estimates that a single hour of downtime costs the company between $200,000 and $300,000 in lost sales. Anthony Marano is a Microsoft shop, and in 2007 it upgraded from SQL Server 2000 to SQL Server 2005. As part of the update, Nowak also looked at ways to improve uptime on the hardware.

“One option was to go with a clustering solution, but that would have required more administrative support on our part,” Nowak said. “The alternative was to go with high-availability hardware.”

This presented a problem. Anthony Marano had been using HP servers, but its high-availability Integrity Superdome servers didn’t support Windows. Nowak found the same situation with servers from other vendors, except for those from Fujitsu.

“What was unique was that Fujitsu was the only company supporting Windows on Itanium with high availability,” said Nowak. “If we were using Linux, we could have had a bake-off between vendors, but because we use Windows, they were the only ones available at the time.”

Unexpected Benefits

In October 2006, Anthony Marano decided to switch to the Fujitsu servers during its SQL Server 2005 migration. It used Fujitsu consulting for the installation so the IT staff could concentrate on the software side.

“Dealing directly with Fujitsu, rather than going through a reseller, works well,” said Nowak. “We could get single-vendor support to make sure the whole thing worked right.”

The company selected a PrimeQuest 540 enterprise-class server that holds up to 16 dual-core Intel Itanium 2 processors. The server runs on Microsoft Server 2003 and is configured with two partitions. The first partition contains a SQL Server 2005 database and the inventory management system. The second has the file services, SQL Server 2005 reporting services and a Microsoft Dynamics financial package. The PrimeQuest 540 was ordered without any hard drives.

“It starts by booting off a Fujitsu Eternus [4000 Model 300] SAN,” Nowak said. “This is good because there are Brocade switches hooking it up, and there are dual paths for everything.”

The company also purchased dual Primergy RX300 S3 servers to run Microsoft Exchange 20007 and the control systems for the PrimeQuest.

The Fujitsu servers were installed in early 2007, and Anthony Marano began moving its applications over to the new platform. Nowak said the biggest challenge wasn’t the hardware, but upgrading from one version of SQL Server to another.

“There are some performance enhancements that Microsoft made, and we needed to update the syntax on some of our stored procedures to take advantage of all the performance,” Nowak explained. “But on the Fujitsu server, because we had a single vendor solution and had them then install it, there was no challenge in that.”

Simple but Exciting

Everything was moved over by May 2007, and the system has operated without interruption ever since. Although IT migrations frequently have unforeseen problems, Nowak said upgrading to the Itanium processors provided an unexpected benefit. Because of the increased processing power, the company has been able to move much of the reporting into real-time, instead of having to schedule and distribute reports.

“Itanium has changed our perspective on our reporting capabilities,” Nowak said.

Since Anthony Marano has a limited IT staff, the company likes to stick with one vendor for both hardware and software, rather than hiring additional personnel to manage different platforms.

“The company wants us to continually enhance our internal applications [and] our packaged accounting software, and keep the software up to date for business functionality,” he said. “Our ownership couldn’t care less about having multivendor hardware, they just want the systems to work reliably and have the features they need.”

So, Anthony Marano is sticking with Microsoft for its software and moving its servers from HP to Fujitsu. In fall 2007, it installed a cluster of Fujitsu Primergy servers and ported a number of back-end, non-database applications to it using VMware. Later this year, it will upgrade to servers powered with the upcoming sixth-generation Itanium 9100 series processors, which include Core Level Lock-Step to improve data integrity and Demand Based Switching, which reduces power consumption during low-utilization periods.

“It should be an exciting year with some of what Intel is planning that we can take advantage of,” said Nowak.

This article was first published on ServerWatch.

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